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How to use personal, inner development to build strong democracies | Tomas Björkman | TEDxBerlin

How to use personal, inner development to build strong democracies | Tomas Björkman | TEDxBerlin


Translator: Chryssa R. Takahashi
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Thank you. Thank you very much. It’s been a super exciting day today, and we have heard
from many of the speakers today that we really live in turbulent times. We live in times
of transition and transformation. The challenges that we are facing today, of hidden algorithms, globalisation, migration, Brexit and Trump,
and all the rest, are all expressions, I believe,
of one underlying meta-crisis: our inability, our collective inability to handle the increasing
complexity of our world. I think that we need, again, as we have done so many times
before throughout history, update our cultural software
of our society. We need again to increase
our collective consciousness. Not long ago, we had no Internet,
no mobile phones. This is the farm
where I grew up in Sweden. It’s me there with my younger brother
and my grandfather. I’m old enough to have
started life in a family where we had no television
and no fixed telephone line. Now, not much later,
we are about to enter into a society, as we have heard, with artificial intelligence,
the Internet of Things, and all the other wonderful technologies
that could give us a world of abundance within the planetary boundaries,
a world of peace, or totally not. The only thing that is
absolutely clear to me is that the future
is not going to be easy, but also that we are really
in charge of the future. A hundred and fifty years ago,
in the middle of the 19th century, Denmark, Norway and Sweden were at an equally great technological
and societal transition, the Industrial Revolution. Back then, we were very poor, agrarian,
non-democratic societies. Due to starvation
and miserable living conditions, 25% of the working population
in Sweden emigrated to the US during the second half of that century. That is why at the time,
all cowboys were blond. (Laughter) Just kidding. Just a few decades later,
already before the Second World War, Denmark, Norway and Sweden
had transitioned into being amongst the richest
and happiest countries in the world. We had managed to become
very stable democracies, and I would say that
compared to other countries, both in Europe and elsewhere, our way of managing this transition
was extraordinary successful. So, how did that happen? How did this transition
go so quick and peacefully? And what can we learn from that transition when we today are facing
an equally great transition? Now, from national industrial societies into a global digitally connected world. In the next 12 minutes, I will try
to give some answers to these questions. In times of uncertainty
and rapid change, like now, we all tend to turn towards
an outside authority. Someone or something
that we can put our trust in. We tend to turn towards religion
or towards authoritarian leadership. We did it back then,
and we are doing it now again. But 150 years ago, we had
extraordinary visionary leaders in Scandinavia. They knew that the only way
to build democracy – and they were totally committed
to building democracy – was to build it from bottom up. That is why these visionaries
wanted to empower a large part of the population, not just a little elite or vanguard. They wanted really to empower
a large part of the population to become active and conscious co-creators of the new social order
that wanted to emerge. And for that purpose,
they created all over Scandinavia retreat centres for inner growth. Yes, you heard me correctly. They established retreat centres
for inner growth. And they did this all over Scandinavia. It started in Denmark, moved on to Norway and then to Sweden, and over the next couple of decades, it grew rapidly. And at about 1900,
at the turn of the last century, there were 100 retreat centres
like these in Denmark, 75 in Norway and 150 in Sweden. These centres were all state-financed, but they were not state-run
or state-organised. Here, young adults with a few years
of working experience, mainly from the farming
or working part of the population, could spend up to six months in retreat with the expressed aim of not being
politically indoctrinated but rather finding
their own inner compass. Finding themselves in order
to resist the sirens’ calls of fundamentalist religion
or authoritarian leadership, to be able to hold the complexity
of rapid social change and become active
and conscious co-creators of the emerging new social order. A hundred years ago, up to 10%
of each generation in the Nordic countries participated in these
four to six months long retreats. In addition to finding
their inner compass, these retreats gave the participants
knowledge about the current technology, technological development
in crafts and farming; it gave them a sense and feeling
for their place in history and culture; and it gave them basic tools for organising civic
movements and activism. So, where did these even for our time
radical ideas come from? Well, they came from here. They came from Germany. They came from German thinkers like Schiller and Goethe here,
von Humboldt, Herder and lots of those idealistic philosophers. All of these philosophers pointed out that the enlightenment’s
idea of our mind – as a rational decision machine that somehow miraculously is
all ready when we are 18 or 20 and we are allowed to vote – that idea, they said, is totally wrong. Totally wrong. They pointed out, as science does today, that our mind is not just in our brain, our mind is embodied
