First published on medium on June, 30th 2016.
Empathizing, or: Being a little bit afraid of becoming too overwhelmed or disappointed myself
Foreword: This is obviously just a personal opinion, a one side perspective, and I’m still devastated by the outcome of the UK’s referendum — even more the more I learn about all the circumstances surrounding it. The possibility of such a vote is likely the most honest display of how less we do understand each other, our motivations, our values and emotions. Still, I’m working on finding a way to to empathize with the #voteleave voters. Why? Because I don’t think decision making is based on intelligence, location, age, social status, peer pressure or any other “outside” factor , alone— I believe it’s often basic instincts and feelings that are governing your opinions, your actions and your vote. Learning about these emotions and their source can make a difference in how in the future I might be able to deal with my own #_____exit desires.
I have been called a German Nazi swine and to go home multiple times approximately 20 years ago, while living in Brighton, UK, one of the nicest towns there is. Every time I was a bit shocked, but on the other hand, I could see the persons in question being roughly 60 to 70 years old, and looking like they surely had experienced some nasty times in life. Today, though, it seems to be again the same age group of “grown-ups” in their later adult life voting to “drop-out” of transnational, transcultural, transanything thinking. I can only guess about how such amount of rejecting everything outside your own experiences, like hatred against others and the need for feeling superior could’ve been piled up. Worldwide, people who clearly had a better life than any of the previous generations, seem to love the idea of rather turning back the wheel to pre-peace, pre-modern, pre-technological, pre-equality times, than facing the 21st world. There is a logical relation in that more freedom, more options and more connections (enabling exchange) also result in higher complexity of life. Or that the greater the group of people sharing space, time and resources in a peaceful distributed way, the more local history, interests and actions will fade. In an equal and free global world the borders of your family, your town, region and nation cannot hide or protect you very much. Like always, it’s the other side of the coin we all tend to ignore or reject.
Having researched hundreds of reports surrounding all #___exits being discussed, acted upon and demonstrated for all over the world, it seems that they all are driven by two distinct but very related emotions: being overwhelmed and being disappointed!
Loosing basic trust
Wherever we come from, whatever gender, nationality or education, we all have experienced disappointments and, at least when being a toddler, we often have been overwhelmed by our environment and our lack of knowledge or power. We probably cried. Maybe somebody helped us to cope. The best thing we knew was to run back into whatever person we trusted. Even just having that option of running back to something well known and secure was the building stone of a growing basic trust in life.
This current rage and angst which is surfacing everywhere, in every nation and in almost every group of nationalist or “I’m against” people, can only come from this distinctly strong kind of feeling lost and being hurt, like from lonliness, broken hearts, unfulfilled desires or lost identity. This illusion of being able to time travel back into a made up world of happiness and comfort, this despair of making everything well again by u-turning can only come from being totally overwhelmed and feeling helpless.
From a rational point of view, it’s not that life is really hard, bad or insufficient itself. The world, health and wealth is improving on a global scale, you are told. But your gut says otherwise when you feel lost, or lost out. It’s mostly not your mind steering the wheel, when you feel miserable, missing enough information to make good decisions.
Most people are longing for a (often promised) paradise of love, of wealth, of beauty, of freedom, of abilities, of feeling good and of not having to bear responsibility — maybe for a kind of life they feel they had in their childhood, with most things being taken care of and the whole world to explore. But being thrown into the big sea of life without a map and no guide, with expectations and limitations, borders and storms, rules and errors, scarcity, arguments and even indignities, we get bored out and burned out at the same time. We just don’t want to be a captain anymore. No energy left. We’d love to leave our ship and go back to where we came from. We’re all worried, our life or we ourself don’t and will never match up to the ideals and heroes we’ve set ourselves.
People are bad at remembering just how beautiful human beings and life itself are. We are forgetting the roads we took, the experiences that formed us, the good and the bad. Even more, we as humans seem to be incapable of learning from the past that we didn’t experience ourself, together with all the freedoms, values and improvements yourself and previous generations have fought for so hard.
Sometimes, we seem to be willing to give up everything for a world that only exists in our mind.
Longing for well-being
It’s rather telling, that there’s also a large group of people, often being younger, living in large cities or having some form of higher education or exposure to the outside world, who are seeing chances, rather than dangers in the current world. Open minded and even eager to learn from different cultures and opinions, shining light on possibilities and new doors — these people are likely looking into the future with hope and dreams and cannot see any good in locking down one’s life. The larger the circle, the more nations, the more exchanging, the better. They opt to join, to connect — and they vote to stay. It’s a mindset driven by embracing change and by trusting others and oneself to be able to continue improving everybody’s life. It’s that kind of basic trust above which will keep you running forward and cheering, always knowing, you can turn around and find security and comfort again, if anything goes broke. If you loose your job, status, love or anything you value a lot, or if the choices to be made are becoming overwhelmingly difficult, you turn around and seek advice and support. For many, only to find out, nobody’s there anymore. No hands are reaching out to you, keeping you warm and safe independent of whatever happened. No crumple pie to forget the pain. It’s you and you alone in a world that has changed so much since you were a child, you hardly recognize it. You cannot see how you will be able to take back control. To ensure integrity of your mind and your identity, there’s only one way out: recreating an outside world you last remember to be sane and where you felt like the good version of yourself. Resurrecting the world of earlier times or as it has been when you were a child.
Understand and prevent #___exit
What scares me most is, that this kind of thinking is (from what I have researched so far at least to some extend) an integral part of being human and is awaiting to swallow me up down the road of change and “aging”. We are primed to reject the unknown, the new and the uncontrollable when things get rough.
Today, I (think I’m) doing well, being free, kind of healthy and feeling “in control” of most things, seeing many possibilities to expand my knowledge, my field of vision and my experiences. But I also remember the times my parents took care of me, where teachers helped me learn and where the surrounding world was protecting me from the complexity of life. Will I too, desire to run back one day into this safe haven manifested in the mind?
What are my hidden values and phobias? My expectations from life, partnership, society, work, close friends, not so close friends?… Do I expect to experience a comfortable life full of freedom, health, happiness? I damn hope so! But what happens if things turn out to be different that anticipated? Today I feel I can manage, even demand and push changes, expanding my life’s limits. But in 10 years, 20 years,…? Will I fall for demanding security over freedom, the well known over the unexpected and the new? Will I be going for selfishness over sharing and caring? Limiting other people’s freedom for the illusion of being in control again?
I’m troubled by the idea of one day hearing and listening to voices in my head telling me to vote for #____exit on some topic because I cannot stand the world changing anymore. Being aware of this looming danger might help fighting it.
More than any form of self control, self reflection and longevity treatments, though, it might be reasonable for our society to provide guidance, security and comfort when needed. When people start to loose their basic trust in life, societies, like families brake down, as seen just a week ago. Politics, especially transnational politics like in the EU must take seriously the driving force that can easily decide the fate of nations, the starting of wars, the vote for leave or stay: basic human emotions. Feelings cannot be calculated and manipulated on a rational level, only, but require empathy. To enable or restore a development of worldwide peace, prosperity and abundance, people need to be able to trust each other. To rebuild or even ensure this kind of universal basic trust, we might need to also consider universal basic security, universal basic income, universal basic education and universal basic health services for everyone. So, in future, I hope people will not need to try running back in time, but instead will find home in a transnational caring community.
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