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In his autobiographical book "The World of Yesterday", Austrian writer Stefan Zweig wondered about an unsettling development. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he had witnessed how, in a rather affluent and peaceful Viennese society, people had started to attack each other with growing violence, first with words, then physically. The disputes seemed to have come out of the blue and then increasingly solidified into irreconcilable hostilities. There always seemed to be a good reason to fight over. But the anger appeared to have preceded the cause. The violence engulfed more and more people, then growing groups, and then turned into outright conflict between whole countries. We know how it ended, namely in not one, but two world wars. A hundred years later, we witness something that feels similar and is gaining momentum. Debates get angry and polarized and participants try to compel everybody into choosing sides. "If you are not with us, then you are against us." Anything, a single word taken out of context or a merely insinuated opinion, is enough to accuse somebody of a whole, ideologically driven "Weltanschauung" and consider that person as an enemy. The Ego seems to have an increased drive to build itself some high ground from where it can look down on others as despicable and fundamentally wrong human beings. It seems that of all times, those of peace and affluence are particularly prone to opening these divides, to favour such a "dualism". Just like in physics, where empty space can suddenly give birth to a particle and its antiparticle. Matter and antimatter. It seems that humans are dualistic animals. The build-up of one's own self-image seems to demand to embellish oneself by looking away from one's own dark sides and repress them. Humans prefer to see only the bright side of themselves. Yet we also know from Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung that everything we repress within ourself then appears elsewhere in our life. Where? In our projections on others. What we repress within ourself, we recognize in our fellow humans. Then we start to beat them up for it. In our unconscious perception, they represent our own dark side we want to get rid of. Peaceful times bear a lack of enemies. So the mind begins telling itself a new "narrative" about the world, inventing an explanatory model for the world that re- introduces cleavages and divides in other forms, just like an immune system that has run out of germs and been idle for too long turns against its own host with a so-called auto-immune disease. That way, the mind can see new adversaries on some inner screen while forgetting that it projected them there itself. This "narrative" then increasingly becomes more dense and calcified, seeking self-confirmation and finding it everywhere. Then it looks for allies sharing a similar "narrative". Then what started as a very private inner conflict begins to feel like a truth applicable to the whole world. The person than gets fused with this "narrative". It becomes part of the "identity" instead of just being a thought. Questioning their divisive world view becomes synonymous with questioning their very identity. There it is: the great game of dualism has recruited another foot soldier. And when enough "foot soldiers" have gathered on both sides of some mutually projected divide, the order of magnitude changes, engulfing groups, social classes, countries, continents... Think of a see-saw, like on a children's playground. The see-saw has two sides. The people on the see-saw invite us to join their game. Each side sees itself as the righteous one and the other side as wrong and bad. Each side is beckoning us to join them and not the other side, and their reasoning may even seem quite reasonable and appealing at times. Each side has its tricks to attract our attention and make us feel guilty if we do not choose any side. ("If you take no side, that means you are on their side!") There is much energy spent on the see-saw. Each side tries to reach the high ground by pushing down the other side into the dirt. Emotions overheat. The see- saw squeaks a lot. And yet, the people on the see-saw remain in the same spot all the time, treading water. Boundaries and inside-outside-distinctions are essential for all living systems. A living system can determine its own identity only if it can tell what belongs to itself from what is on the "outside". A dualistic view is insofar a built-in human feature. But once it becomes an end in itself, things become more dangerous. As deeply rooted in humans as dualism seems, as growingly clear the price to pay appears when so much falls apart into opposites.

How do we end this game?

By choosing not to follow the invitations to sit on one side of the see-saw. Because if we do choose a side, not only do we reinforce that side, but we actually strengthen the whole game entirely. Attention is energy. This energy feeds that on which it is focussed. If we focus it on the divide, we are likely to only spread it further. Therefore the real choice does not reside in choosing one side or the other on the see-saw, but in whether we enter the game at all or stay out of it. Once we step away, we see the game as a whole. And perhaps we then start to see through it. But stepping off the see-saw is not that easy. Because overcoming our own dualism means overcoming our own inner divisions. That in turns implies that we take responsibility for our dark side, instead of projecting it away on others. Otherwise we stay on the see-saw. How do we break free from there? A good step forward is to explore the dark and unsavoury corners of ourself and look out for the dark twin that so eagerly hides behind other people's faces (through projection). A good step forward also resides in becoming aware of the multiplicity of our inner personality parts, and to especially honour those parts left behind in pain at some point of our life. (We often lose sight of them. They remain invisible, which is their way of protecting us from pain. But they still carry that burden and manifest themselves again in our life, often in indirect ways, like feeling stuck or experiencing recurring adverse experiences.) All this can open onto the realisation that we are not who we thought we were. That naturally entails some temporary confusion. It may shake our supposed "identity" once we realise that it perhaps merely is a "narrative". It makes it easier to do this step by step, in benevolent company, with caution, care and in mutual respect. Otherwise these inner parts hide again (hiding is what they know best). Honesty is an indispensable ingredient here. Honesty with oneself. Only with true honesty can we stop looking the other way. Only from honesty can a solid discernment emerge, a discernment that lets us look upon others more mildly and benevolently, without projecting on them any more. Honesty is the ground on which our various inner parts can start negotiating with each other and the inner divide between light and shadow start being overcome, step by step. The inner divisions can begin to heal. The inner togetherness lightens up. An inner wholeness comes into sight. An important and deeply personal step has been accomplished in one's self- development. Now we begin to nourish the bigger picture and greater unity instead of the small divisions. Dualism has lost a foot soldier and weakens. Maybe someday it will have no army left at all?
Logo Alexander Hohmann Coaching

Alexander Hohmann

Life & Business Coach in

Freiburg or online

Certified Systemic Coach

(DE / EN / FR)

