La voce di Myriam Ines Giangiacomo
This interview was held April 6th in Italian as part of the series ‘Women Around the World, a mosaic of impressions and inspiration in times of Corona.’
Myriam Ines Giangiacomo, founder of Bottega Filosofica based in Rome does consider herself to be a practical philosopher. To her, philosophy is a way of life in which to learn how to hold back judgment. A way to look at the reality through the eyes of a beginner, like the ancient and eastern philosophers did.
Looking at reality for what it is, critically yet also staying open for dialogue, active listening, imagination, that are useful skills and resources especially in these times.
In her boutique – a consulting company – she invites business to merge with philosophy to co-create and re-imagine new ways, just like the craftsmen did in their shops in Italy of the Renaissance period.
How does this crisis affect you personally?
I am surprised to find myself emotionally calm yet mentally preoccupied. I am surprised because usually an emotion triggers a certain agitation, yet now I observe that exactly the contrary is happening. However the preoccupation is a real one. I realise that not everybody is living the crisis in the same way, the actions undertaken are not necessarily the best, nor our personal ones nor the ones of our governments.
The governments have the responsibility to give guidance to the people of their own country yet also to people around the world in the greater community. In various countries the metaphor of the war is being used. I do not consider this to be a metaphor that is useful. It helps us to accept the gravity of the danger yet is totally useless in the understanding the nature of the crisis.
So if we do not understand its nature we cannot start to imagine escape routes. War is something that is visible and that one can fight, yet the virus is invisible and therefor one needs to learn to live with it. A war has a beginning and an end, yet this is a condition that will not disappear, with which we will need to learn to live with. So instead of using metaphors, we need to simply state that this is a planetary pandemic. It is a phenomenon that touches us all wherever in the world. It is serious enough. We do not need a metaphor.
However, as somebody else was saying, to use this metaphor invites the citizens to be more obedient.
As a philosopher and as a coach you look at this crisis systemically. What do you observe as patterns and other?
We have not yet understood that this is a systemic crisis. There are various levels on how to look at this systemically. Looking at it for instance purely from a point of view of a therapist that looks for remedies we lose the systemic angle of spirituality. Spirituality not intending religious practices, but spirituality in the sense of understanding that we are part of a bigger whole, to sense that we are part of something bigger than ourselves, within a whole on which our actions, to say the least, have an impact. So if I think of war, I think of an enemy that is outside of myself, so in some way I am save and I have been assaulted. But that is not the case at all. This is not an external enemy. It is a virus like many other organisms. Yet a virus that we do not know yet, of which scientist confirm to be jumping of one species to another, which implies that we have done something wrong. We have trespassed our own limits. The ecological system, of which we are part of, is reacting on this with a virus that usually would belong to another species in the wild. A wildness that we consider having the right to invade, to destroy and manage with a short-sighted capitalism that predominates all the rest. So if we would consider this a systemic crisis we also need systemic skills to re-establish the connections, the links, and the inter-connectedness that we have completely neglected robbing the earth of its natural balance.
Would you say that now we are practicing the social distancing we could speak of a different dialogue that needs to be re-established that asks for a deeper listening to re-invite back our own humanness into this conversation? Would that be the spirituality you spoke about earlier on? A spirituality that cultivates a certain depth of listening, a certain silence that allows access to another intelligence that is also ours, to be really human in the proper sense of the word? Is that what you mean with spirituality?
Yes, but also to really question our own of what really is important and what not. If you think of it, this crisis makes us think of what really is essential and that what is not, yet appears to be indispensable.
Essentials are the relations and the affective contacts we have because socially we exist as long as somebody else recognise us to exist. So the cultivation of our feeding and dressing, the cultivation of resting physically but also mentally is important to make better choices. Certainly now that we have realised that we have constructed an economy that is based on non-essentials, choosing is important.
Do you recon that this pandemic gives us the chance to reorganise and re-think and re-create our society on a local, national and global level to fit better the natural human nature?
Certainly. Maybe we could relook, for example, at the society Adriano Olivetti was dreaming of. He was a great entrepreneur. His vision has given us the occasion to look at a business not only from a production point of view but also from a spiritual and political point of view based on the community.
From a systemic point of view one could also consider to recreate the dimension wherein person could meet person and a community within certain settings that are not defined as regions because somebody has decided to give them a frontier but because naturally they are recognisable as such, due to certain types of vegetation, the quality of the ground etc.
Do you mean like a region such as the North of Italy could be a region?
All of Italy is a region, the entire Apennine is one region, the Alps would be another region, Islands obviously etc. Yet I would not want to adventure myself into territories I do know too little about in this conversation. Yet as a suggestion I would propose that we have designed artificial boarders, administrative areas, separated people and detached them from their natural habitat. As one says, ‘think global act local.’ The global aspect is economical, the physical characteristics is planetary. So we would need to rethink and be conscious that there is inter-connectedness on a planetary level and there is a socio-economical global system. But our action only makes sense when executed on the local level.
And then there is also this spiritual dimension of which you spoke earlier on that is also economically linked to the territories.
Yes, certainly. You know our Latin culture and in this culture we have what we call the Lares, that are guardian deities in ancient Roman religions, or genius loci that are minor deities watching over a particular place. The spirit or atmosphere of a place, especially conceived as a source of artistic inspiration. So the community could be defined by a certain characteristic, cultural, artistic, etc.
When I think of Italy I obvious think of the richness of the culinary habits of the Cucina Italiana, yet even in Switzerland that touches Italy it will not be the same. This characteristic that in French is called the Terroir, is not the same.
This is an excellent way to explain what I mean. These regions are not necessarily the political regions, yet the regions in which a certain dish will be prepared in a specific way that is recognisable as such to belong to that part of the territory. And then, you know very well, every family has its own recipe in how to prepare a certain dish.
So the small system is surrounded by a bigger system and yet another system.
Yes. And to be conscious when you look like that is becomes even more important because then we also speak of the ancestors that inhabited these places for centuries. And in todays society it seems that we lost that sense of ancestral belonging and thus a sense of loss also in the present moment. So if you do not sense it anymore it is difficult to perceive a possible future.
So we perceive life in two dimensions rather than in its roundedness.
Is there a practice however small that you would be willing to share that could be of use to others in these times?
Yes, any practice of presence. The habit of meditation, of gratefulness just standing still to appreciate in gratitude the day that is about to close, is one of my practices.
You live in Rome, and I do ask you also because you live there. There is the prayer and there is the meditation. What would be the difference between the two for you?
Again, on that I can only answer you from my own experience. I experience meditation as the creation of space; the prayer is the initiation of a dialogue. Meditation is a space in the sense of stillness, of a calm, of a possible. That space we access through various meditation techniques that will enable a prayer in the form of a dialogue, an internal dialogue, and a dialogue with a God outside of us but also inside of us. So the prayer and the meditation are not alternatives but complementary. Just think of the Pope praying on an empty St Peter’s plane, in the rain and that empty space around him also opened an empty space in the heart of non-Catholics to receive some form of blessing.
So you mean also the practice of spirituality independently of religion wherein you are free to access that inner space of calm?
Had you a magic wand, what would be the first change that you would like to realise in your community, in Roma, in Italy and internationally?
That would be a major capacity of listening of oneself and the others. A listening that also means observation. Yes, the capacity to listen. That would be the change, yet it is not a practical change, it is an inner shift. A listening that embraces the self and the values important to the individual and the community that would be deep enough also to question the inner certitudes.
NB: Interview by Cécile Masson in Italian. This document is not pretending to cover all the details of the exchange. For that the original should be considered.
This is the third interview published.