Emotions dominate people and world events

by Rev. Paul Lansu
Senior Policy Advisor

Besides being a century of migration and globalisation, our 21st century has also become a century of nationalism and of a renewed search for identity. The ideological battle of the 20th century and of the Cold War especially (1945-1989) has become an identity battle. We live in a time in which we carry out our “identity”, both as an individual and as a nation. We demand the right to be unique, to be different. Some are even prepared to “battle” in order to make others acknowledge them in their existence.

Emotions

Emotions or passions are part of our human feelings. One needs a certain passion in order to come across convincingly. All of us are driven by emotions, but because these differ in most cases – at times are even opposed to each other – these divide us rather than unite us. And by definition our emotions are selective since they are mostly subjective. Some selective emotions, for instance the extreme egoism of my own country first (America First or Mother Russia First), are more dangerous to the world than universal cynicism and the complete absence of emotions. By nature, emotions are variable and diverse and at times even contradictory. But that one emotion that has been driving us the last couple of years is fear, in various forms. Some speak of an actual culture of fear.

We cannot understand the world in which we live without taking the role of feelings in world geopolitics into account. It is important to put our emotions into perspective in order to rise above them and not to get hung up on them, but mostly to just understand the “other”. The message therefore is to put feelings into perspective so as not to be dominated by them. Emotions reflect the level of confidence of a society. And it is that measure of confidence that determines whether a society is able to recover from crises, whether it can take up challenges and whether it can conform to changing circumstances.

Trust

Primarily, there are three types of emotions: fear, hope and humiliation. Obviously, there are other emotions too, like anger, indignation, hate, pain, sorrow, love, honour or solidarity. The emotions fear, hope and humiliation are, however, most applicable to the concept of trust between people as well as between peoples/nations. One of the main causes of rivalry, distrust and “own people/nation first”-thoughts is a lack of trust. It is like a downward spiral and this can lead to possible (armed) conflicts. Trust is as important to nations and civilisations as it is to individuals. Trust is a significant indicator of the (healthy) state of our world. This is why, in politics too, we speak of taking “confidence-building measures” in order to mitigate or resolve areas of tension or conflict in, for instance, the Ukraine or with North Korea.

Identity is closely related to trust, and trust (or lack thereof) is expressed in emotions – especially in feelings of fear, hope and humiliation.

Fear

Throughout the years, fear has deepened, expanded and diversified. When people(s) feel humiliated, fear lashes out. It is an emotional reaction to potential danger or insecurity. Sometimes people are afraid because they do not know what to expect. By a constant focus in our society on problems related to migration and security, a culture of fear is being created. There is a fear of the other, of foreigners who pour into our countries, who threaten our identity and steal our jobs. There is a fear of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction; of economic insecurity or collapse. There is a fear of disease and natural catastrophes. It concerns fear of the unknown and of a threatening future, on which humankind can exert little or no influence. Such fears are found worldwide and have globalised through, among others, the relocation of activities abroad, job loss and “unfair” instead of “free” trade. Although one should treat (feelings of) fear seriously, they should also be put into perspective. Fear can give way to hope.

Hope

Hope is an expression of confidence and is based on the belief that the situation today is better than that of yesterday and that tomorrow it will be better than today.

There is a spiritual conception of hope: the belief in the redemption of human beings through the liberation from sin. People cannot continue without hope. In a way, we all share the calling to be “givers of hope” to one another. Give hope. Encourage each other and try to be ahead of despair, or to at least make room for despair in life. Hope is central to our Christian culture, just like belief and love.

In the secular sense of the word, hope represents the belief in one’s own identity, in one’s ability to be interactive with the world in a positive way. Hope is the opposite of resignation or surrender; rather it is a form of confidence that encourages us to come close to other people, to accept their differences from us without fear.

Humiliation

Humiliation is powerlessness. Humiliation is the injured confidence of those who have lost their hope for the future. We often consider our lack of hope to be caused by others, as those who have treated us badly in the past. One experiences humiliation when one is not in control over one’s own life, whether as an individual or as a people/nation. The feeling is that someone else completely dominates you and has made you dependant. You have lost power and control over the present and especially over the future. The feeling of humiliation is present in all cultures and civilisations. Humiliation itself is quite useless and we shall try to turn it into hope, else it leads to despair and to having feelings of hate or revenge, which can easily turn into a desire to destroy.

Globalisation

With the end of the Cold War in November 1989 (the fall of the Berlin Wall – the beginning of a culture of hope) came the breakthrough of the phenomenon of globalisation. Globalisation is a dynamic process, consisting among others in the integration of markets, nation-states and technologies. It enables individuals, societies and nations to act quicker than ever in order to “command” the world. In the period of globalisation, the relationship with the other has become more fundamental than ever. We live in uncertain times and the first one we look upon negatively is the other, he or she that comes from far away, mostly from the South. That insecurity begins with fear for the other.

Israel and Palestine

How are two peoples with different emotional “landscapes” to be reconciled? The exodus of a large number of Jewish people to Palestine was like a miracle of rebirth, a new home. That same event is called the “Nakba” by the Palestinians and for them is a synonym for a disastrous defeat and repression. Driven from their homes!

Israelis consider their state to be legitimate and a necessary manifestation of their existence as a nation. The Palestinians, just as the Arabs, experienced it as an anachronistic display of Western imperialism. This clash of two peoples is related to humiliation and fear. An absolute and unique tragedy, such as the Shoah, gave birth to a nation; and a different people has been crushed and repressed by a victim that has largely grown blind to the suffering of others. This tragic and lasting confrontation is an especially emotional event that impacts our global society.

Israel’s central and “emotional” location, in the midst of the Arab and Muslim world, has led Arabs to experience the existence of the state Israel as “stolen territory”. What a humiliation! Arabs consider this territory to be their own land, including Jerusalem and its Dome of the Rock, one of the three most holy places of Islam.

The only real solution to the conflict is that all parties recognise both the state of Israel and a to-be-built state of Palestine as full, equal and with hope for the future. It remains problematic and a reason for further conflict to continue humiliating both peoples by not or inadequately recognising them.

If there is one large community that has been humiliated during many years, it is the Arab population — especially after the subdivision of the Ottoman Empire into British and French mandates about a hundred years ago and especially through the post-1945 politics of the USA that have been characterised by political interventions and wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, among other things. The West has humiliated the Arab world.

On the other hand, the Arab community itself should set things right by reworking the differences between Sunnis and Shiites into a workable and constructive tension which enables all people and all communities to enjoy their basic rights. It is not an option to continue humiliating, or even destroying, each other!

In conclusion

Ignorance and intolerance go hand in hand. Peace and reconciliation are only possible for people and communities that know and accept one another. Recognise each other’s existence! Despite the fact that we live in an age of information, we do not understand other people or different communities any better than we did in the past, rather the opposite seems to be true.

It seems that in our complex world, cultures, nations and even individuals are getting more and more obsessed by their own identities. This obsession can only further increase the significance of emotions in international relations. But perhaps everything first starts with self-knowledge. Only people and communities that are at peace with themselves, that know who they are and what they represent, can come to terms with others.

* Photo courtesy of National Public Radio at https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/06/01/530103479/the-making-of-emotions-from-pleasurable-fear-to-bittersweet-relief.

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