The rollercoaster of life
There is a saying that life is like a roller coaster. "It has its ups and downs. But it's your choice to scream or enjoy the ride." I don't know if that choice is always that simple. If the bullets are actually whizzing through your kitchen, or if there is no food to satisfy hunger, then it seems to me an impossible task to enjoy it. But how often do the bullets whizz through our kitchen? How often are we really in real situations of agony? And how often is the fear mainly in our head? In practice, man often suffers most from the suffering he fears. In the chaos and turmoil of the world around us, it is becoming increasingly important to learn to keep your head cool. To become like the proverbial rock in the turbulent surf of the wild sea. Of course, we cannot influence what happens to us, but we do have control over the way we react to it.
After two years of full-time thinking about the pandemic, the thoughts of many are now going to the war in the Ukraine. Friends of mine live 200 km from the Ukrainian border, and they welcomed the first refugees to their guesthouse this week. Two young women, aged 24 and 25, fled the cities of Kiyv and Kharkov, with a packed train, filled to the brim with people, luggage, chickens and dogs. The father of one of them had read that Airbnb offers free shelter to 100,000 refugees, after which the ladies contacted my friends via Airbnb. They were deeply touched by how, as strangers, they were warmly welcomed by almost all the people along the way. The bus driver, the taxi driver, an understanding and helping hand was extended everywhere. After "6 days of hell", through explosions and fire, they landed in a quiet village in the mountains of Transylvania. From there they will soon leave by train to friends in Vienna. The Romanian railways transport them free of charge, as do countless other European airlines and railway companies. It seems that in times of great need, not only the worst of man becomes visible, but also the best. We already saw during the corona pandemic how people, through all the problems, chose to connect with each other and be there for their fellow man. We see this again now with the war in Ukraine how, in addition to the dark, the light also shines in people, and this is expressed in dealing with each other with empathy and compassion. I am not a war or crisis expert. However, I do know from my profession that the flexibility of people is much greater than we think.
As a baby boomer, it is not the first time that I have been confronted with a serious crisis, such as corona or the war in Ukraine. At the beginning of the fifties, half of the population was of the opinion that a new world war would break out within ten years. Tensions during the cold war ran high. In 1961, the Dutch government even distributed an emergency ration with 72 emergency biscuits to each family. Eight biscuits were good for about 1 emergency meal and contained more than 500 calories. They were prepared that at any moment the Russian could come, or an atomic bomb would fall. This highly exceptional situation not only necessitated all kinds of practical measures – evacuation plans for the government, preparations for a Russian occupation, protection measures against air raids, instructions in survival techniques to the citizens – but it also influenced the thinking and opinion of many citizens. Can you imagine what it does to people when you are supplied with an emergency ration? What kind of fear and uncertainty has this brought to people's minds?
People were genuinely afraid of disaster. That wasn't so strange. In the midst of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had nuclear missiles deployed in Cuba that posed a direct threat to America and the rest of the world. On Saturday, October 27, 1962, a nuclear war nearly broke out, when Russian ships sailed towards Cuba with nuclear weapons on board. A day later, Radio Moscow announced that the ships would return, so that a military intervention was halted. Meanwhile, people lived for decades with the fear of a possible new world war. The end of the cold war provided a temporarily relaxation, but it wasn't long before other conflicts and wars would once again cause the human mind much turmoil and fear. Examples include the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Falklands, the Gulf War, the Yugoslav wars in Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, and other places in the Balkans to name a handful. Let's not think that the past was always so much better than the present. The supply of energy and the associated prices are currently under renewed pressure, but it is not new. Take, for example, the oil crisis of 1973 in which petrol was rationed in many countries. In the Netherlands we were no longer allowed to drive with the car on a number of Sundays. In the United States, motorists with an odd license plate were only allowed to fill their tanks on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The others, with an even license plate, were allowed to refuel on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. This oil crisis, like today's energy problems, was entirely caused by the human actions of "friends and enemies". For the younger generation, these experiences are quite new, and it is understandable that it evokes fear. However, with the experience of a longer life, you will recognize the wave movements of ups and downs, the roller coaster, and you know that life is always a coming and going of movements, positive or negative.
