G20 and the life that fits

By Henning Kullak-Ublick, November 2017

Eighty years ago Charlie Chaplin’s brilliant film Modern Times put its finger on a question which has continued to grow in importance: are we heading towards a standardised, anonymous mass society in which the individual person is degraded into a tiny cog in the machine, one interchangeable production factor among many others?

The initial scenes with their grotesquely funny exaggerated suffering of the assembly line worker are, if we apply a global measure, not only not outdated but have become so much part of our everyday lives that we consider them to be the normal state of affairs, cushioned by a gigantic entertainment industry which has long replaced freedom and responsibility with a philosophy of leisure.

That this is only one side of the truth is shown by millions of initiatives around the globe which are building a different world order and which have as the starting point and goal of their economic, political or cultural activity respect for the uniqueness and dignity of each person. The question arises, however, whether this is of any relevance whatsoever or whether these are merely idealistic dreamers who are attempting to oppose hard reality with their social and ecological gimmicks.

If we look at the violent excesses at the G20 Summit in Hamburg, it is in any event clear that there is obviously a growing number of above all young people who can only any longer respond to this question with destruction. The discrepancy between their ideal image of a world fit for human beings and the impact of their own actions appears to be so insurmountable to them that they need the collective violence in order to experience themselves as actors at all.

Even if the symbols and content are fundamentally different, it is hard to avoid seeing parallels with the young men who seek meaning in collectives such as IS which they otherwise can no longer find in life. That has led us to a question pre-eminently concerned with education: what do young people today need in order to be able to feel at home and protected again in the modern world?

This question is also investigated by the Swiss paediatrician Remo Largo in his new book Das passende Leben (A life that fits) the content of which, when asked, he summarised as follows: “All children are different and become even more different over time.”

It is a tempting thought that these words should be placed as a preamble at the beginning of all education acts! We don’t need ever new norms and standards but living education artists who allow the children and growing young people to have the fundamental experience in all they do and learn: I am seen. // I am important – as is every other human being. // I can love the world, I can understand it, I can change it.

The “reality in which we live” can be shaped from its minutest detail to its global dimension but that requires people who are able to develop confidence in their thoughts, their feelings and their actions from as early as in childhood, both individually and in learning communities.

Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984 -2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, the Friends of Waldorf Education and the International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Education – The Hague Circle, as well as coordinator of Waldorf100 and the author of the book Jedes Kind ein Könner. Fragen und Antworten an die Waldorfpädagogik.

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