In this excited time when everything sounds like Corona, I miss some voices even more painfully than I usually do. One of them belongs to Axel Corti, and it is now almost another 27 years since that voice last sounded on the radio as it was supposed to, on St. Stephen's Day, before it fell silent, silenced on earth, under the final silencer three days later. In this, his last official contribution, Axel Corti tells the legend of Rabbi Hillel thus:
"Rabbi Hillel, the great, widely praised, the wise Rabbi Hillel, who was revered by his disciples and followers like no other and who nevertheless remained a very modest, quiet man throughout his life, Rabbi Hillel succeeded, as the Hasidic legends report, in returning from the beyond for a brief moment. Yes, so strong were his spiritual powers, so deep was the Rabbi's piety, that such, yes - was allowed him. For he was on his deathbed. Even the great, wise, completely internalised, saintly teachers die one day. His disciples, his followers from all over the country had come to say goodbye. They stood silently praying around his bed and saw how Rabbi Hillel's face became brighter and brighter, radiant like a light, his breath became smaller and smaller, but from within the rabbi shone so that the room shone and glistened and positively sparkled. Suddenly the rabbi opened his eyes and began to speak, not loudly, but completely understandably. He said: "It is all very different, I may tell you. I have heard what God asks in the severe test: 'Who were you?' he asks. And when those who have been tested begin to set forth their good intentions and their intentions and their efforts to become better, better than themselves, the Father says of us all: 'No, you didn't have to be Abraham, you didn't have to be Moses, you didn't have to be a saint, no other, but: 'Were you the Rabbi Hillel, were you the one, the Rabbi Hillel, you?' That's how the question goes in the other world, in the real world. And when he had said this to his disciples, the light of Rabbi Hillel went out very quietly in a wonderful glow. So goes the legend of the Hasidim. And it is not clever to comment on, not to prove. It separates the important from the unimportant. It does not provide a recipe - it demands something of me. I have to be clear about something, I have to start with it ... Isn't that so? Life doesn't ask us to become a saint. But there's a chance to send a thought towards becoming Rabbi Hillel: namely, yourself."
TOO LAZY TO READ ON? THEN LISTEN TO ME:
In the blogcast, I read this recent blog article to you. With emphasis, of course!
Axel Corti could tell stories like no other, like no other. Raising his voice with this voice, very quietly, completely inaudible for all those who wanted to understand, i.e. listened to what was going on at that time on Ö3, which - the old ear specialists still know - was once a radio station and so the intertone also sounded there from time to time.
Stories like the legend of Rabbi Hillel are stories about transformation, just as every useful story tells of transformation, because stories initiate transformation and help us to transform, we use them to explain a piece of the world to ourselves, to make it comprehensible to each other, perhaps even understandable, and thus extract a bit of power from it. That is the wise power of transformation of stories.
Who were we?
Another voice that I - and I think we all - miss is that of Roger Willemsen, whose time on earth was not enough for his last book. It was to be called "Who we were" and look at our present from the future. But he also left us something from his last public appearance, in which he summarised thoughts for his unwritten book in a speech about the future. "We were those who knew but did not understand, full of information but without realisation, brimming with knowledge but meagre in experience. So we went, unstopped by ourselves," Roger Willemsen said there.
Now it is the case that the vast majority of us are pumpingly healthy and certainly not on the verge of parting, fortunately, and presumably it will take some time, but not so very long, that people will begin to tell stories about the time before Corona and after Corona, which is indeed a time of transformation; and the stories about it will therefore be particularly useful.
Stories give us answers, but even better: they ask questions, and the Corona story first of all questions all sorts of things, and so, to keep it useful, the question: who will we be after Corona, and who will we have been before Corona? Have we changed? Have we become Rabbi Hillel, that is, ourselves, and will we like better what we have become after we will probably no longer be who we were?
When we then look back: Do we then recognise who we have been and that Corona - if one wants to say that about a virus at all - was necessary, needful? Or are we just talking about a catastrophe, an epidemic, a visitation, a completely useless crisis because it was misunderstood, because Max Frisch was overheard: "A crisis is a productive state. You just have to take away the flavour of catastrophe"?
Were you also more stupid ten days ago?
If we know and understand, full of information and yet also full of knowledge, we have quite good chances, we have seldom had better; although we have had some damn good ones and not used them, or used them sloppily, just as it was enough anyway. Like so many things have been enough anyway. It fits! Nobody's looking right now, and the others are doing it too. I'll be stupid! Yes ...
The Milanese filmmaking group A Thing By asked people all over Italy to record a message to their past self from ten days ago, as a message to the countries that are about ten days behind Italy in the Corona development. You can see the result on YouTube:
These are messages from people to those they have been - brimming with knowledge but meagre in experience, unstoppable by themselves.
