Two Encouraging Signs

There are so many incidental things going on triggered by the threat of the Corona Virus pandemic. Here are two little snippets.

  1. A Demonstration of the Downside of Competition

Fran Kelly’s Introduction to a segment on ABC Radio National ‘Breakfast’ on Tuesday morning:

In clinical trials and laboratories worldwide, the hunt is on to find a vaccine to protect us against COVID-19. Hundreds of trials are currently underway. In 1964, Stanley Plotkin invented the vaccine to beat the infectious disease rubella and now he’s working with six companies to combat coronavirus.

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/breakfast/covid-19-vaccine-being-developed-carefully-but-in-a-hurry/12084990

The interview begins with Stanley Plotkin:

‘Let me say that I have never seen the vaccine community so united in the effort to develop a vaccine. You say that I’m working with six companies. In fact I’m working with many more than that…there are currently about 40 different efforts to develop a vaccine…

In 2015 I proposed that there be the creation of an organisation that would produce vaccines that would not have a commercial benefit; that is, it wouldn’t be a vaccine that would make money, but be a vaccine that would be directed against an emerging infection. That organisation now exists.

The forward thinking to create that organisation has created the platform for virologists to work collaboratively as a knowledge-sharing community, a network of self-determining research teams. This collaborate, sharing approach means less time lost in chasing down dead ends giving much quicker responses to producing effective vaccines for the world community.

Fran Kelly (later in the interview):

What are the lessons learned, or that need to be learned, from that fight to find a vaccine for rubella (In the ’60’s measles pandemic) and what the world needs now in its fight against Covid-19?

Stanley Plotkin:

Well I think two lessons. One is, in the development of a rubella vaccine there was a lot of competition…In other words, people not working together. Well that has changed! …So at least in this case, people are working together.

The second point is…we are moving much faster than was possible in the ’60’s because we have many more ways of developing vaccines than we had in the 1960’s.

My delight in this interview has little to do with viruses and vaccines. Rather, my delight is in yet another living proof of the validity of Laloux’s projection of a new paradigm shift in the way we organise – away from the Industrial, with its fixation on profit-making and competition to the ‘soulful’ with hearts and minds set on wholeness – away from ‘industry’ through hierarchical and meritocratic structures, to distributed decision-making among cooperative teams of contributors, each of equal status – away from bureaucratic boxes to the free flow and weaving of evolutionary creation. The anti-rubella vaccine could have been available worldwide so much more quickly, saving misery among millions of women and children, had it not been for the industrial mindset of the time. Stanley Plotkin is to be celebrated for initiating a new kind of organisation, one with a higher vision than profit-making through competition.

2. Steven Sondheim – a hospitable musical genius

Later on Radio National, ‘The Stage Show’ with Michael Caffcart:
Stephen Sondheim — taking a razor to conventions (Part I)

https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/the-stage-show/stephen-sondheim-90th-birthday-musical-theatre-composer-lyricist/12044816

I am not a big fan of Musicals. But I am intrigued by Stephen Sondheim. He seems to me to completely embody Nouwen’s conception of radical hospitality in his approach to creating and producing music.

For example, he was asked to explain what he thought was the difference between opera and musicals. In opera, he said, the composer creates the music, and performance necessitates finding the singer/actor who can reproduce what the composer has created. In musicals, for Sondheim, it is a matter of writing for the singer/actor.

Sondheim seems to have upended the motive for the creative process, just as Nouwen’s conception of radical hospitality upends our understanding of creating and maintaining human relationships. In terms of Nouwen’s conception, Sondheim creates space for the performer to be free to be who they uniquely are; the composition has been tailored to the unique personhood of the performer. This frees the actor to engage fully. It precludes any process of mechanical replication of what the composer may have written.

I recall a conversation with my friend Rod Boucher when he had finished touring as a support act for AC-DC: to be on the road performing your hits exactly the way they sound on the records, night after night, is one of the most deadening of human experiences.

And in like manner, Sonheim’s approach as composer/producer/director rubs off on the performers, performing to each audience as valued, respected and unique, not merely to stroke one’s own ego, but to deeply connect, conveying the composer’s intention.

This is Nouwen’s radical hospitality in action.

Put another way, the composer is not composing for his own satisfaction, but serving a higher and broader purpose. That requires taking the means of fulfilling that purpose into a hospitable relationship of mutual engagement. For Sondheim, his art cannot be commodified.

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