With each other is not for each other

Together, cranes fly over a pond in Lusatia.
The brown leaves shine golden in the evening sun.

I am interested in how people interact with each other. Togetherness is the way we shape our lives together and is important in political activity – which is far more than what politicians do. If we need help, there is a need for each other and corresponding care. There is currently a lot of effort being put into togetherness. For example, Michael Kretschmer, Minister President of Saxony, often uses it to describe his politics. That against each other is not a good form for political action may be understandable, but how do togetherness and for each other distinguish?

In the field of political action, Hannah Arendt surprisingly clearly distinguishes togetherness from “for each other”. According to her, togetherness is characterized by the fact that the individual commits himself or herself to his or her opinion, whereas in “for each other,” the commitment to the cause does not require a clear statement of one’s own. Finally, for each other in its pure form leads to self-abandonment because all future options are kept open. By leaving the options open, no position is taken from which new decisions would be possible.

If I take a position, this has consequences. Hannah Arendt continues in her book “Vita activa” on togetherness in the context of political action that without taking a position, action becomes an interchangeable act. She writes that a lack of togetherness occurs, for example, in the case of war, “where men go into action and use means of violence in order to achieve certain objectives for their own side and against the enemy.” In this hostile against each other, there are people who support the war through their for each other by making their performance available as a product. In this sense, for and against each other are mutually dependent, whereas togetherness requires a truthful person who is honest to oneself and, from one’s position, is in exchange with one’s fellow humans.

A dedicated space is needed for one’s own position

The process of establishing a position, which is necessary for togetherness, is a process in which many small individual decisions and considerations are made. Thus, it is self-evident that many different positions exist and that these are by no means permanently fixed. No human being remains on the same standpoint for the rest of his life. This approach opens up the possibility that each person can take his or her own position and adapt it over time. However, the reverse process is currently taking place in our world. Particularly in the digital world, anonymity is on the rise. Despite the increasing protection of privacy and one’s own rights, fewer people are standing by their first and last names in the digital world. In the sense of my understanding of a good togetherness, I use my name on my website with a photo on which I am recognizable.

A commitment to my own opinion protects me from influence by outside interests, especially in the digital world. To be able to act freely from my point of view, a clear separation of the digital and analog worlds helps me. In the analog world, we humans perceive each other reciprocally with our senses, whereas the digital world uses technical means, especially visual ones, to map the original analog reality into a digital one with losses and present it again at a distant place and time. In this way, the distance between people is increased not only by geographical distance but also by the lack of immediate response, as sociologist Richard Sennett explains in an interview. Not everyone who sees a displayed video can immediately respond to it with a video, nor can the original sender view all the responses accordingly and continue the dialogue.

I can decide when I want to engage with the digital world. One relief for me is my voluntary decision not to use a smartphone. When I’m on the Internet, I do so – just like when I’m shopping – with a mental shopping list to do the things I want to do, get the information I need, and communicate.

The exchange of viewpoints demands respect

With respect to the willingness to exchange views in the analog world instead of the digital one, I watched the recording of the event “Bautzen, wir müssen reden” (Bautzen, we have to talk, in German) on February 8, 2019. Here, numerous citizens with a wide variety of viewpoints gathered to share their opinions, and so a wide variety of positions intermingled not only at the discussion table. On the one hand, a call for more clarity and preservation of the old good values was articulated, and on the other, a call for more freedom, especially in the area of speech. Both have their justification, but the coexistence of the two domains limits the spaces in which they are situated.

The conservative approach of preserving the good is rooted in human nature alone. We are shaped by and dependent on our environment and fellow humans as well as them. Evolution does not make jumps but provides changes that occur in steps from generation to generation. Similarly, we cannot be constantly examining the changing environment. We have to trust to some extent that things will repeat themselves; otherwise, we cannot step back, work something out and make it available to our fellow humans. However, this must not be misunderstood to the extent that we must hold on to the old in fields we can shape; not to mention that this justify a claim for the future just because the individual accomplished something in the past. At all times, it is necessary to keep an eye on our maturing as well as aging fellow humans and our dynamic environment because we are dependent on them.

Diversity of opinions is also inherent in human nature. We have limited time to perceive anything and accumulate many small souvenirs over time, making each individual perspective inevitably different. As stated above in the context of togetherness, it is important to articulate these and stand by one’s point of view. So I was pleased that at the event in Bautzen, citizens stood up and articulated their opinions to their fellow humans. If I stand by my opinion, I can use these expressions to examine my own position and, if necessary, to clarify it, but also to adapt it. My expression of opinion, however, may in no case insult or slander others. If I stand without my own position, another opinion may suit me, and I accept it without reflection or reject it blanketly. The prerequisite for forming an opinion is listening to one another. Just waiting until an opinion is fully articulated and then evaluating the opinion by clapping or shouting boos is not listening and examining, not dialogue.

It is a common task to make our togetherness good and sound

The foundation for our present state is Article 1 of the Basic Law: “Human dignity shall be inviolable.” On this subject, the Federal Constitutional Judge Peter Müller said in an interview: “Man is not there for the state, but the state for man. Everything must be considered from the perspective of the individual human being and his or her dignity.” (Translated by the author.) In this sense, I understand it as a call to be active in a good and constructive together. As was appropriately mentioned at the event in Bautzen, the practiced togetherness applies equally to state institutions. They have to act in accordance with the law and are dependent on each other – and so everything is based on the smallest unit, the municipality.

In my view, there is no doubt that we have a need to improve the way we live together. Mankind and later planet Earth will at some point no longer exist. How do we want to shape our time together as human beings?

Blaming others for the fact that the environment has changed or is about to change is only an unhelpful blame assignment which, like self-criticism, does not provide a solution. Perception of the environment and critical reflection on one’s own attitude are important steps, but it is crucial to use one’s own opinion to shape our togetherness in a good and sound way.

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