Who was I ten days ago?
I was certainly a bit more stupid than I am today.
If one had to think of an example for the model of the hero's journey, Joseph Campbell himself would probably not have come up with a better one than the one we are now experiencing live, in visual lessons, in the adventure park.
You will discover each of the 17 stages of the eternal Hero's Journey mono-myth, the Hero's Journey in Foxglove Essence you already see: A heroine (you, me, the world population) is thrown out of her usual world, out of her comfort zone by a massive event and finds herself forced to defeat an overpowering opponent on the outside - symbolising the antagonistic force within us -, passes trials, experiences adventures and finally grows beyond herself in the purifying agony of catharsis, thus gaining the decisive realisation that leads to transformation into the better, the truer self. With this realisation, the heroine returns home to the old world, shares the knowledge there - if all goes well - for the benefit of all and transforms this old world into a better new one.
If Joseph Campbell were not cunningly watching us from somewhere else, he would certainly be lying in the pit with a magnificent erection in view of this school example.
What does the Corona story do to us as a society, to each of us individually, as heroes in this chapter of contemporary history? What does it ask us? It certainly asks us, "Who will you be after you measure this hero's journey? Will you be King Arthur? And what Excalibur model will you have in your hand when you are King Arthur, you, on your return home to your familiar world, after the fitting end and the rocky road home? What will you do there with your sword, your knowledge? Will you wield it like a true queen, or use it sloppily, just as it's enough anyway, and was it all in vain again?"
Who will we have become?
It's turnaround time, and when I use that word, I immediately think of Fritjof Capra 's book of the same name, which was an important work for me, as it was for many, many others back then, after 1983. I probably didn't fully understand it, but it felt damn good to read it because we, I and the many others at that time agreed with Fritjof Capra: "Humanity can only continue to live if it learns to think differently from the ground up. Quantitative measurement must be replaced by qualitative value - a holistic, ecological way of looking at things that replaces our bankrupt mechanistic view of the world. For our world is more than the sum of its parts."
At least we understood that, back then. Back then, yes.
Did it change anything?
Did it change us?
Have we changed anything?
These are such questions ...
"Who and what will we have become in the course of the turnaround time?", the Corona story asks us already today, at the beginning; and it asks in the same breath whether Karl Kraus is right: "It seems to be imposed on human nature to become stupider through experience and only wiser through its repetition, and the intelligence in particular has to go through a lot before it comes to the realisation that a freedom that would bring about its destruction can only be saved by inhibition." Are we finally ready, please?
This is what we are talking about when we talk about story, and why stories make us strong as people, as teams, as a society - and currently as humanity, if we understand them. Stories help us to transform, not only those that are told, but also - and above all - those that are experienced and thus recognised.
Every story consists of two stories: the outer action and the inner transformation, the outer story, which tells what happened, and the inner story, which is about our truth.
Will we be purified, or just disinfected?
For the first time in the history of mankind, we have a very recent common opponent from the outside, who shoots our inner antagonistic power in the face with a clarity that is unparalleled. For the first time we have a real common story, and we have four more massive stories on the programme, against which Corona will play at some point in the future as just another bump in the road, it is to be feared:
- digital transformation including artificial intelligence
- climate crisis
- world peace
- Migration of peoples, or refugees
What we are going through now is what Aristotle called a catharsis in the Poetics, a purification through the agonies of lament, emotion, horror and shudder to purify the soul. A healing fast, as it were, for purification and cleansing from the toxins that we have ingested in ever greater doses over the course of time. After all, fasting is more liberation than renunciation, even if it feels just the opposite and while we sit at home we encounter the subconscious feeling of being grounded, punished and sick, although the feeling of detention would be far more appropriate: now we can relearn what we knew long ago.
Not that Corona is causally related to this, but the circumstances of life that now prevail, accompanied by the soundtrack tuned to the basic chord of restriction, and the distress that we feel as a result even in places where it does not burn at all, are a clear indication that for each of us something has gone very wrong. How crazy that is, what we perceive as normal, this eternal more-viewing at the expense of far-sightedness!
Yes, for a long time after the Second World War, more was another word for better, for prosperity and for resurrection. Every bit more made life better, at least for the moment. That's how growth works, but once growth is its own end in itself, it becomes cancerous.
What else should we buy for the umpteenth time? You can never have enough of some things at home - and I'm not thinking of toilet paper, but of books - but most of us have too much of everything else. Shopping as a pastime - the mere fact that you spend your time! -, the distraction from the outside, in the outside, to the outside, distraction from the inner lack, which is so widespread as if that were normal, as if that belonged, as if time just belonged to be driven away, no matter where, as if we were meant that way.
