Imagine you had to paint a picture…
Imagine you had to paint a picture that expresses the way you see the world. Would it be a happy picture? Would you rather use bright or dark colors? Would you paint an abstract picture, or would you focus on details? What do you see when you look around, when you look at your life, when you look at our world? For me, when I look at our world, I find it a rather difficult task to paint such a picture. On the one hand there is so much beauty, so much kindness and so much love. On the other hand, there´s so much ignorance, so much hate and so much ego. If I were assigned such a task 10 years ago, the picture I would have painted would probably have been less controversial and happier than the picture I would paint today. But how come? Is it the natural skepticism and growing pessimism that suddenly overcomes you once you´re in your thirties and that continues to grow the older you get? No, it´s not that. I am still a profoundly optimistic man. So what is it then? I mean, when I wrote the first draft of this article, I was in midst of an exciting travel adventure together with my life adventure partner, far away from daily routines and everyday problems that might trigger pessimistic thinking.
For an entire year, we were spending almost every day in beautiful nature, climbing mountains, sleeping under the stars, or swimming in the ocean. We were constantly meeting new people, experiencing indescribable hospitality and kindness and we have all the reasons to believe that this world is good. But when you travel the world with open eyes and an open heart, you can´t neglect that a lot of things are not quite right. The brutal oppression of the Tibetan and Uighur minorities and the eradication of their cultural heritage in China, the modern colonization of large parts of Asia and various African countries by China (I could go on and on about things that are not right in China); the destruction of the traditional nomadic lifestyle in countries like Mongolia and other Central Asian countries that were under former Soviet Union influence; the wars that are being fought and the people that are being killed in the name of religion in the majority of the countries on our planet; the mindless pollution of Mother Nature, from the hilltops of Pakistan´s north to the beaches of India´s south. Traveling – living – with open eyes and an open heart can easily weigh on you and make you question a lot of things. But isn´t this exactly what we need to do? Constantly question things, question our status quo, question our habits, question our lifestyle? Don´t we, the ones privileged enough to even think about such questions, have the responsibility to find appropriate answers? I believe that we are in midst of a big paradigm change. An upheaval for all humanity. How do I come to that conclusion? Well, first of all because more and more people seem to try to find answers to these questions. It is refreshing to see that young people from all over the world are revolting against our exploitative way of life and are fighting on the streets for their future (hopefully they will soon again be able to do so). It is encouraging to see how more and more people are starting to question what we eat, what we wear and how we travel. The second reason why I think that we are in midst of a paradigm change is, that the information age that has just started as recently as two decades ago, will fundamentally change all aspects of our life: our economic system, our political systems, our education system, our health system, to just name the most obvious. And if you look at all of these systems individually, you can see how old structures are crumbling and new structures are evolving.
We, the human species have always been driven by innovation and growth. The age of industrialization brought wealth and a better quality of life for many, especially for people in the western parts of this world. Now, today in the year 2020, we live in abundance on the old continent and most of us do not have any existential problems to worry about. We have the privilege to be able to seek self-fulfillment, most of us have all the resources at hand (a roof over our head, plenty of food, education, health care and several social benefits) to follow our dreams, and we can make the choice to leave everything behind and just travel for an unspecified period of time if we feel like doing so. When you start explaining that to a Pakistani who has never left the borders of his country and who´s biggest dream it is to eat a real Italian pizza in Rome once in his life, you do realize how very privileged and lucky you are. Great, you might say. Good for us, you might think. But when zooming out of our comfortable western bubble and looking at our small world from a macro-perspective you can´t suppress an obtruding question: What´s the cost of our excessive lifestyle? Or in other words: What price are we willing to pay for the protection of our excessive lifestyle? When I live above standard, someone else must live below. Isn´t it so? Or in other words, there is just one big cake; if I take more, someone else gets less, or nothing. You might counter, that it has to be like that. That this is inherent of our economic system. That the alternative would be socialism, which we have already seen doesn´t work. Well, true. But I dare to ask the question: Does it really have to be like that? I mean, as long as we are on the bright side of that equation, it is tempting to defend the current status quo as being well deserved. However, our achievements are model to other countries in the world, which strive towards the same standard of living. Now, no one would blame them for trying to raise their standard of living. And when you look at countries like China, India, or Brazil, to just name the most obvious, the standard of living in these countries has increased significantly over the past 10-20 years. Good for them, you might say. But lets go back to our cake. The cake, you might have guessed, stands for the resources we have on this planet; the resources that Mother Earth provided us with so all living things can live in harmony and co-existence with each other. If we are truly honest to ourselves, we know and we understand that if everyone would have the same exorbitant lifestyle like we do in the west, we would destroy our planet. Or let me correct myself, the planet, Mother Earth, would destroy us. So at what cost does our lifestyle come? The answer seems obvious, yet we seem to close our eyes. We are exploiting the resources of our planet. We are robbing other living creatures of their natural habitat. And with our inordinate consumption we are fostering global warming and are destroying the livelihood of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world as well as the livelihood of all kinds of animals, as well as the livelihood of our children and grandchildren. And we know all that. In the past we have just chosen to close our eyes. So why do we keep acting that way? Well, maybe because we were all born into this economic system and most of us have or had parents who wanted us to have a better life, with more of the things that they aspired for their life. And their parents wanted them to have the same. The system teaches us to get a good education, find a job we kind of like, but more importantly a job with a future and that promises a decent salary, and once we are in that job we trade time for money. With that money we keep spinning the wheel of consumption and we tell our kids the same story. Now, I believe that this story was a good story. Thanks to that story, I have had a very privileged life and can afford to even philosophize about all of that. But I believe that we have to write a new story, with a new common vision, a vision of who we want to be, a vision that is based on moral and social values rather than on growth at all costs. I believe we have to ask new questions. What are our values and do we live by them? What does true quality of life actually entail? How can we transform a consumption-oriented society into a giving and sharing society?
