Doom & the Berlin Wall

I will tell anyone who will listen: I am a doom-sayer. I regularly predict the doomiest outcome.

My children have suffered under the yoke of my predilections. It has led to lots of safety precautions they found over-the-top and learning how money works much earlier than most of their peers. (And maybe I let my very young daughter watch Holocaust movies much earlier than any other parent I know…she doesn’t seem scarred.)

When I lead workshops, I sometimes encourage people to speak their fears – the worst case scenarios – out loud. This does not usually go over well; typically, people need coaxing. I do this not to scare people, though I think it might have this effect.

I am not trying to feed the negativity. In fact, it’s the opposite: I do it to bring such negativity out of the shadows of our psyches, with the intention of diluting its power.

Though I would like to say that this approach is based in both psychological and spiritual wisdom (it is), it is also deeply rooted in childhood experiences and family dynamics. I get that.

This afternoon I was walking in the woods with a new friend. I ended up describing myself as a doom-sayer. When people are just getting to know me, they are surprised by this because I smile, often exhibit a calm demeanor, and can be kind.

So I offered this example:

When I was living in West Berlin, I was obsessed with the graffiti there. It was an easy obsession: all over, there was smart, creative, political graffiti. This was true of the whole country, but especially in West Berlin and especially in the immigrant quarter, Kreuzberg, where I lived.

The summer I lived and worked there, a national census, the first in awhile, was scheduled and there was outrage. Graffiti all over warned municipal officials of a populist backlash against any attempts to count the citizenry. I wrote about

this is not the photo I took, but it is a photo of the same part of the Wall of which I write
this is not the photo I took, but it is a photo of the same part of the Wall of which I write

it here.

One day, while walking around the city, I took a photograph of art on the Wall. It said, “The Wall Will Fall, Dreams Become Reality.” I remember vividly taking this picture with patronizing thoughts running in my head. Isn’t that quaint? How they are keeping their hopes up? I mean, it’s just not going to happen. Certainly, not in our lifetimes.

Yeah, that was 1987. The Wall fell just over two years later. What did I know?

This is the lesson I learn from this. I might be right. I might be wrong. My certainty is no predictor.

For which I am deeply thankful.

This week marked the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. So much doom has happened in the intervening years.

And so much light. So much love. So much possibility. So much hope.

I am reminded of the passionate words of the late Howard Zinn:

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places – and there are so many – where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

I am so thankful I was wrong. May I be wrong again. Over and over. May I be wrong in all the other ways I predict doom, both personal and planetary. May my lessons in humility point towards many marvelous victories to come.

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