Most of us are pretty privileged. No one chooses the country where you are born. I was born in the Netherlands and now live in Switzerland for my work. When I look around me, everything seems to be plentiful. Yet here too, as in other 'well-to-do' Western countries, we experience many people in increased fear and panic. However, if you look fear straight into the eye, it is very easy to speak from the luxury of the West about "living in the moment". In the middle of a crisis situation, you can't meditate quietly, take a walk, or take a warm bath to unwind. I remember the images of a Palestinian woman with the bullets literally flying through her house. That is truly a crisis situation. But for many of us, the crisis is mainly "in our head". We are afraid, restless and nervous, while if we look very honestly at ourselves and our environment, then our lives are not directly threatened at all. I literally see how many people are guided daily by the stream of negative information in the media. Indeed, if you keep track of your news app every 5 minutes, then life doesn't get any happier either. Should we then deny that there is so much trouble in the world? No, there is also another way. When experience so many troubles, it is important not to forget where we stand ourselves. It helps not to lose ourselves in the restless maelstrom of the world. In that context, I have come to see for myself how powerful our own ability to think really is, both in a positive and negative sense. We can literally make or break something with our way of thinking.
Placebo and nocebo
If there is one phenomenon that illustrates the thinking ability of man, it is the placebo and the, for many slightly less known, but equally powerful nocebo effect.
At traffic lights for cyclists and pedestrians, there is often a placebo button. You push the button, but nothing actually happens. These "placebo buttons" do give the waiting person a feeling of peace and control in the mind. To increase that feeling, after a press of the button, a light often comes on or the text "wait or green" lights up. The light does not jump any faster to green, but we think so and therefore feel better. Our thoughts fool us. The placebo effect is best known from medicine developments. A positive expectation strengthens the action of the drug or treatment of a patient. Despite the fact that the 'medicine' does not contain any active substance, the patient still experiences positive results. The conscious brain thinks that the fake medicine works. It is fascinating to see how it is possible that without real medication and / or medical treatments there is still recovery and healing. It indicates how strong the power of our thoughts and mind is. In fact, with the placebo effect, we see the work of human creative power at work. Conversely, human destructive power works the same way. If a patient believes that a drug will not work properly, the effect of the drug will decrease. It is also possible that when one reads the enclosed leaflet, more side effects are experienced. For example: if the package leaflet mentions headache or nausea as a side effect, there is a chance that a patient will suffer from this more quickly. This even happens when a placebo is used. If the doctor looks worried, or if there are many negative stories circulating on social media, then the chances become greater than the conscious brain sails or the waves of the nocebo effect.
In Eastern philosophies it is sometimes stated: You are what you think. Everything you are comes from your thoughts. With your thoughts you make your world." I think there is some truth to this. What we think also radiates as a kind of energy to our environment. Often people think about what they want to 'do'. However, it is also useful to reflect more often on what we 'think'. In that context, I am charmed by the biofeedback equipment of the HeartMath Institute. You can easily measure your emotional well-being. If you put it to the test, you will immediately see your emotions go out of balance as soon as you get anxious or get panic thoughts in your head. Your quality of thinking is therefore not only something that is "theoretical influence", it has a very practical effect on your personal quality of life and therefore also on that of your environment.
The Butterfly Effect: "Everything You Do Matters"
I toast to all people who know that everything you do matters. The people who know that as long as your heart is full of something, you have something to give. In your work and at home.
With the Dutch comedian Paul van Vliet I drink to these people:
I drink to the people
Moving those mountains
Who therefore continue to go with their heads in the wind
I drink to the people
Who continue to believe
With the faith of a child
I drink to the best
Today and tomorrow
I drink to the most beautiful thing I love
I drink to the maximum
What's left in it
In today and in tomorrow
In me and in you!