‘This is the end of the world as we know it.’ The song is stuck in my head since Sunday. It was the song my colleague was singing when we walked defeated out of the venue. Little did we know it really was the end of the world as we knew it.
I packed my belonging, emptied my house and stowed everything in my car. Back on the road. Back on the move. In the 6 months I’m here, it will be the 4thtime I move. Heaps of moving, considering the fact I was done with moving all together when I arrived in this town.
Well, here we go again.
Yet, when driving off, I know I am closing this door, but opening another one. I know I am closing this astonishing chapter, but I will start another one. We, humans need stories, we need stories to belong to, and to give meaning and direction to our existence.
Hence, the success of the Bible, the Koran, the Thora, and other religious stories. People need the feeling to belong to a bigger story; to make part of a bigger whole; to have a purposeful existing. In some cultures, these are called stories, in others dreaming, in the end they all do the same: give meaning to life.
Back in the times, Medieval story tellers travelled from village to village, from castle to castle to tell stories. There was no other form of entertainment, no iPad, phone, Netflix, game console, television, radio nor newspapers or even books. (There were books but those were only accessible for the few privileged ones, which were either the very wealthy, either the very religious, such as monks who copied books by handwriting.) The only form of entertainment was live told story and music.
We are both, story tellers as story receivers.
Longing for Belonging
Moreover, stories not only inform and entertain us, but they connect us. They make us not only belong to the bigger story, but belong to one another. Hence, the success of popular stories from Lord of the Rings and Games of Thrones to daily soap series. People connect not only with the story (see the success of all the “fan days” and commercialising), but as well with one another, with other spectators.
Moreover, the more we have the feeling everything falls apart, the more we have the need to connect and belong.
The connecting power of stories has been proven throughout history. Not only do religions use stories to connect their believers, but so do politicians. Electoral campaigns are nothing more than trying to convince people of the story of the candidate, make them connect with the story – yes, I want to belong to this story, I want to belief in it, I can relate to it – but as well with the other voters.
People who never connected before, fill the same stadium to support the same candidate. The same happens at festivals and concerts, at theatre shows and sport events. People watch the story, connect with it, and hence connect with one another. No better example than the American Wave through a sport stadium, or thousands of voices singing the same song with that one rock star.
Nations as we know them
At the beginning of the creation of Nations as we know them, there was one thing missing. Economical, judicial and political rules were set, but yet there was one crucial factor jeopardizing the newborn Nations. It was the lack of legitimacy, the lack of citizen support, the lack of thrust and belief of the people in the story that was told them.
Politicians figured out rapidly the most efficient way to make people connect with the Nation, as well as with each other. They were now all compatriots; however, they did not know it yet, nor feel it. The old story was over, but the new story of the Nation-states wasn’t as credible yet. So, people hold on to the old story. Even though, the reality was telling something new.
Hence, leaders of the new-born political vehicle, called Nation, came up with a story to legitimise the existence of the Nation-state, not only to inform people, but especially to connect them: to the story and to one another.
They created notions of National Identity, national symbols, national anthems, and unfortunately feelings of national supremacy as well. It would become the nation against the others, people would feel proud to belong to their nation, rather than doubting it. The Nation now provided a story to belong to, gave meaning and direction to the lives of its citizens.
The tremendous power of this kind of stories lays in people exceeding their individual capacity by belonging to a bigger story. It became clear during the First World War in Europe. Despite the fact that the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary was the official reason, the bigger cause was increasing nationalism (and militarism) in the European countries.
They were keen to fight for “their” country and proof their supremacy.
The First World War was one of propaganda, and social mobilisation. In the movie theatres commercials would be shown to motivate people to go and fight ‘for their country’. Women were called to take care of ‘our men and children’ to guarantee a safe future and strong army.
A crisis connects.
So, “our” men went to the frontline and fought for “our country”. And when they returned, they were received as “our heroes” who protected “our fatherland”. Individuals exceed their individual power if they feel connected to a bigger story.
And a crisis – such as a war, against the enemy state or the enemy virus – increasingly connects.
In times of crisis, people look for a story to belong to. In times of crisis, there is no place nor need for individualism. In times of crisis, people want a firm answer, a story to belief in and hold on to. This explains the success of nationalist to even racist political leaders, who might tell completely nonsense, yet wrapped up in firm words and a firm story, where people want to hold on to.
The World vs the Dragon
It is no coincidence that Corona is described as much in terms of war, like the communal enemy, the battle to fight, the warriors at the frontline. Obviously, the mobilisation we see and need is one of global warfare scale, and there are heaps of similar elements. Yet, one aspect we might overlook here is the most crucial one of real warfare, the most crucial motivation behind the First World War: having a story to fight for and hold on to.
We are all on this story, fighting the same enemy, protecting each other. It is us versus Corona. The world versus the dragon.
Moreover, for all of us this story of Corona started as a spectator, except for the first involved ones in Wuhan. We saw something spreading like a slow fire over the world. We started connecting with the other spectators in our close surroundings, with the story, and eventually we all became part of it.
We are all in our own way fighting the dragon. Whole at the sudden there is more connection between all of us than I have ever seen. The dragon might not have been defeated yet, but we became stronger.
Regardless the end of this story, we are all on our quest, we are all becoming wiser, stronger and more connected. Unfortunately, some might not make it to the other side, which is a big price we are forced to pay, but those who will, will be more connected than ever.
Like the First World War has changed the scene and lives drastically, Corona will do the same. We already notice.
Maybe we are in a transition phase, the world as we know it might no longer be there. But as symbolically my colleague sang this song when we closed the door, it will open another door. The chapter might be finished, but we will start a new one. The scene will be changed, some elements might be the same, some roles, some characters, but the décor won’t.
While this is the end of the world as we know it, this is as well the beginning of the world as we don’t know it.
When turning this page, we can be sure, this will be a new beginning, a new belonging. I drive off the driveway from my house, back on the road, driving away from my old chapter. Yet, now I know, I will be fine, because the doors that have been opened for me since that Sunday night, are incredibly precious ones. This is for me too a new beginning, a new belonging.
This article is part of the series of Hope in Times of Corona. Read on how this times of self-isolation should not mean loneliness, on how you can contribute to this battle, on how gratitude lights up the dark, on how united we will stand strong. and on the most util strategy in awake of a crisis or on how I got blown of my feet as well, but caught by many caring hands, or on how being calm can get us through the storm. And what about Love in Times of Corona? or discovering your own talents? Or wait until tomorrow, when I’ll shine another light on yet another positive corner of this dark times.