I think we are facing turbulent times – globally. Given everything that is happening right now – the democracy of the United States is at stake, a worldwide pandemic is keeping us in check, glaciers are retreating rapidly, wildfires in Australia, Siberia, California and Brazil are destroying the habitat of billions of animals, and we are nearing the point of no return in terms of climate change. Yes, thanks to the information age, we also have access to unlimited amounts of information about what is happening in the world. But this feels radically different, doesn’t it? Do you feel the paradigm change we are right in the middle of? How else would you explain the revival of nationalistic thinking, the growing popularity of authoritarian leadership – in many parts of Europe like Hungary, Poland, or France? How else would you explain that security is being referred to as one of the top values in developed countries, while we have never before lived in more secure times? How else would you explain the fact that the concept of democracy itself is being challenged in the very country that made democracy in vogue in the west – Great Britain? How else would you explain that a yellow-haired obscene clown is pulling the strings of the most powerful country of the 20th century? How else would you explain the ludicrous personality cult around China´s president whom nearly one fifth of the worlds population blindly follows (yep, that’s how many Chinese there are)?
The paradox of human existence is, that we seek consistency and stability, while life is and always has been about constant change. But we are afraid of change by nature, especially with growing age. And we are growing older and older. We feel threatened when we are forced to leave the well-known path. And since we are being non-stop bombarded with news from all over the world, we build walls around us, for perceived protection. In most cases however, our fears are unsubstantiated. And if you´re being honest to yourself, you will agree that the large majority of your fears of the past have never come true. Often, we are stuck in our old ways of thinking, racking our brains to find answers to always the same questions. What if we had the courage to ask new questions (check out Do We Dare To Ask?)?
You might think that I´m drawing quite a pessimistic picture of the world we live in. But in fact, it´s exactly to the contrary. I love change, I embrace change, we need change. And more often than not, things need to get worse before they get better. We are the ones who created the world we live in today. You and me, we all together are the co-creators of the world we are seeing and experiencing today. Not the politicians, not the big companies, not other countries, not god. We all together are responsible and in the end also accountable for the world we created. Now, it´s up to each and every one of us to assess what we created. And if you ask me, we really messed up. The way things are going, this is not the world I would like to see my children or grandchildren to grow up in. We need change. A different way of thinking, a different behavior towards each other and towards our planet, we need to wipe out ignorance and instead open our eyes and hearts. But above all we need a new common vision for our society and our entire world.
‘I alone can´t change the world’, some people say with resignation. ‘We already do so much, other countries are harming nature much more profoundly’, others state innocently. But finger-pointing won´t bring any change. We Europeans have the chance to be the front runners. We have the unique opportunity to create a new common vision. However, we need to ask ourselves very uncomfortable questions and dare to open our eyes to the even more uncomfortable answers.
When traveling through the world, you realize that despite all cultural differences, we are all the same. Human beings are generally good-hearted. But most people seem to never stop chasing the carrot, which promises happiness, when all they have to do is realize that the carrot is inside of themselves, at any point ready to be eaten. I believe that we human beings have enormous potential, which is just waiting to be activated. We have the power to change the world for good or for worse. But it all starts with each and every one of us. I wish for us to learn to embrace change, to be driven by love and not fear, to have the courage to question our own set of beliefs, and to have the confidence that each and everyone of us can make a difference.
So how would your picture of the world we currently live in look like? And how would your picture of the world look like where you want your grandchildren to grow up in? Let’s visualize it together and make it become reality. Imagine the change we would create in this world.