What is still in short supply these days?
But the demand for these scarce commodities is growing exponentially: empathy, meaning, community, creative action, personal growth - orientation. You can literally grab the demand in the last few years, yes, you can grab it: in books, magazines, motivational workshops, inspiration nights, blogs and courses and stuff like that on the "find your purpose" shelf.
It seems that the collateral benefit of Corona could stimulate demand in such a way that scarcity goods go back into production: Meaning, community, creative activity, personal growth - orientation. If a sufficient amount of people want something, there is it. And if we had orientation again, where would we end up, at best, after a certain amount of time, undistributed time?
"Where would we get if everyone said where would we get and no one went to see where we would get if we went?" asked the Swiss pastor Kurt Marti. Now would be a good time to take a look. We would have time, and time it would be, very high time indeed - tipping point ahead, land in sight!
This is our huge opportunity that is being put in our hands right now, in our eyes even, in our hearts, the priceless opportunity for us humans on this planet: that the Corona story will one day not be told as a tragedy, but perhaps even as a heroic epic, and that we are the heroes: you and me.
What will we have become then? What will we have learned, recognised, understood and transformed in our old world?
Perhaps we will have understood that the economy is not the economy, but each and every one of us, and especially those who are still at work now, where they were before, because caring and supplying and cleaning and delivering can be ordered from the home office, but not done.
Perhaps the business community will have understood that it is not the economy and that the rest of us, in turn, are nothing more than Niels numbers, order numbers, records, click-through rates and a pile of human capital, and that shareholder value is the economics term for pornography. Already we understand: The phrase "If the economy is doing well, we're all doing well" is the truth disguised as a punch in the shop window that is blowing up in everyone's face here and now: "If the economy is doing badly, we're all doing badly.
Ah, the economy.
Perhaps we will have understood when we hear "The Golden Rule" that we will all be better off if we do not think of Frank Stronach's version ("He who has the gold makes the rules"), but of Rabbi Hillel's: "Do not do to your neighbour what is not dear to you". Life is sometimes that simple.
Perhaps we will have understood that "Subdue the earth!" does not mean "Eat what you can catch, but post it on Instagramfirst", but: "Be a true king!" In the exegesis of Mufasa, after all, The Lion King, this means: "While others seek what they have not yet taken, a true king seeks what he has not yet given."
Perhaps we will have learned that the double-entry bookkeeping of our existence is not kept in the columns of debits and credits, but of being and becoming. That we do not develop when we ask ourselves what we should have, but strive to be what we should be.
What will we need?
Perhaps what we don't have now, we won't have any more, we won't even need any more, because, please, we don't even lack it, but it only makes us heavy, immobile, tired, i.e. it ties up energy that we lack elsewhere?
Perhaps in the wake of the minimalism trend and Marie Kondo's clear-out tank, we will have discovered that belongings can be another word for ballast and less another word for free, because afterwards there is still enough, if you turn the perspective from renunciation to essence. And that relationships can also be junk, just not in the attic, but tucked away in the musty hole in the back of our souls, in the banana box that is already moulding slightly at the corners and behind us. Yes, there's still something in there, too, as you can smell, forget about it.
Perhaps we will have clarified the boundaries between digital communication and stalking, understood that the best meeting can often be an email and no email better than a conversation.
Perhaps we will have come closer to ourselves again and, on this occasion, also to each other; understood that one's own life has first and foremost to do with oneself and does not only become a good life in the won comparison with the lives of others.
Perhaps our view of the whole will have sharpened out of our fortresses of fragmentary egoism, and we will have realised that we are part of this whole, so it makes no sense to speak of "the others", because we are more than just in the same boat, but are the same, always and everywhere. And then we may have noticed that although we can go "into ourselves", we cannot go "into nature", because we are always there anyway, as part of this whole, so there can only be a togetherness either way.
Perhaps we will have experienced first-hand why in civilisations that are less developed by our standards, cohesion among people is much higher than in ours and: that sharing is not a punishment.
Perhaps we will understand the inner connection between Bertolt Brecht's sentence: "He who says A does not have to say B. He can also recognise that A was wrong. He can also recognise that A was wrong." and the thought of Buckminster Fuller: "You never create change by fighting the existing. To change something, you build new models that make the old obsolete".
What else will we experience?
Perhaps we will have understood this - among many other things - and taken it into our old world as a new option. For that is where the real, the most profound, the world-shaking tasks await us humanity. Tasks for which there will be no medicine in any laboratory in the world. Never ever.
- Digital transformation including artificial intelligence
- climate crisis
- world peace
- Migration of peoples, or refugees
You can't vaccinate yourself against that.
