(„Türwächter*innen der Freiheit“ will be continued soon!)
The title of this new Blog post is: „Medication for democracy and for your heart“, because I believe that there’s no better time to think about democracy and why doing so might help you to feel better in times of crisis. I want to talk about human connection, solidarity, compassion and the strengthening of our hearts and what all of this has to do with strengthening democracy. I have decided to do this in English because we have a situation here that not only concerns people here in Berlin or in Germany but all over the world.
Just a few weeks ago, who would have ever thought that we could possibly experience something like this?
It’s a bit like waking up in a Roland Emmerich film: like a kind of Independence Day or The Day After Tomorrow. Only that we do not have to fight against aliens or fear the end of planet earth as we know it. At least not yet. The scenario that we are currently living through is more hopeful. More hopeful concerning the chances we have to change things for the better once this crisis is finally over. And for that we should think about democratic values right now. I think its time that we start talking about trust and truth in times of crisis.
Now that so many people all over the world are experiencing a so-called “shutdown of public life” and the effects of so-called “social distancing” (I would prefer to call it “physical distancing”), we have time to think about what we really need – in general – in order to overcome shock, depression, fear and loneliness. Or more concretely: What we really need to be happy. As human beings.
And surprisingly, this is not what we were led to believe or what we focused our attention on in our daily lives before this crisis. Now that we have been stripped of our daily routines and find ourselves in this state of shock, we realize that what we TRULY need to effectively fight depression and fear are not antidepressants, shopping or external gratification through success at work.
It’s something much more basic: What really helps now is connection with other people. A walk with a friend, a conversation with a loved-one, kindness, compassion and solidarity. In times of necessary physical distancing we recognize the healing effect of social bonding.
When I think about the time BEFORE the crisis, there was a very different development on the rise. There was a tendency to cuddle up in groups of people who shared the same opinions, while behaving and speaking aggressively against “other groups”. While there were no borders yet between European countries, invisible borders grew among people.
Now that there are REAL borders between countries and between people through physical distancing, separating us from one another, we are all experiencing a kind of trauma that is caused by our sudden loss of freedom on the one hand, and our loss of safety on the other.
Usually you would think that you can only lose one thing OR the other, either freedom or safety, because usually this is directly connected: You choose safety OVER freedom or vice versa. These days we seem to have lost both: Most of our freedom in everyday life and at the same time our feeling of safety- because we do not know what will become of all this, what the world will be like when this is over or what we will then do and who we will be?
This historical situation is all about the questions concerning freedom and safety – the central topics we have to think about if we want go on living in a democracy. It is obvious now that our world is changing – this very minute. And that if we want to be free and at the same time safe – then it’s time to think of a new treatment plan for our democracy. While other people are now busy finding medication to treat the virus, let us try to think of another medication here: Medication to heal, improve and empower democratic values which will, in turn, heal ourselves.
I would like to encourage us to CONNECT with each other and think about questions like these: How much safety do we need and how much freedom can or should be sacrificed, and what does all this have to do with US – as thinking human beings in a free and democratic society? How do we want to live after this?
And what can we do NOW to make it a reality?
I believe in the opportunities that crisis brings. And perhaps this could also be a kind of comfort and inspiration for you to think about the world you want to find yourself in when we one day awaken from this long, deep sleep.
Today, this first part is about trying to find out what kinds of things can give us hope and inner strength right now. If you listen to different opinions and theories concerning the present situation – whether online in the Internet or while talking with other people – try to FEEL what effect this has on you: Do you feel helpless, angry, frightened? Or do you think: This crisis can be a chance for us to change our society for the better, and I can actually DO something – however small – to help making that happen? If it’s the former, then you are in a “child mode” (either the rebellious, angry child or the frightened, obedient child). This is a state of mind that’s not at all useful for strengthening democracy. Because you feel like a victim. This is exactly the kind of inner attitude that gives power to the wrong people: To people who want to dominate and who seek having power over others. If you feel the latter, then you are in an “adult mode”. You know that we have a serious situation here but you feel motivated to DO something productive. You feel that you are able to take responsibility and, however big the problem should be, you can find solutions and ways to survive – working together with others. This inner attitude is central for creating a better democratic and free society. The more people train themselves NOT to switch into a “child mode” the better for all of us. So be sensitive when you hear people talking and in recognizing what effect it has on you. Try to listen to those who give you hope and inspiration. Stop listening to those who make you feel helpless, aggressive and fearful! Block those voices from poisoning your heart. You have all the (adult and positive) strength inside yourself to make a change for the better – and you can give hope and strength to others. It’s the small things in interacting with other people now that make all the difference.
