Three weeks ago I rediscovered my optimism, it was hiding behind my suitcase in a dusty corner of the cupboard. I stretched into the darkness, grabbing it with both hands and pulled it towards me. It felt a bit limp and needed a good clean and polish. I could tell that with a little bit of attention and some fresh air it would be ready to go again in no time. First I washed it in warm, soapy water. Then I dried it carefully. Finally I polished it with some special beeswax that I’d kept in the drawer for years. By the time I’d finished, my optimism was sparkling and looked brand new.
..’Tell me about a rose and a thorn…’ said my daughter Lucy, referring to recent events. ‘What’s happened to you recently that’s good and what has happened that has been more of a challenge’….
The rose part was easy, we’ve recently welcomed a granddaughter in our family. A beautiful little girl named Lyra, who smiles all the time and is the apple of everyone’s eye. Next I had to think about the thorn. Clearly the global events of the last eighteen months have been a challenge, there’s no doubt about that. Would I describe them as a thorn, no, not exactly. However I would describe them as a very concerning and frightening set of events, that forced many, many people to live differently and to distance themselves physically and mentally from those around them. This contagious isolation is a deeply negative way to live a life. Human beings are sociable creatures, we thrive on companionship, conversation and shared activities. Whilst we can survive alone and in a solitary state, there are numerous consequences to such an existence. I suppose this imposed isolation would be my thorn.
A few weeks ago I spotted an article in the New York Times. Writer Adam Grant was talking about ‘collective effervescence’. I’d never heard the expression before and I liked it immediately. Collective effervescence happens when a group of people get together to enjoy a common event or activity. It could be football players playing a match, a large group of people dancing at a night club or a classroom of students discussing a new book or a recent film. It is the energy and vibrancy that is created when a number of people are together and appreciating each other’s company and the synergy that the group creates. Grant is an organisational psychologist and he observes that collective effervescence has been sadly lacking from our lives for over a year now. He also argues that it is time to get back to normal. I agree with him whole-heartedly. I can’t wait to get back to my profession as a travel company owner and tour guide. I create original journeys for clients and often lead small groups (typically about 8 people) to different parts of Italy. When I’m on the road with a small group I’ve often witnessed examples of collective effervescence. I remember very clearly having dinner in a traditional trattoria, just south of Naples. A joke at the table created a spontaneous surge of laughter and merriment that lasted for at least ten minutes. The participants all remember this evening vividly. For them it was far more important and meaningful than the spectacular Greek temples we’d visited earlier that day.
Another example of collective effervescence that springs to mind involves a beekeeper who has a series of hives perched rather precariously on the lower slopes of Mount Etna, which happens to be a volcano. On the one hand the rich, fertile volcanic soils are wonderful for agriculture and all types of plants and shrubs thrive on the mineral rich earth. However on the other hand there’s the risk of volcanic activity and a lava flow devastating his small farm. So it’s a rose and thorn situation too, the rose is the fantastic blossom that the bees can pollinate and which flavours their wonderful honey. Whilst the thorn is the brooding presence of Mount Etna. However our visit to the beekeeper generated a collective effervescence that seemed to be independent of the delicious honey. Our host was a huge fan of American rock and roll music and all he really wanted to do, apart from selling his honey, was to chat to us about Elvis Presley, The Righteous Brothers and Buddy Holly. We ended up having a mini-disco; the beekeeper, the clients and me. It was an absolute highlight of the trip. These examples of spontaneous joy and fun happen all the time when I’m on the road with a small group. These moments are not planned, they just develop, naturally and unexpectedly.
My next trip to Italy will be in October, 2021 – just two months from now. I’m excited, relieved and ready to get back to work. My optimism is up and running and ready to go. I can’t wait to create some collective effervescence along the way and I’m more than happy to deal with the roses and the thorns to get to the other side.
Special thanks to:
- Adam Grant and his article in The New York Times which resonated so clearly with me.
- My lovely friends and clients – who have travelled with me so many times over the years – especially Debbie, Mary Lou, Barbara, Grayson, Belinda, Kathy, Karen, Nicole, Laura and Kate. There are many more. Thank you.
- My daughter Lucy for her considered thoughts and eloquent observations.
Chester, England – 30th July, 2021