The Meaning of the Covid-19: How to Survive and Thrive in the New Partnership Culture


With the sudden reality of Covid-19 and the world-wide pandemic, people are understandably frightened. It’s like we went to bed one night in a world that was familiar and a life that made sense and we woke up in a totally different world where everything was different. This is the fourth in a series of articles that I hope will help you make sense of this new world and how you can both survive and thrive. 

I first posted “When We’re Sick: What We Can Learn About Love, Life, and Meaning.” Second, “How to Stay Safe and Not Panic: 6 Things You Can Do to Protect Your Health and Well Being.” Third, “Disconnection Syndrome: Why We Are Stressed, Depressed, and Afraid and How We Can Reconnect and Heal.”

Seth Godin’s recent blog, “Calm also has a coefficient,” offers some helpful advice. “Panic loves company,” he says, “And yet calm is our practical, efficient, rational alternative… If panic is helpful, of course, you should bring it on. But it rarely is. Instead: Curate your incoming. 

Stay off Twitter. Do the work instead. Whatever needs doing most is better than panic. Being up-to-date on the news is a trap and a scam. Five minutes a day is all you need.”

I’ll admit, I go in and out of panic. It’s difficult not to get caught up checking the latest media reports. It helps if you have time to prepare. I’ve been seeing this coming for twenty-five years now and I have a clearer picture of what we’re facing, what it means, and how we can get through this together.

The reality of this massive shift in the world was first brought home to me during a sweat lodge ceremony at a men’s conference in 1995. The sweat lodge is an ancient ceremony present in cultures throughout the world and is often used as a time for cleansing, prayer, and for asking for guidance or visions about the future. In the fourth round of the sweat lodge ceremony, the lodge became so hot that many of the men were forced to crawl out. I was sitting at the very back in the hottest spot. I wasn’t aware of the heat because I was transported by a vision:

We are all on a huge ocean liner. It is the Ship of Civilization. Everything that we know and have ever known is on the ship. People are born and die. Goods and services are created, wars are fought, and elections are held. Species come into being and face extinction. The Ship steams on and on and there is no doubt that it will continue on its present course forever.

There are many decks on the ship starting way down in the boiler room where the poorest and grimiest toil to keep the ship going. As you ascend the decks things get lighter and easier. The people who run the ship have suites on the very top deck. Their job, as they see it, is to keep the ship going and keep those on the lower decks in their proper places. Since they are at the top, they are sure that they deserve to have the best that the ship has to offer.

Everyone on the lower decks aspires to get up to the next deck and hungers to get to the very top. That’s the way it is. That’s the way it has always been. That’s the way it will always be.

However, there are a few people who realize that something very strange is happening. What they come to know is that the Ship of Civilization is sinking. At first, like everyone else, they can’t believe it. The Ship has been afloat since time before time. It is the best of the best. That it could sink is unthinkable. Nonetheless, they are sure the Ship is sinking.

They try and warn the people, but no one believes them. The Ship cannot be sinking and anyone who thinks so must be out of their mind. When they persist in trying to warn the people of what they are facing, those in charge of the Ship silence them and lock them up. The Ship’s media keeps grinding out news stories describing how wonderful the future will be.

The captains of the Ship smile and wave, and promise prosperity for all. But water is beginning to seep in from below. The higher the water rises, the more frightened the people become and the more frantic they scramble to get to the upper decks. Some believe it is the end of the world and actually welcome the prospect of the destruction of life as we know it. They believe it is the fulfillment of religious prophesies. Others become more and more irritable, angry, and depressed and use alcohol, drugs, and other forms of self-medication to escape the pain.

But as the water rises, those who have been issuing the warnings can no longer be silenced. More and more escape confinement and lead the people towards the lifeboats. Though there are boats enough for all, many people are reluctant to leave the Ship of Civilization. “Things may look bad now, but surely they will get better soon,” they say to each other.

Nevertheless, the Ship is sinking.  Many people go over the side and are lowered down to the boats. As they descend, they are puzzled to see lettering on the side of the ship, T-I-T-A-N

-I-C.  When they reach the lifeboats, many are frightened and look for someone who looks like they know what to do. They’d like to ride with those people.

However, they find that each person must get in their own boat and row away from the Ship in their own direction. If they don’t get away from the Ship as soon as possible they will be pulled under with it. Though each person must row their own boat, they must stay connected to others. When everyone, each in their own boats rowing in their own direction, reaches a certain spot a new kind of network will emerge… It will be the basis for a new way of life that will replace the life that was lived on the old Ship of Civilization.

