The misery of the world - how do I deal with it?
When I saw the first photograph of a wrecked woman's body - her legs torn away by the tsunami, her hair drowned in mud - I felt dizzy. I started to shiver and stare at the screen remotely. For a brief moment I felt completely porous. I was not me anymore. I was the woman in the mud, the kid screaming for her, the man desperately looking for her, the wave that ripped everything with rage.
For a fraction of a second, there was no separation between me and the woman in distant Japan. Then I returned to my body, clicked the picture away, blew my nose and sat back down. Pull yourself on the belt. Life goes on, said a stern voice in me. You have work on the table. The world is full of disasters, calamities are the normal state, and you do not change it at all if you now melt away from consternation.
Suddenly the haircut was more important than the misery of the world
For a few days I felt shaky, unprotected, unsettled. Built close to the water and very close to the existential questions. What if my life were gone from one second to the next? What would I have missed? What could I not forgive? What is really important to me? What consequences do I draw from the earthquake and reactor disaster? What does my lifestyle have to do with it? What can I do to help? A firework of questions made me wide awake, for a moment I was ready to put everything to the test, not just my electricity provider.
Then I realized that the big questions in me were slowly fading away and replaced by more urgent problems: what to do with the manicured mane on my head? I had to admit that a new haircut was more important to me than a new way of life. Amazed, I watched myself as I quickly transformed back into the routine and blunt media consumer, to which I have developed through years of training. I found it reassuring and terrifying at the same time.
"I'm sitting in the chair, yanking away the misery, and I'm scared to death."
On the radio I heard a sentence that relieved me. "Luckily, we're dulling," said Swiss psychologist Hansjörg Znoj in an interview with Schweizer Radio. "This mechanism prevents us from being constantly shaken and into a permanent alarm." Habituation is the psychological term for this unconscious form of learning. If we are repeatedly exposed to a stimulus that proves to be insignificant, our response weakens and eventually stops altogether. In other words, with the repeated sight of catastrophic images, our brain eventually classifies the information as "not relevant" because the threat is far away.
We learn to suppress fear and pain. In this repression, Hansjörg Znoj sees a healthy protective mechanism that prevents us from constantly releasing stress hormones and reacting to tachycardia and sweating. It is similar with the thought of our transience. "We know that we're going to die with 100 percent certainty, but we're designed to suppress the anticipatory shock and worry a little more, otherwise we would not be viable."
It creates a deafness in the audience
So there is a built-in license to repress us. "Happy is who forgets what can not be changed," says the operetta "Die Fledermaus", which my parents liked to hear and which I have always hated. If I let everything approach me, I would be incapable of action, that reminds me. At the same time, a discomfort about the zombie remains in me. Something about it does not feel right. I am sitting in a comfortable armchair in relative safety, holding off the misery of the others, pulling away the smoking reactor blocks of Fukushima, the dead in Tunisia, the hurricane victims in the US, and being so efficient in my art of extinction that it's me I am afraid of myself.
There is also a good explanation for that. According to the social researcher Jörg Bergmann, the television and internet pictures create a deafness in the audience through the constant repetition. With this, one loses sight of the chronology, stares at the pictures with fascination, and feels as blocked as the victims themselves. "We are overwhelmed with news that we can not react to immediately," says Barbara von Meibom, Professor of Politics and Politics Communication Science at the University of Duisburg-Essen and Director of the Communion Institute for Leadership.
"When a child is hurt, a girlfriend is sad, or the partner experiences a dramatic situation in the office, we can empathize spontaneously and respond to their pain with a loving eye, a hug, conversation, or concrete help." distant disasters impossible. " But between cool dullness and total paralysis through media flooding, there must still be something. A state in which I am permeable and touched by the suffering of others.
An openness that allows me to wake up from the everyday trance, to look beyond my small box and to empathize with people who are with me on this planet and just lose their homes, their children and their future. Perhaps it is my Christian heritage that makes me believe that the world is a better place to resist the temptation to hide the misery of others. "Compassion is the key," says Barbara von Meibom. It distinguishes three levels: thinking compassion, feeling compassion and being compassionate. "When I am compassionate and truly open my heart, it does not matter if what touches me happens in Japan or on my doorstep, but we are usually very far from that state, we pursue our own interests, we separate ourselves others, do not want to recognize us in them, shut us down and thereby build up security. "
"Only from an attitude of compassion can we overcome our powerlessness."
Although I suspect that compassion could enrich my life, I am constantly defensive. I register what I have to do, what to think, how complicated my life is, how overwhelmed I am with my little problems. Since I can not take care of the others with the best will, so I talk myself out in front of myself. "To embark on the path of the heart opening takes courage," says Barbara von Meibom. Thinking compassion or not thinking makes a big difference. Thankfully, the tsunami did not hit us. The radioactive cloud is not coming to Germany, so I do not care. The Japanese need to see how they get along, they should have better secured their power plants.
Such thoughts, says Meibom, are an expression of the refusal to consider compassion as thought at all. "But when I slip in someone else's shoes for a second, I guess how he's doing, changing my perspective, expanding my consciousness, and ultimately making me more relaxed and happy." At first, it's painful to endure the suffering of others but when I arrive in a state of compassion, I feel connected, and that feeling strengthens me. "
On the one hand, we have the gift of understanding what is going on in others. On the other hand, in a fraction of a second, we check whether the other person is familiar or unfamiliar, near or far, and regulate the degree of our compassion. The Marburg psychotherapist Wolfgang Rust speaks of a hierarchy of compassion: first children and women, then male civilians, then soldiers. We deny our compassion when we classify us as guilty and strong. Ethnic or political affiliation also plays a role.
The stranger a culture, the lower the chance to resonate. That sounds plausible, and yet it seems absurd to me. Can we still afford to pretend in our globalized world that what happens in Libya is none of our business? As if the radiation from Fukushima is not threatening, because we are far enough away? As if the street vendor who begs in the subway, a loser, who is to blame? Even quantum physics now confirms that everything is connected to everything and influences each other, that no event takes place in isolation. What happens to others also happens to us, say all spiritual traditions. But this knowledge is apparently too abstract for most people.
Overcome the powerlessness
To bridge the gap to compassionate action, American Zen teacher Bernie Glassman and his classmates are leading the lives of homeless people for a few days. Without money, and only with the clothes on their backs, they are prepared for the situation of complete insecurity, sleeping in the park or under the bridge. From this experience, according to Glassman, compassion and loving action grow. Those who have experienced cold, hunger and homelessness in their own bodies can no longer indifferently pass by homeless people, confirm his students.
I definitely do not have the courage to take such a radical step. "There are also gentler ways," says Barbara von Meibom. She is convinced that an attitude of compassion naturally leads to wholesome action. "I can donate, I can rely on sustainable energy, get involved in my neighborhood, volunteer and just do what I can, where I am, in my capacity, think globally and act locally, overcoming mine Faint and improve the world. "