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The absence of presence

It has been a challenge to work from home during the COVID-19 lockdown  – no, not any children running around demanding something to eat. For me it is the disconnection from people in a time when physical distancing is the rule. I’ve been advocating the crucial need of appropriate touch for human flourishing for years, and all of a sudden it evaporated into thin, virus-floating air.  Fortunately I work for an organisation that is geared towards distance learning, so that transition was relatively painless. But I noticed how tired I was after our online/ zoom meetings, and even after numerous WhatApp video calls with colleagues, friends and family, I’m getting more reticent to push the video button as lockdown-days are dragging on.

This morning I read a tweet by Gianpiero Petriglieri, associate professor of Organisational Behaviour at INSEAD Business School, and an expert on leadership and learning in the workplace.

It made total sense ~ our bodies are blindfolded. The constant presence of each other’s absence deprives our bodies from sensing and imagining enough. Just listen:

“I spoke to an old therapist friend today, and finally understood why everyone’s so exhausted after the video calls. It’s the plausible deniability of each other’s absence. Our minds tricked into the idea of being together when our bodies feel we’re not. Dissonance is exhausting.

It’s easier being in each other’s presence, or in each other’s absence, than in the constant presence of each other’s absence.

Our bodies process so much context, so much information, in encounters, that meeting on video is being a weird kind of blindfolded. We sense too little and can’t imagine enough. That single deprivation requires a lot of conscious effort.

I am finding Zoom easier if I don’t make eye contact. Then I can mimick a distant presence, which feels more real. If I want intimacy, and we’re apart, I’ll phone. And If I want to say thinking of you, I’ll write.”

                                                         ~ Gianpiero Petriglieri

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