Connect and Disconnect

Every day we find examples of political disengagement in our news media. The political elite seems to be disconnected from "the people". Trump in the USA, Samson and Asscher in the Netherlands, Brexit in the UK, they are striking examples of "the people" speaking and deciding differently from what we would expect from the political tradition. Worldwide political leaders appear who have no basis in “the people” or the community but in economic power and wealth and who acquire political power. A perfect link is created between economic and financial wealth and political power. In our material existence gaining personal advantage by using individual or collective power also plays a dominant role.

Are our traditional values and beliefs at risk?

The religious elite seems to be disconnected from the faithful. Catholic and protestant pastors strive desperately for new connections with their wavering supporters. Fundamental values and virtues such as hospitality, mercy, tolerance and justice are oppressed by the appeal of fear for the unknown, protecting national boundaries and shifting our problems on to the shoulders of minorities and vulnerable groups in society.
In the private sphere we see disengagement. 40% of all marriages end in painful disconnections.
In sports and culture there is crisis too and its traditional base is for discussion. Two current examples: Dutch football is in crisis and the question is predominant whether we should abandon that famous Dutch style of play and disconnect from Cruyff and his associates. And famous theatre company Apple is forced to close down because their subsidy is cut off due to unconvincing renewal plans.
Even science which during the last hundred years was supposed to give us an increasing grip on life by providing the evidence of what is good and not good for man and society must now face the fact that there is much that is beyond proof. Even science is faced with unexpected and unanticipated effects of its way of dealing with issues.

The preservation of our common ground, our prosperity and well-being is at stake, as one might experience oneself. We can gradually ask ourselves what it is that makes these disconnections occur on all sides and realize that it is not obvious that we can reconnect again.

Could it be that a major paradigm that lies beneath our way of living and living together is disappearing and there is a different paradigm to replace it? I think this is the case.

The paradigm of the engineered society with leaders and followers who live in an traditional reliable framework is taken over by the paradigm that we ourselves must create the sense of our lives by changing and shifting social frameworks ourselves.

In what situation are we in at the moment? We reap the fruits of seventy years of engineered society. Businessmen, politicians, cultural leaders, religious leaders took us by the hand and we had to work hard to create a very orderly functioning society.

We live in an almost perfectly organized society, especially when we compare Dutch society to other societies. Our infrastructure in the areas of transport, education, health, police, tax authorities, small and medium-sized enterprises and multinationals have achieved a high degree of perfection in the course of the past seventy years. There is also an alternative for everything. For each product or service, training or care we can choose from several options. Our country is full of professionals who strive hard to optimize their work. There are hundreds of thousands of managers who organize and arrange. We take this for granted.

Yet this has not led to maximum satisfaction, let alone maximum fulfilment in people’s souls. We are dissatisfied and annoyed at every little detail that's not right. When the train is five minutes late, a professional has written a faulty report, the TV broadcast is boring, then we are agitated and disappointed. Behind front doors dramas take place between partners, parents and children. Feelings of insecurity, fear of the unknown, the desire for permanent happiness, all this occupies our souls.

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Apparently, an almost perfectly organized society is unable to answer our inner questions and concerns. Here we encounter a problem of a different nature, a meaning-giving and inspiration issue. Why should we include and give shelter to refugees, why should we still believe leaders, why act as my partner wishes, why is my child unhappy? These ‘why questions’ cannot be solved by others, we ourselves will have to answer them.

Whereas the meaning of life and of our existence was in the hands of leading elites before, we are now told that we ourselves must intervene to give meaning to our lives, give them form and content. Moreover, the often-used phrase associated with good expectations, "It will soon get better " is no longer credible. Our children may not have better lives than we do: less welfare, safety, security, and meaningfulness.

The leadership in the hands of a few individuals that must provide the community with meaning is not working. We ourselves will have to take our share of leadership, of carrying responsibility for the meaning of our lives and that of our neighbours.

Nowadays the traditional sense-making resources can no longer provide adequate nutrition for our struggle to gain clarity about the inner questions that we deal with. We have to ask the question: "What are the new sources that we can tap into when it comes to the sense-making in our lives today? "

Here I see a fundamental paradigm shift: from vertical to horizontal. Where formerly the political, religious and economic elite could best steer our lives using their power from above and provide us with a predefined sense for our lives, we are now dependent on the encounter with others with whom we can build and embed the meaning of our lives. Our partner, colleague, customer, neighbour, supplier will play a role in our lives by the meaning-creating encounters we have with them. The direct dialogue with someone else in a meaningful process gives us both impulses and insights. The common judgment building with others on issues that dominate our lives, gives us perspectives. We can make decisions ourselves on a basis of mutual trust.

The leading elites will have to see that they can assist us in dealing with real life issues that we all meet anywhere in the world: they can support the leadership of individuals and groups. Moreover, our understanding and appreciation of all those leaders in politics, culture, economics, sports, religion and other social areas, those who strive for the community and build good infrastructures in which we can move independently, are a necessary shot in the arm for the ‘elite’ and the ‘people’ in order to remain vertically interconnected too.

Adriaan Bekman

A response to this blog by Klaas IJkema will appear in a few days.

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