Barbro Teir
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The ideals rule

What drives a person to rob a lorry and drive it straight into a crowd of people, with intention to kill? What drives an other person to give the order to shoot 59 missiles towards an air base, with intention to kill? A third person to order chemical weapons to be used on defendless men, women and children, fully aware that it means a dreadful death?

In times of despair I turn to existential philosophers and psychologists. They help me to find some kind of order in chaos, find the human in the barbarous.

When trying to get to grips with what seems to be madness, one tool is the so called analysis of lifeworlds. There are four dimensions: the physical (Umwelt), the social (Mitwelt), the personal (Eigenwelt) and the spiritual lifeworld (Uberwelt). The Swiss psychiatrist Ludvig Binswanger (1881-1966) minted the first three terms in German,  and the Dutch psychologist Emmy van Deurzen was the mother of the fourth in the 1990s. She works in UK and is one of the prominent figures in modern existentialism.

The spiritual dimension is also called ideal, a word I prefer.

The lifeworld is composed of our everyday situations, springing from what is given to us at birth. Or in the words of the German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976), how we are thrown into the world: material and immaterial circumstances, the actual situation and how we behave according to that, our attempts to create meaning right where we are.

The ideal dimension is, from an existential perspective, the fundamental philosophical basis for how we live our lives. A person’s ideological beliefs are born out of his or her kinship with the abstract and the absolute aspects of life, death and existence: values, ideas, convictions, dreams.

Here is the breeding ground for the idea that it is right or wrong to kill others. The dream of a good life on earth or eternal life after death is nurtured in this dimension. When life feels empty and meaningless we usually fill the material dimension with more stuff, the social dimension with more work and more parties, the private dimension with a new partner and maybe a child – while the solution probably is to be found in the ideal dimension.

How to put words on my values? Why are they true to me?

In my work with clients I have learned that it is often difficult to phrase what there is in this box.

Really difficult.

Because what do I actually believe in? How to put words on my values? Why are they true to me? Do I have an idea, a conviction, that I’m ready to fight for, no matter what everybody else in my bubble says? Where does it lead me if I go the whole way? Am I ready to pay the price for that?

I like to brush aside wicked deeds thinking that the offender’s ideal world must be empty or wrong or false. I then do as they do, I take upon myself to judge others and act out of such values.

If all action follows from our ideal lifeworld, then the resistance against violence always begins with understanding the values of oneself, be willing to change them when needed, and then live them, consciously, with courage.

It’s called freedom.