“May the force be with you.” – Star Wars
Today I want to talk about crisis in general and what it does to us, but also what it reveals about ourselves. Only a few short weeks ago, our current situation was something impossible for us to imagine. But as time goes on, it gradually sinks in that we are in the midst of a crisis of historical dimensions. In Germany most of us never thought that something like this could happen because we were lucky enough to have never before faced real crisis from the inside. So of course our first reaction to this is shock and fear. That’s normal. But if we look at this from above we have to acknowledge that people all over the world and at various points in time have had to face historical changes and phases of crisis time and again. If we can adjust to the fact that this is a crisis of historical dimensions we can compare this to other moments of crisis in the past and look at how people dealt with them. What we know is that situations like this bring out the worst and the best in human beings, and we can decide which role we want to play in this.
At the moment, main fact of the situation is that NO ONE can say for sure whether or not the measures being taken are the RIGHT ones or how to best deal with the crisis. NO ONE knows what it all really means or what outcomes there will be. That’s what a complex crisis is all about. Not knowing what’s best. The only thing we can do now is to look at former situations of crisis and how people reacted back then – as human beings in difficult times. To see which human behaviors were helpful and productive and which weren’t.
Actually, people have ALWAYS reacted to crisis in very similar ways:
There is the indignation about those who don’t want to face or take the situation seriously. There is the amusement about those who were alarmed too early on. There are the politicians and officials trying to appease the public. There are the scientists who do not know enough. There is debauchery by those who feel immortal. There are the little people who suddenly become heroes. The supposedly noble ones who only think about themselves. There are the stories of conspiracy. And the search for the guilty. It is always the same.
And so we have it here again: The scientists do not know enough. However, their advice and their voices dominate the situation right now. This is because we are in a kind of societal “child mode” and are DESPERATELY hoping for answers. And we live in a time in which we are counting on science to provide these answers. And this is not all wrong. However, science is just ONE channel upon an enormous mixing board which has numerous and varied channels. There are also the social, psychological, economical, spiritual, cultural “Mixing Board Channels”. And the list goes on. At the moment, almost all of the mixing board control knobs have been turned down to zero while the scientific channel is on full blast. Despite the fact that science alone can not currently deliver any answers that satisfy us we all continue to sit in child mode, paralyzed by fear, and somehow hope that Daddy will come, pat us on the head and say: Everything is going to be okay. You can go play and I will take care of everything.
But this is a bit dangerous. Because if what we want is to retain our freedom – if we want to someday sit outside in cafés again and to live autonomous lives – then now is the time to finally leave our child self behind and to grow up. Since this is the only way we can responsibly participate and turn the other mixing board controls up again. In a situation as complex as this, there are countless influencing factors. So it would be helpful if as many factors as possible were made visible, meaning that as many individuals as possible would responsibly contribute their own “mixing board channels” while cooperating with one another.
Because it is very possible that “Daddy” doesn’t have the solution, or worse, comes up with one we are not at all that happy about. One in which we are forced to give up many things we have only just secured for ourselves and which have made our lives more beautiful and meaningful. Freedoms that have made it possible for us to live beyond our actual needs.
As concerns our true needs, funny enough, it turns out that being able to recognize these, to take them seriously, and to be able to express them clearly is the first step toward a solution as it is the first step toward reaching our own “adult mode”. The more people who shift into the adult mode, overcoming this feeling of helplessness, the better for a further developed, humane democracy. Because this is the precondition necessary so that several different mixing board channels can work together in a positive way – and so no single controller can silence all the others.
Let me illustrate this with an example: When ten people are sitting in a room and only one of them decides what will be done and how, and even determines which rules are to be followed, the others are somehow relieved that “Daddy takes all the responsibility” and now everyone can just go into their role of being a child. Some now try to create self-worth for themselves; to make themselves feel more valuable by doing everything the RIGHT way so as to please Daddy. These are the conformist children. And the others derive their self-worth from constantly questioning every single thing that Daddy says or does. This makes them feel so very clever because they are CONTRADICTING Daddy. The problem is that these rebellious children are indeed able to criticize everything, but unfortunately are unable to see any perspective other than their own and have no overall objective in sight. In short: The rebellious children also refuse to take any responsibility. They just complain. This sort of kindergarten is damaging to a democracy.
So what could we do now? The funny thing is that it would be enough for Daddy just to say: Come on people, take some responsibility now! Taking responsibility is not something that can be morally demanded though, because that actually does turn people into children. If we want to become our adult selves, we must TAKE responsibility. In order to even notice what this means and how it could be productive we FIRST need a phase in which we recognize when we’re in child mode and why – and then how we get out of it.
And this is the point of this little extra Blog Post: How do we come out of this childlike fear or this childlike anger and move into a balanced and reasonable adult self? This of course sounds so boring because who really wants to become more reasonable? But the good news is:
It feels a thousand times better to be your adult self. Fear and anger disappear. We feel better. And the best part is: We get to contribute to ending this crisis faster and making sure that when it is all over, things will be the way we hope them to be and truly suit who we are and how we want to live. It is necessary now to become our adult self. And I know from personal experience, (seriously now): This truly does bring happiness. Because it generates a sense of purpose. And honestly, this is something that is actually helpful at the moment. So stay curious and stay tuned. Our journey continues in Part 3.