When we talk about an explosion in the number of unemployed today, we have the hope in the back of our minds that the people affected will be back in work after the Corona spook is over. But when the digital transformation has really taken hold, a lot of people will no longer be in employment and will be doing day after day what many of us today find an imposition after just a few days: being at home and passing their time.
No sooner were the curfews announced last week than there were precautions in anticipation of domestic violence. Who will we have become then? Who will then be so fundamentally and always removed from the - today, so to speak, normal - work process and no longer occur? What will those of us then do with our lives, in our lives, and why?
How do they explain the world to themselves?
Who then explains the world to them? - Heidi Klum? Fellner!live?
Or politicians with the easy, quick answers, while millions and millions of people are on their way as refugees?
What Axel Corti had to say back then, in the 1970s and 1980s, on the subject of the silencer, he could repeat almost word for word today, he would have to, but not for all eternity please, just don't repeat it when we, yes, when ... we perhaps ... when we perhaps will have understood after all that the epidemic, the misery of flight that is spreading, must not be allowed to fail because of our antibodies, because of dense external borders, closed routes, closed deals and closed eyes.
"No one is an island, whole in itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the mainland. If a clod is washed into the sea, Europe becomes less, just as if it were a headland, or your friend's estate, or your own. Every man's death is my loss, for I am part of mankind; and therefore never ask to know whose hour it is; it is yours." Ernest Hemingway prefaced his novel "For Whom the Bell Tolls" with these lines by John Donne, and we can place them as a prelude to the story of Corona, when we tell it one day: bagged, soaked, inoculated and thus herd-immune. For then the hour of the true leaders will have struck, or indeed our last.
Who will lead, and where?
Perhaps Corona will do us the ironic service of not only ensuring that the world's elderly are the first risk takers to stay in, but also that this elderly person, this very first risk taker, will be kicked out of the White House.
Perhaps Corona will then have sharpened our minds so that a critical mass will have earned this designation in the literal sense of the word, so that all the actors will then have been unmasked, the half-wits, the hosebags, the muzzlers, the professional truants, the hat-slingers; that the critical mass will finally remove them from office and dignity, dignities anyway, in favour of those who - so I hope - will have grown with their tasks, outgrown themselves in their tasks, jumped over their shadows and landed where successful politics means more than winning an election and this one formed government, because there is no other choice. What should have been done, please?
Maybe then they will be the ones who cut off the old braids and who can finally, finally please get out of their skin, take it off, the old skin, which is already too tight, taut everywhere, not only around the hips, and itches, no matter how hard you smear it.
Perhaps it will then be they who understand that we call something by education system that is just the opposite of it: system yes, but education not at all.
Perhaps it will be those, of all people, who live up to their own standards and do everything they can, whatever the cost, to ensure that independent people in a strong community can develop to their full potential, because as soon as they can walk and talk, they learn to ask questions. Independent people precisely because they know and understand that one asks, what one asks, how one asks and above all: why one asks.
Perhaps then we will have a generation of born leaders in our midst, people who lead with a steady hand, a cool head and a hot heart, at least once leading their own lives.
Maybe once, then once, very quickly once, at least once, the failed ones will not give in and let the stupid ones take over, but the burning desire will explode into a firework of possible reality, in which corporate leaders do not waste every opportunity in the twinkling of an eye by gold-plating it, do not suddenly take over, grab what there is still to grab, even in the pockets of the stumbling ones.
Perhaps we will then have enough of those at the helm who read a noble task between the lines of their job description, make themselves available to this task and fulfil it because they see fulfilment in it and not first in the filled money bin. Such calibres would be something for which every catharsis could have been worthwhile!
Will that work? Will that have worked?
Is what is happening here and now finally enough for us as a healthy waddle? As Inciting Incident for the start of our hero's journey?
Or will it all not have been so bad after all, discussed at the third quarter, quite honestly, now said quite openly, what we always knew anyway (but nobody listens to us, not even if we had something to say, which fortunately we don't). - Nowadays everything is luck, even Aunt Jolesch wouldn't think of anything!
Who will you have been, you?
Who will I be, and who will I have been, me? And you, and us? Who knows?
I know this Corona story will change us. It will change everything, because it already has. It consists of a dense web of little stories in which we ourselves are the main characters, each in our own. And each of us, every one of us, can be a hero in it, because she does what heroes do on their journey: recognise, understand, transform.
If enough of us can pull this off, then perhaps the Corona story will one day have been the unwritten preface to Charles Eisenstein's book, The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.
Let's write it! Let's be critical mass! - You up for it? I do.
Frankly, I have no choice, because after all, it was my grandmother, old Story Dudette, who - so the legend goes - heard from Rabbi Hillel: "No Story. No Glory."