Uplifting moments

By Henning Köhler, December 2012

“The consciousness soul strives to assert itself to its full antisocial extent,” Rudolf Steiner says. Did he therefore share the full neo-Darwinist dogma of innate egoism? Of course not. He was only clarifying that the invocation of natural social instincts misses the point at the heart of the social question as it presents itself today. His socio-psychological observations relate to an ethical attitude of a higher order which presumes inner freedom.

Only a person who in a certain respect grows beyond anything that is biologically determined or is conventional sociality can develop true social competence. Steiner uses the word “antisocial” in a twofold meaning. Positively it describes the gesture of autonomy – with special emphasis of the striving for spiritual independence. Negatively it refers to a failure in ourselves ending in socially destructive behaviour. Instinctive empathy and group soul-like affiliations do not offer any protection against such failure in ourselves and thus no guarantee of moral integrity. Active empathy – the compassion for another person with conscious clarity in order to do him or her justice – requires positive antisociality, strange as that may sound. That also applies with regard to socially creative initiative. It gets paralysed if it remains in a state of drowsy integration within a community.

The educational medicine against negative antisociality is the active empathy of the educator enhanced to the level of imaginative ability. In order to get close to that, we must endeavour to encounter children in such a way that they not only feel our emotional interest but also our sincerely held respect for the enigma of their “eternal, spiritually supersensory being” (Steiner). Allowing ourselves to be touched by the “sanctum” of the child’s individuality without ulterior motives or expectations is an effective attitude beyond any intrusion: it assures the child of his or her human dignity. And through that children experience the – of course still unconscious – wish, born of gratitude, one day to make socially effective in social life through themselves what approaches them in this way.

Steiner called the quality in question “heightened interest”. It is a warm, non-judgemental interest which is neither inquisitive nor censorious. Immersion in the phenomena “with devotion to the small things” (Steiner) is the key. Pure wonder. Any kind of inner intrusiveness – including the desire of wanting to look behind the scenes – must be avoided. Otherwise the gate to the imagination closes. Such practice does not take up a lot of time. We only have to decide to do it. Then something of that most precious thing which remains invisible on earth shines through the outer image of the child. It only happens in fleeting moments. But moments which change everything. In this way we can climb the first step to an empathy which has risen to a spiritual level. “In our age human beings develop antisocial aspects out of the innermost impulses of their soul; but the driving force behind them is a spiritual social aspect.” (Steiner).

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