The leadership and innovation being shown by Astrid Jorgensen during this time of global crisis is nothing short of impressive. Astrid along with Megan Bartholomew created the concept of the Pub Choir in March 2017 in an inner-city Hotel in Brisbane. Originally starting off with just 80 people, the concept soon grew to over 300 willing participants. It was a simple idea that allowed people to express themselves through song with a level of anonymity. No single voice could be heard (for how good or bad it was) but paradoxically every single voice could be heard together. The result? An incredibly powerful expression of the collective Human Soul!
More recently Astrid has taken the concept into the on-line environment, bringing together more than 6,000 people from 45 countries during the global social isolation brought about by COVID-19. They have so far recorded 3 songs: The Carpenters Close to You, Bruce Woodley’s We Are Australian and David Bowie’s We Can Be Heroes.
Click on image above to watch ‘We can be Heroes’ video
The video imagery gives a powerful insight to the lives of people all around the world. Families singing together, men singing from the shower, people old and young alike at home, at work, with their pets, or in costume. From many cultures and countless different circumstances, they are all giving us an insight into their lives. Perhaps most importantly, they are ‘shedding their skin, being vulnerable, and opening their hearts to the world as a way of easing the multiplicity of burdens currently being experienced due to social distancing and isolation.
Interestingly, similar insights are being experienced in the everyday on-line business world. I have attended multiple Skype, Team and Zoom meetings over recent weeks and the one common thread is the window into people’s personal lives. Rather than the super polished corporate photos, immaculately presented work attire and the stoic and cautious veneers we often present to our working worlds, we are seeing our colleagues in their home environments. And with that insight comes the innocent disruption of children followed by a caring or animated gesture of deflection, a visit by the pet dog who just wants to express their love and chase a ball, walls full of books that reveal what inspires people, and a multiplicity of other images that show us more of the real person. People are visibly more relaxed, casually dressed, more willing to have a laugh, share a story, and ask others how they are going.
The common thread running through all of this is the willingness of people to perhaps be a little more vulnerable. To be more ‘real’. And whilst to be vulnerable is to be exposed to the potential for harm or injury, causing us to naturally withdraw and defend, there is another side to vulnerability. It is one of the fundamental requirements for human relationships. To be vulnerable is to be open and accessible to the needs of others as well as the expression of our own needs. It is to be open to change, being wrong, and learning. It is also to be open to love and being loved. It allows us to pull back our defences and invite others to do the same. It creates a space of mutual respect and understanding. But for many, it also requires the courage of a hero!
We often refer to heroes as the people who expose themselves to great physical peril on behalf of others (such as COVID-19) and either conquer or succumb to these great adversities. And this is a reasonable interpretation of heroism as currently demonstrated daily across the World by Healthcare workers and all the people supporting their efforts. But there is an equally powerful but far less overt form of heroism that is also playing out in this and other crises by everyday people in two very distinct but related ways.
Firstly, throughout the course of my career I experienced and witnessed how vulnerable a person needed to be in order to be present to someone else’s suffering. Such vulnerability required immense courage to set aside or rise above self-interest, tune in to the circumstances of the other person, and then act in any way they could to assist. The more I saw it happening, the more I understood it, and the more I understood it, the more I saw it happening. Subtle forms of heroism were happening all the time, but most people were not tuned into it. Heroism, seen as compassionate action at the risk of personal sacrifice, was playing out everywhere. However, most of it was going unnoticed by a world so preoccupied with materiality, self-image, excessive ambition, anger, defensiveness, and low self-esteem.
Secondly, and relatedly, I experienced and witnessed a transformation taking place through a relationship of mutuality. The mutuality took the form of not only allowing person ‘A’ to aid person ‘B’, but the unfortunate circumstances of person ‘B’ were allowing person ‘A’ to set aside self-interested limitations, act courageously, and fulfil their potential as a compassionate human being. Two lives were being saved at the one time. The physical life of person ‘A’ and the spiritual life of person ‘B’. Adversity had ironically created a profound space of mutual respect and understanding that was unconscious to most people. Leadership was doing its finest work.
Returning briefly to the Couch Choir project, what makes Astrid’s leadership so impressive is that it is communitarian. It arises from her sense of social responsibility to the broader community motivated by a willingness and commitment to alleviate the suffering of others. Her leadership along with those who work along side her, have led us into a collective physical or on-line world where people can be a little more vulnerable, less cautious, more human, more real. She has also, perhaps unwittingly, led us to reflect on the fifth verse of David Bowie’s song “We Can Be Heroes”. Here he makes the astute observation that:
We can be heroes, just for one day
We can be us, just for one day
We can be ‘us’ just for one day is to say that we are already heroes, but we just don’t realise we are. The progressive melting away of the super polished corporate photos, immaculately presented work attire and the stoic and cautious veneers we often present to our working worlds is slowly moving us towards a more heroic world. A compassionate world where we can be us, not just for one day, but for more than one day, and perhaps every day!