After receiving very positive feedback on our blog contributions in the last years, we would like to continue this still young tradition of the Liechtenstein Academy Blog also this year.
Also in 2020, it is important for us to consider very different perspectives in order to offer you the most stimulating possible offer. This year, we have been able to attract six well-known guest authors, who, with no editorial filters, write about their personal thoughts. Look forward to new and surprising insights from Michael Bursik, complex issues, simply explained by Ulrich Schnabel, philosophical insights from Dr. Ina Schmidt, astute thoughts by our language and legal expert Carlos A. Gebauer, exciting topics around the many topics of working in the digital era by Sibylle Mäder as well as constructive considerations of our health expert Christoph von Oldershausen.
We wish you a stimulating read.
Your Liechtenstein Academy team
Do not be afraid - behave!
Fear is - in the definition of the German dictionary by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm - that emotion of the soul which wants to keep something dangerous away. It motivates the fearful person to retreat from something possibly harmful for his own safety. Such a cautious moving out of the way is therefore not characterized by prudence. The one who keeps his distance out of fear does this rather in a state in which he is penetrated by an agitation. He longs, frightened, only backward. So much so that he no longer dares to take a step forward and, if possible, would prefer to step back even further behind himself.
From an early age, we humans are familiar with this feeling of fearful turning backwards. With every child it can be observed how it dares to explore the world gropingly. Step by step, curiosity pulls it away from its parents, to the point where an uncertainty becomes palpable to it. This immediately gives him reason to run back to his mother or father. If the retreat into familiar territory does not succeed immediately and without obstacles, the awakened fear turns into terror. Agitation then turns into sheer horror.
The past year 2020 has offered a worldwide opportunity to study the connections between fear on the one hand and control on the other: Even adults apparently lose control over themselves when they are penetrated by that fearful agitation. It is enough to lead them over the threshold between security and terror into horror to trigger this effect. Never before this year 2020 I myself have understood the elementary disarming power of an imperative which I know already my whole life. It is: «Do not be afraid!»
The flight of the fearful back into familiar surroundings must be understood probably as a kind of urine instinct: An innate natural instinct to protect our lives and physical integrity. If we recognize a danger, we avoid it in this way without hesitating to think about it. The blood rushes to the legs. And they run. Consequently, part of our attention is always focused on observing the environment in order to sense corresponding risks in advance.
If you want to go fast, then go all-one. If you want to go far, then go with others.
Far beyond our own species, living beings make use of the special advantage of being among their own kind from such a safety point of view. Where could a small, delicate bird rest more safely and perhaps even close its eyes a little to gather its strength than - surrounded by masses of its fellow species - sitting at a lofty height on a high-voltage pylon? The proximity to the fellow creature helps to be able to use its attention also for the own self-preservation. If danger threatens, the whole swarm shoots thunderously into the air, thus waking up the dozing creature, enabling it to escape and thus preserving its life. «If you want to go fast, then go all-one. If you want to go far, then go with others,» says an African proverb wei-se.
In this context, the devilish aspect of a plague, an epidemic, a pandemic becomes abundantly clear: the natural instinct to seek protection among one's peers, the desire to defy danger in a community of strength, cannot be fulfilled and satisfied. For it is precisely where we are usually safe, with and among others, that death and destruction suddenly lurk. The natural protective layer of the social environment is transformed into a state of siege: Suddenly, continuous and - particularly insidious - imperceptible dangers to life emanate from every fellow species. And that is not all. Even the innermost conviction of being safe rather than in danger in certain long-familiar places may suddenly no longer be followed by the individual if and because a state law withdraws this refuge from him. It is no longer only the well-balanced fellow human being who, for reasons of infectious medicine, is ruled out as a source and target of possible protection. Even calling a policeman may all of a sudden have unexpected results these days: He who is asked to help, can put me into quarantine.
Like a little bird, the pandemic citizen then sits all alone on a section of his high-voltage power line defined by the law on protection against infectious diseases: waking up and looking wearily across the landscape, he clings lonely to the wire, while he freezes in the drafty winter storm and ponders what air he is breathing and how far he may still move to the side - obedient to distance - in order to call out a quiet «Hello?» to the neighbor to the side without sanction.
Epidemics are therefore not only a medical affliction. Plagues are besides we-sentlich a disease for the souls. Behind the cold-technical word «risk of contagion» lies a whole program of radical desocialization. Proximity is now no longer familiarity, but danger. In the epidemic, the protective spheres collapse. In the manifestation of the pandemic, it robs people of every conceivable spatial refuge around the entire globe. In its perhaps most allergic consequence the epidemic kills beyond that even the mental exchange between humans. The willingness to listen to each other in order to experience something different, something new, slackens. The fear of experiencing the unheard that could make one rethink one's own point of view gains the upper hand. The good cooperation of dialogue slips into a fearful, silent turning away from the other. In the divided society the individual fears in the end even to be infected with foreign considerations. Even talking to each other dies out.
After months of pandemic thinking, I see only one way out of this desperate situation. It seems to me that every human being can escape from this perplex-fatal mixture of the need for protection and the instinct to flee by only one method. I believe that every individual must be free by law to find his or her very own, highly individual, highly personal balance between closeness and distance with others. The dilemma of fearful souls in the midst of all bodily contagion worries cannot be solved at all by additional state threats of punishment. A further pressure created in this way only presses the souls of the fearful even more.
Where people call out to each other: «Behave yourself!», they ask others to behave with their own kind. And to behave means nothing else than to agree with others on a harmonious modus vivendi. The relationship between closeness and distance is agreed upon by the participants. Physically and mentally. And in the common experience from their behavior a social exercise develops, which does not need state threats of punishment from afar, in order to conquer the fear of all involved.
«Fear not!» is not an appeal to epidemiological irrationality. «Fear not!" does not mean to misjudge infectious medical dangers. «Do not be afraid!» means rather to weigh things up wisely and responsibly oneself, to act personally rationally, to be reasonable towards others and to be empathetic instead of being thoughtless and penetrated by agitation, to flee from realities at the border to horror. So: Behave yourself and control yourself! Otherwise you will be ruled by others. Otherwise you will be conquered and you will be commanded. That should be your concern.
About the Author: Carlos A. Gebauer