I slowly came back to the present and found myself alone at the back of the Sweat Lodge. I wasn’t quite sure what had happened, but the vision was clear in my mind and has remained so ever since. As a scientist, I don’t usually put much store in “visions.”  Yet, over the years I have come to trust the intuitive glimpses into the future that many people see. In the years since the vision, a number of people from different backgrounds have validated the essentials of what I experienced.

What’s the Meaning of the Vision as We Deal with the Covid-19 Crisis?

1. In the vision I saw two systems—The Ship of Civilization and The Connected Lifeboats

Although the Ship of Civilization is been here for a long-time it has some fatal flaws. It is hierarchical and separates people by class. Those at the top have a lot of the good things in life. Those who are not at the top work hard, but get less and less. The primary problem with the Ship of Civilization is that it wasn’t built to last. It is slowly sinking.

Those who recognize the danger try and warn others, but are not believed. Those who see the danger, get off the sinking Ship into lifeboats. As each person rows away, they create a new way of life that is more egalitarian, where people are linked rather than ranked. 

This fits with what Riane Eisler, author of the Chalice and the Blade and with Douglas Fry, Nurturing Our Humanity: How Domination and Partnership Shape Our Brains, Lives, and Future, calls the Domination system (the sinking ship) and the Partnership system (boats of life)

2. The Partnership system is our basic human heritage. The Domination system is relatively recent. 

Anthropologists tell us that our evolutionary history of humans goes back at least a million years. What we have come to call civilization goes back around 10,000 years, when we began to domesticate plants and animals.  So, our Partnership past lasted for 990,000 years. The Dominator period lasted about 10,000 years (1% of our human history) and now we have a chance to get back to our Partnership roots.

Biologist Jared Diamond, in a 1987 article in Discover magazine, called Civilization “the worst mistake in the history of the human race.” Diamond says, “The adoption of agriculture, supposedly our most decisive step toward a better life, was in many ways a catastrophe from which we have never recovered. With agriculture came the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.”

I would add that it isn’t agriculture, per se, that is catastrophic, but the dominator system that holds the belief that humans are entitled to take whatever they want from the earth and all other life on the planet must serve human needs or die.

3. COVID-19 is our final wake-up call to change our ways or it is the human species that will die. 

According to paleontologist and evolutionary biologist, Nick Longrich, “Nine species of humans once walked the earth. Now there is just one.” As frightening as this Coronavirus is, we will recover. Biologist, Bruce Lipton, PhD., was asked recently “will the COVID-19 epidemic go on and on?” He answered, unequivocally. “The answer is clearly NO!” says Lipton. “As is evidenced by the almost complete cessation of new COVID-19 cases in China and South Korea, the epidemic will come to an end.”

The question is, will humans see this as another inconvenience and once it’s over go back to business as usual?  Or will we change our ways? The truth is that the Dominator system is not sustainable. We can no longer continue to heat up our planet, use more and more of the Earth’s resources, and see ourselves as a separate species that can ignore the rules of nature.

Thomas Berry was a priest, a “geologian,” and a historian of religions. He spoke eloquently to our connection to the Earth and the consequences of our failure to remember we are one member in the community of life. “We never knew enough. Nor were we sufficiently intimate with all our cousins in the great family of the earth. Nor could we listen to the various creatures of the earth, each telling its own story. The time has now come, however, when we will listen or we will die.”

4. We have a unique opportunity to return to our partnership roots. 

This is a transformative time for those who are ready change and embrace a positive future. In their book, Spontaneous Evolution: Our Positive Future (and a way to get there from here), Bruce Lipton and Steve Bhaerman say we are ready for “A Whole New Story.”

They continue, “If you find it hard to imagine that we can ever get from the crises that we are facing now to a more loving and functional world, consider the tale of another world in transition. Imagine you are a single cell among millions that comprise a growing caterpillar. The structure around you have been operating like a well-oiled machine, and the larva world has been creeping along predictably.

“Then one day, the machine begins to shudder and shake. The system begins to fail. Cells begin to commit suicide. There is a sense of darkness and impending doom.

From within the dying population, a new breed of cells begins to emerge, called imaginal cells. Clustering in community, they devise a plan to create something entirely new from the wreckage. Out of the decay arises a great flying machine—a butterfly—that enables the survivor cells to escape from the ashes and experience a beautiful world, far beyond imagination.

Here is the amazing thing: the caterpillar and the butterfly have the exact same DNA. They are the same organism but are receiving and responding to a different organizing signal.”

So, my friends, the choice is ours. This is the time where we can stick with the Ship, which is familiar but is sinking. Or we can take the risk to become one of the imaginal cells who get into the boats of life and create the new Partnership Culture. I hope you join us.

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