in the totality of our bodies and embedded in our culture, and that our mind is
a complex organic system under lifelong development. Under lifelong development,
it’s never finished. It never finishes. These philosophers lived,
thought and wrote in the years after the French Revolution. And they came to the conclusion that the only way to avoid
future political bloodbaths was for a large part of the population
to find their inner compass and to become what we today
would call inner-directed. Unfortunately, few of us are able
to do this without conscious effort. Here in Germany, after that the failed revolutions of 1848 had been forcefully put down, nobody in any responsible position dared to implement these new ideas. Instead, as we have seen,
these ideas travelled to Scandinavia and it was here that
the original German ideas about the connection between inner
personal transformation and democracy came to be implemented on a large scale. Eventually, this program
of human empowerment followed in the footsteps
of the Nordic immigrants to the US, where it played a part
in the civil rights movement. But that is another story. Today, not many,
not even in the Nordic countries, know about this fascinating story
about democracy building. That is why my Danish co-author and I, Lene Andersen and I
call it the Nordic Secret. The retreat centres still exist. They are called folk high schools. But after the Second World War, the focus on personal inner transformation
and democracy building was lost. Now, our folk high schools are mainly used
for simply adult education and training. We somehow forgot about the insights
of the lifelong development of our mind, and we reverted back to the old view of our mind
as rational and fixed. And democracy was, by then,
anyhow mostly taken for granted. We are now at a point in history where we again could use some
of the insights of Schiller and Goethe, that were so instrumental
in building the Nordic democracies. Today, neuroscience,
adult developmental psychology and behavioural economics, all confirm that the old
ideas of a rational mind, or homo economicus, are deeply flawed. This old mechanistic view of our mind can actually dangerously undermine
both our society and our democracy. I firmly believe that we need, again, to look at the lifelong development
of our mind and of our inner world. We need again to focus
on the development of our consciousness. I have myself gone through
and witnessed such inner growth and in the process became interested in the connection between
inner transformation and societal change. After I sold my banking
business ten years ago, I started the Ekskäret Foundation, and Ekskäret means literally,
as we heard, the Oak tree island – even, as you can see on this picture, there are mainly pine trees
growing there today. Every summer, on our island,
we arrange a number of youth camps. Two week long camps where the young adolescents
are able to spend two weeks to find themselves. A few years ago, when I was a leader
at one of these camps, I overheard a conversation
between a young participant and a leader. The young girl was complaining
about how stressed out she always felt about all the things
that she wanted to do, like meeting friends, doing sports,
social media and all that – a situation not unknown to many
young people today and even us adults. The leader, who was just
a few years older than she, asked some open probing questions. And then, suddenly the young woman said, “Now, now I see that I do not have
to do all the things I want to do.” Something had shifted in her. For the first time perhaps in her life,
she had been able to take her own will and look at it, look at it as an object, and relate to it, and decide what
she wanted to with her will. Her inner awareness had expanded. She had just experienced inner growth. Later in life, we can go through
similar expansions of our awareness. We can, for example, stop identifying with
the norms and values of our peer group to actually be able
to choose who we want to be and how we want to contribute to society. We can become inner directed. And by doing that we can become
authors of our own lives in a much deeper sense. But this requires deep inner work,
reflection and dialogue. We live indeed in turbulent times, times of transition and transformation. And the challenges that we,
as humanity, face today deeply humble us. The success of the Industrial Revolution
was based on an acceptance, acceptance of the fact that
we were ignorant about our outer world. It was that acceptance and our curiosity
about our outer world that made us discover new continents
and put a man on the moon. The revolution of our time
is also about acceptance. This time acceptance about
our ignorance about our inner world. That acceptance and the discoveries
that will follow from that will be the big step forward
for humanity in our century. In order for us to move
into the new social order that wants to emerge,
we need to surrender. We need to surrender to the fact
that we are not fully developed. That we are in a constantly
developing path. And when we have accepted that,
and being in touch with ourselves, that will be an invitation for us
to raise our consciousness, to grow and hopefully, to become more human. Thank you very much. (Applause)

1 comment on “How to use personal, inner development to build strong democracies | Tomas Björkman | TEDxBerlin

  1. This is a very important subject for the future of mankind and our planet. Unfortunately, at this time very few of the world's movers and shakers are aware of this phenomenon , rather they are engulfed by the rational, individualism and the status quo.

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