By Stephen Bruyant-Langer
What Happened in France?
Luckily, I was in France, when the French team won the World Cup in soccer in July 2018. And what a party! All of a sudden everyone hugged each other. It was a perfect example of inclusion – just as the diversity of the French team. A common state of ecstasy across ethnicity, race, age, gender, and social class. And the victory was very soon translated into “We are the champions of the world!” A huge self-confidence and pride, which, however, very soon degenerated into leftist yellow vests fighting rightist yellow vests. This degeneration will not increase productivity and will certainly not ease the implementation of Macron’s reform plans.
What Happened in England?
Luckily, I was also in England a few days earlier, when the English team lost the semi-finals. What an atmosphere! The whole country was united around “It’s coming home!” This in itself is paradoxical, since the trophy hasn’t been in England since 1966. But the feeling of unity remained extremely strong and was probably also fueled by the Brexit discussions dividing the country and the government. Since then, the political discussion has degenerated into the mother of all messes.
What Happened in History?
Undoubtedly, events like these have an overarching potential to unite – around hope, around ambition, and around history. For France, it was back to Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité. I would suggest that, during more than 200 years following the French Revolution, Egalité migrated eastward – and took root in the totalitarian regimes of Mao, Hitler, Stalin, and others who demanded sameness. Liberté crossed the Atlantic – and took root in the stubborn, arrogant, defiant self-reliance of the USA. Where did Fraternité go? It went into hiding, underground. It did, of course, emerge in heartfelt expressions of community and civility (e.g. Lech Walesa in Poland and Václav Havel in Czechoslovakia), but all too often it got drowned by shrill voices. My take on these movements is that Fraternité went north and contributed to building the Scandinavian societies and cultures.
”Liberté went West,
Egalité went East, and
Fraternité went North.”
How Important is Trust?
In many countries, I observe a perceived incompatibility between people’s obligations to the community and individual freedom. As a both-and person, I consider this nonsense. You may very well BOTH enjoy the privilege of personal freedom AND live up to the obligations of belonging to a community. It seems that the Scandinavian countries have hit a fine balance in this respect. The basis for this balance is trust. Trust in yourself, trust in others and trust in authorities. As long as you feel empowered and able to influence society, then you feel free. The French certainly don’t feel empowered. They feel that others (i.e. society, government, businesses) are out to get them. A mentality shift is needed, and the World Cup victory was a potential inflection point.
Why Is the Existentialist Creed of Freedom, Choice, Responsibility, and Action still Crucial?
Today, 50 years after the student uprising and civil unrest in Paris and 30 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, we need again to fight protectionism, populism, and polarization. We must work from a both-and, not an either-or perspective. We must include, not exclude. We have the freedom to choose and the responsibility to act. And there is no better time to act than when the feeling of unity is strong. When Fraternité is again at the center.
What Can You Do as an Individual?
In today’s era, dominated by strong men (Putin in Russia, Xi in China and Trump in the USA), we need to support a Movement from the Middle and to combat polarization. As an individual, you can do this by demonstrating leadership and responsibility emerging from the middle.
Archimedes said: “Give me a place to stand and a lever long enough, and I’ll move the world”. A World Cup victory changes the framing, the perspective, and the mindset. It empowers people to consider limitless opportunities – a growth mindset! In French, you would say: “Qui peut le plus, peut le moins” which freely translates into “If you can do more, you can do less” meaning “If we can win the World Cup, we can do anything!” Let’s use this new position of strength optimally.
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