In his autobiographical book "The World of Yesterday", Austrian writer Stefan Zweig wondered about an unsettling development. At the beginning of the twentieth century, he had witnessed how, in a rather affluent and peaceful Viennese society, people had started to attack each other with growing violence, first with words, then physically. The disputes seemed to have come out of the blue and then increasingly solidified into irreconcilable hostilities. There always seemed to be a good reason to fight over. But the anger appeared to have preceded the cause. The violence engulfed more and more people, then growing groups, and then turned into outright conflict between whole countries. We know how it ended, namely in not one, but two world wars. A hundred years later, we witness something that feels similar and is gaining momentum. Debates get angry and polarized and participants try to compel everybody into choosing sides. "If you are not with us, then you are against us." Anything, a single word taken out of context or a merely insinuated opinion, is enough to accuse somebody of a whole, ideologically driven "Weltanschauung" and consider that person as an enemy. The Ego seems to have an increased drive to build itself some high ground from where it can look down on others as despicable and fundamentally wrong human beings. It seems that of all times, those of peace and affluence are particularly prone to opening these divides, to favour such a "dualism". Just like in physics, where empty space can suddenly give birth to a particle and its antiparticle. Matter and antimatter. It seems that humans are dualistic animals. The build-up of one's own self-image seems to demand to embellish oneself by looking away from one's own dark sides and repress them. Humans prefer to see only the bright side of themselves. Yet we also know from Swiss psychologist Carl Gustav Jung that everything we repress within ourself then appears elsewhere in our life. Where? In our projections on others. What we repress within ourself, we recognize in our fellow humans. Then we start to beat them up for it. In our unconscious perception, they represent our own dark side we want to get rid of. Peaceful times bear a lack of enemies. So the mind begins telling itself a new "narrative" about the world, inventing an explanatory model for the world that re- introduces cleavages and divides in other forms, just like an immune system that has run out of germs and been idle for too long turns against its own host with a so-called auto-immune disease. That way, the mind can see new adversaries on some inner screen while forgetting that it projected them there itself. This "narrative" then increasingly becomes more dense and calcified, seeking self-confirmation and finding it everywhere. Then it looks for allies sharing a similar "narrative". Then what started as a very private inner conflict begins to feel like a truth applicable to the whole world. The person than gets fused with this "narrative". It becomes part of the "identity" instead of just being a thought. Questioning their divisive world view becomes synonymous with questioning their very identity. There it is: the great game of dualism has recruited another foot soldier. And when enough "foot soldiers" have gathered on both sides of some mutually projected divide, the order of magnitude changes, engulfing groups, social classes, countries, continents... Think of a see-saw, like on a children's playground. The see-saw has two sides. The people on the see-saw invite us to join their game. Each side sees itself as the righteous one and the other side as wrong and bad. Each side is beckoning us to join them and not the other side, and their reasoning may even seem quite reasonable and appealing at times. Each side has its tricks to attract our attention and make us feel guilty if we do not choose any side. ("If you take no side, that means you are on their side!") There is much energy spent on the see-saw. Each side tries to reach the high ground by pushing down the other side into the dirt. Emotions overheat. The see- saw squeaks a lot. And yet, the people on the see-saw remain in the same spot all the time, treading water. Boundaries and inside-outside-distinctions are essential for all living systems. A living system can determine its own identity only if it can tell what belongs to itself from what is on the "outside". A dualistic view is insofar a built-in human feature. But once it becomes an end in itself, things become more dangerous. As deeply rooted in humans as dualism seems, as growingly clear the price to pay appears when so much falls apart into opposites.

How do we end this game?

By choosing not to follow the invitations to sit on one side of the see-saw. Because if we do choose a side, not only do we reinforce that side, but we actually strengthen the whole game entirely. Attention is energy. This energy feeds that on which it is focussed. If we focus it on the divide, we are likely to only spread it further. Therefore the real choice does not reside in choosing one side or the other on the see- saw, but in whether we enter the game at all or stay out of it. Once we step away, we see the game as a whole. And perhaps we then start to see through it. But stepping off the see-saw is not that easy. Because overcoming our own dualism means overcoming our own inner divisions. That in turns implies that we take responsibility for our dark side, instead of projecting it away on others. Otherwise we stay on the see-saw. How do we break free from there? A good step forward is to explore the dark and unsavoury corners of ourself and look out for the dark twin that so eagerly hides behind other people's faces (through projection). A good step forward also resides in becoming aware of the multiplicity of our inner personality parts, and to especially honour those parts left behind in pain at some point of our life. (We often lose sight of them. They remain invisible, which is their way of protecting us from pain. But they still carry that burden and manifest themselves again in our life, often in indirect ways, like feeling stuck or experiencing recurring adverse experiences.) All this can open onto the realisation that we are not who we thought we were. That naturally entails some temporary confusion. It may shake our supposed "identity" once we realise that it perhaps merely is a "narrative". It makes it easier to do this step by step, in benevolent company, with caution, care and in mutual respect. Otherwise these inner parts hide again (hiding is what they know best). Honesty is an indispensable ingredient here. Honesty with oneself. Only with true honesty can we stop looking the other way. Only from honesty can a solid discernment emerge, a discernment that lets us look upon others more mildly and benevolently, without projecting on them any more. Honesty is the ground on which our various inner parts can start negotiating with each other and the inner divide between light and shadow start being overcome, step by step. The inner divisions can begin to heal. The inner togetherness lightens up. An inner wholeness comes into sight. An important and deeply personal step has been accomplished in one's self-development. Now we begin to nourish the bigger picture and greater unity instead of the small divisions. Dualism has lost a foot soldier and weakens. Maybe someday it will have no army left at all?