I am always impressed when I watch one of the New Europeans panel discussions. I come away fired up - I agree with everything.
That we need to set aside our differences and stand up for the future of Europe - a Europe founded on shared values like human rights, free movement, and democracy.
That we want to end racism and ensure justice. For Europe to be a place where all citizens are involved, and everyone can say they belong.
That we can share the dream of an integrated, dynamic, greener Europe, where countries cooperate peacefully on issues of climate and health.
This evening was no exception.
But there is a bit of me that hesitates. I doubt myself, as I wonder if all our passionate commitment will be enough.
Two things were said which resonate –
“We are going through a huge crisis, which is also an opportunity, but the borders in our minds can hold us back.”
“Equality, the rule of law … The repertoire is there, but we don’t get it.”
What is it that stops us from making the necessary changes on all levels of society? What are those borders in our minds?
What feeds the movements of fragmentation, racism, xenophobia, political extremism, and authoritarian rulership?
It is, of course, essential to bring people together, explain how issues affect them, and enable them to get involved, but I worry that it will not be enough.
Jack Saul, author of Collective Trauma, Collective Healing - Promoting Community Resilience in the Aftermath of Disaster, explains the impact of trauma on us individually and collectively.
He speaks of ‘resilience’ – the way we can be resourceful, adapt and come through crisis stronger.
We don’t have to look hard to see many of us are facing trauma directly and indirectly.
Pain, fear, and loss happen to us personally, but also collectively.
I think of Covid-19, of the hardship faced by many immigrants, of the horrific images we see in the media of acts of extremism, wars, and senseless killing.
And there is a gradual trauma as we feel powerless to stop global warming and pollution, the impact of financial crises and the increasing threats to our standards of truth and democracy.
Collective trauma, says Saul, can undermine people’s basic sense of connection at all levels.
Crises can wound our family systems, the organisations we work in, and the community structures and services on which we depend. They hit especially hard if they are ‘man-made’ and those responsible will not admit it.
They can bring social fragmentation, conflict, and violence. As we 'freeze', it becomes harder to respond to threats or opportunities. Social fault-lines that were already there can deepen and break open.
Even our relationships can suffer as we find it more difficult to trust, to feel safe and to be emotionally open.
I think we are seeing some of these things now.
Saul agrees that trauma is both a crisis and an opportunity. That is because we are changed by it, individually and collectively - we don’t go back to how we were. We can move through, adapt, and come out stronger.
In the same way that individuals can experience ‘post-traumatic growth’, communities can react to challenges by transforming themselves creatively. They can change their institutions and the way they function.
So, what can we do to help ourselves and our families, neighbourhoods, countries, and the whole of Europe to be open and flexible?
How can we help all of us adjust and change for the better?
Individuals are part of communities. It is hard for individuals to recover from a crisis if their community hasn't.
That's why, Saul says, to build resilience we have to understand the impact of trauma on all levels, individually and collectively.
We have to look at how we understand ourselves and the world we live in, how we organise ourselves, how we communicate and how we solve our problems.
In the West we tend to focus on the individual. That's mostly where help is targeted. The way our institutions are set up makes it hard to work with the impact of trauma on a community level.
To be effective, we need to work with all the systems in which we are embedded, involving every dimension of our being.
That way we can draw on the full range of our biological, psychological, social, and spiritual resources.
Active citizen participation is essential in working out how to do that, which brings us back to thinking about how we communicate and share information.
Communication depends on a shared understanding, a shared sense of meaning.
Shared meanings, direction and purpose emerge through discussion, in the narratives or stories that evolve to help us understand who and where we are, how we got there and where we are going.
Today, social media play a large role in evolving these narratives.
But this is where I worry about the process of political discussion. I wonder if it really engages all the levels and dimensions of our being.
Of course we need to involve us all in thinking about our values, and we need to discuss the best ways forward for Europe.
And we are good at that.
Our Western culture encourages rational, fact-based discussion, decision making and action through democratic structures and institutions.
I am struck by the pace and focus of our discussions at New Europeans – the frequently brilliant ‘elevator pitch’-fast process of sharing information and ideas. We argue our case and get people behind us to carry us forward.
But to involve all of ourselves, should we not do more than work to convince people of our arguments and enlist them to our cause?
Where in our process is there room for silence, reflection, and for listening deeply to ourselves and others - for feeling our way into what we say?
How often do we get the chance to explore the personal in the political – the lived experience from which our ideas and motivation spring?
Could we grow our political process to include spaces for our feelings and intuition, in which we could explore those watery realms of meaning-making that lie between the flowers of our ideas and the muddy roots from which they spring?
That may be hard to do, of course, because below our words we might find, as well as the light of our hope and dreams, the pain, grief, guilt and rage of our trauma.
But this is what I think we must now do, to grow through our trauma, and dissolve the borders in our minds.
We will then be open to hear the narratives for a new future as they emerge. New understandings about who we are as human beings - individually and together - as part of nature and existence as a whole.
Only then will our movement towards a new Europe be sustainable, as it will flow from a genuine change of heart, as well as from a change of mind.