Micro and Macro

People in small and large format

Buber notes in his book “Ich und Du” that animals are too afraid to speak. I think that is not primarily a statement about the animal, but about the human being. The animal in us, so to speak. The animal in us does not dare to speak where it is necessary and calls out at those moments “I am gone. I take no responsibility!”. It has long been discovered that animals also speak in a rudimentary way. They warn of enemies and alert each other to prey and they even fool each other. But those are rudimentary forms of speech, and perhaps I should say embryonic. It is a mere beginning. Animals also have large brains, but only very small ones.


Here I am not concerned with zoology, but with people: speaking, addressing each other, calling, accepting responsibility, making promises, issuing laws, teaching – that is what people do. They look at each other and answer each other. That is also what the Greek word Anthropos expresses: anti-opos, mutually seeing each other. A kind of transmission takes place, transmission also between generations. What has been invented by one generation in terms of human behavior is passed on to the next generation. Innovations in dealing with each other are added to the existing repertoire. Speaking did not start as men shouted at each other when chasing a mammoth, but where the name of a deceased ancestor is also called upon after death. The language begins with the burial of the dead. Then their name is called, publicly. With that name, the spirit of the dead is awakened and kept alive. The spirit of the ancestry is still alive when their offspring interacts with each other: the now living must continue their trail in that same direction. No wonder the oldest layer of human religion also is the ancestral religion. Religion started as respect for the ancestry. Take only the idea that people get a name! The usual grammar doesn’t know what to do with the name. The name does not indicate an object, not even certain properties, but the person that someone is. That name is the summary of his way of being, her attitude to life, action, interaction with others, in short Spirit. Yes, why not with a capital, because by passing on the action repertoire (and also our repertoire of feeling and experiencing!) to the next generation, a chain of spirits and names comes into being that can be summarized in the word Spirit with a capital. .

What is said of the genes might also be said of the Spirit: it is said that the genes that pass on themselves through the generations actually only use the now living generation for the purpose of reproducing themselves. In fact, life is all about the transmission of genes. Why do we get spring fever and are we attractive to each other? That’s a ruse of our genes. That is what they say. Whether it is true or not, that may be as it is, but this is also how our spiritual repertoire grows through the generations. In the treasury of language, the now living person is endowed with a comprehensive repertoire to feel and act. So the Spirit, capitalized, uses us as disposables on the way to the next generation?

Spirit – I do not intend to use that word in the sense of Hegel, because he reduces the mind to conceptual thinking and to rationality. Spirit, however, is everything we learn, covering our thinking, feeling, experiencing, human qualities, values, relationships, and so on and so forth. Words remind us of experiences previously lived through and make those experiences accessible to us too. Just one example: the word vulnerability. We can be “vulnerable”. But somebody must have done so for the first time, for example a couple in love with each other, and they or maybe a poet, have/has used the word “vulnerable”. And the feeling and the modification of feeling that accompanied this experience is still succinctly summarized in the word vulnerable. That word does not indicate a state of mind, but a process. The word vulnerable includes the experience, that we are so close together that we might violate each other, but we don’t do it. The grip of the hand turns to caress halfway through. But once we have a word, like “vulnerable”, for that event, someone just needs to invoke this experience by using that word. That is the transmission of experience by language through the generations.


In this way humanity is growing. The repertoire is constantly increasing. It is of course also possible that something is lost every now and then. But that which is lost can be evoked again at another occasion! Life is death and resurrection.

But the individual is not a mere means for the growth of the Spirit. Then we would be disposables, indeed. The Spirit, the repertoire of actions expressed in and made accessible by language, is also a means for the growth of the individual. In our individual development we reproduce the complete world history in our own lifetime. And by doing so, we also come to ourselves more and more. That we internalize all this heritage, and absorb the speech of all humanity in our own speech – in fact that is our entitlement!


In childhood one masters the repertoire of human experience that is already available. A small child, for example, wants to show the parents that it already knows how to do it. It wants to participate and belong. It is given a name, taught obedience, and even taught the game of obedience and disobedience. As long as you are young, life has the character of the game, because in the end others take responsibility for you. Under the umbrella of that responsibility you can freely discover and go wild. However, this already reflects the first discoveries of man in history as such. In ancient times, people could be much more naive than they are today. They behaved like a force that goes its way. Everything was discovered for the first time, tribal life, life in an imperial hierarchical culture, in all its variations, without any internal doubt as to whether people were doing the right thing. There was no self-criticism, not even in the mutual struggle that was the result. One’s own social order was always better than the order of the other. Order? The others didn’t have any order, they were barbarians. They hardly were human beings.


You get old when you are confronted with a crisis. The available repertoire no longer provides ready-made solutions. There is no longer a “Heile Welt”, but on the contrary: all present achievements might easily be lost if we do not accept a new and unheard (previously unheard!) responsibility, and we often even have to discover that responsibility itself first. There are no trodden roads, the road has to be paved first. Yet, strangely enough, humanity as such has some experience with that experience as well. And words have been found for it. And also names can be mentioned from people who have found words for this confrontation with the future. That Israel pulls out of Egypt, that the prophets are hungry for a righteousness that cannot yet be seen, but must certainly come, that therefore Israel worships an invisible God, in these wordings anyone who struggles with unsolved problems can find a source of inspiration: persevere! This withholding one’s assent to what is simply and brutally there, has parallels in Buddhism and Taoism is only a reinforcement and nuance of that inspiration. People have previously stood with their backs against the wall. That gives courage to do the necessary.


The wisdom of old age means that even for the most ardent ideals one is no longer as enthusiastic as one used to be. Not because no fire is anymore glowing beneath the ashes, but because one has become more aware of the fire that also glows elsewhere. You had something important to bring to the table. Well, others have done so as well. Wisdom is to discern when a certain attitude, quality, a certain performance is required and timely, and when it has to stop. At that moment there must be room for something else. As an Elder one does not only have the capability to put things into perspective, but also to switch between what is necessary and set the right priorities at the right time. That’s the attitude of the elders, the presbyters, the priests, which also literally means elders. Since the coming of Christianity, better the coming of Christ, world history has become old, no “oldest”. Christianity, if we still use that term, should not be seen as an extra religion, but as the ability to stop and start all over. We must be able to switch all our achievements on and off. We don’t live on one single track. We also have to be able to have our own track traversed and crossed. Only in this way our most ardent discoveries can become part of a larger whole.

World Heritage

What if we learned to see the repertoire of cultural and religious traditions in this way? This means: learning to see it as a common pantry with which we can dress. We must always be able to put our clothing on or off timely, in interaction with each other. That acting, thinking, feeling, experiencing which is now required to find justice and peace for the time to come, that is the card that is now to be played and that is the music that is now to be heard. Only those who have listened well really have something to say. Those who really have something to say, they are the ones who embody as a micro human, as an individual (albeit in relation to others), at the same time the Spirit of the human race throughout history. Micro is oriented towards macro. Macro is embodied in micro