Personal Responsibility Instead of Obedience

Lone­ly Christ­mas? How does the Bavar­i­an Prime Min­is­ter Markus Söder actu­al­ly talk to us? I’m sick of being admon­ished like a child, threat­ened and occa­sion­al­ly praised. With this ongo­ing infan­tiliza­tion of mature cit­i­zens, the gov­ern­ment is under­min­ing the self-orga­ni­za­tion and per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty that we urgent­ly need for a sus­tain­able con­tain­ment of the pandemic.

If my chil­dren run thought­less­ly onto a busy street, I nat­u­ral­ly hold them back. If there is imme­di­ate dan­ger, this mas­sive restric­tion of their free­dom is ful­ly jus­ti­fied. In the short term, at least. In the long term, how­ev­er, I will not always be able to stand beside them on every street and there­fore need a strat­e­gy based on their under­stand­ing of the causal rela­tion­ships and their per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty. The same applies to exces­sive con­sump­tion of sug­ar, where bans only help in the first few years until the chil­dren have the cog­ni­tive matu­ri­ty for the nec­es­sary under­stand­ing as well as the abil­i­ty to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for their own diet.

Dis­ci­pline is achieved through self-orga­ni­za­tion and per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, by dis­ci­plin­ing one only gets obedience.

Ger­ald Hüther

The same is true for change process­es in soci­ety and in orga­ni­za­tions: Only on the basis of self-orga­ni­za­tion and per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty (and the authen­tic exam­ple of lead­er­ship) a sus­tain­able, pur­pose­ful change in behav­ior can be achieved. This is exact­ly what we need now to con­tain the Coro­na pan­dem­ic in Ger­many. In fact, how­ev­er, we are still see­ing a Ger­man Chan­cel­lor and Prime Min­is­ters who, like anx­ious par­ents, instinc­tive­ly pull their chil­dren back off the busy road in the face of the immi­nent danger.

What was appro­pri­ate in spring, how­ev­er, wears out very quick­ly in the long run. At some point, the chil­dren just don’t lis­ten any­more if they are con­stant­ly being yelled at. And cer­tain­ly these mas­sive inter­ven­tions do not pro­mote per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty, but on the con­trary pre­vent think­ing for one­self. Those up there will know best. The time of appeals and com­mand­ments is over since spring and over the sum­mer we missed the chance to switch to a long-term strat­e­gy based on self-orga­ni­za­tion and per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty of mature cit­i­zens (excep­tions only con­firm the rule here as well).

Only when a per­son sees mean­ing in what he is sup­posed to do can he devel­op suf­fi­cient self-discipline.

Ger­ald Hüther

Peo­ple no longer want to be treat­ed like naughty chil­dren. I am tired of being admon­ished, threat­ened and occa­sion­al­ly praised by our gov­ern­ment. The sit­u­a­tion is extreme­ly com­plex in the fullest sense of the word, much more com­plex than cross­ing a street any­way. We all, includ­ing the gov­ern­ment and the sci­ences, have more ques­tions than answers. And where there are answers, they are often ambigu­ous and con­tra­dic­to­ry. One exam­ple among many: Does a sim­ple face­mask have an effect against this virus or not? Or does wear­ing unsuit­able masks for a long time or incor­rect­ly per­haps even harm? Research is con­fus­ing and this is per­fect­ly nor­mal (see this arti­cle pub­lished in The Lancet in August).

The com­plex­i­ty of the pan­dem­ic is inher­ent and will not go away. There­fore it does not real­ly help that the Bavar­i­an Prime Min­is­ter Markus Söder likes to mime the expe­ri­enced cap­tain and tough cri­sis man­ag­er. On the con­trary, this know-it-all, patron­iz­ing and some­times arro­gant ges­ture of the school­mas­ter­ly sav­ior under­mines pre­cise­ly the self-orga­ni­za­tion and per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty that we actu­al­ly need for sus­tain­able con­tain­ment. After all, in the end the gov­ern­ment can­not stand next to each of the 80 mil­lion Ger­mans and “pro­tect” them from them­selves (even though the idea may well appeal to one or the oth­er min­is­ters of the interior).

Con­tain­ing the pan­dem­ic is a marathon, not a sprint — not even two or three sprints. The goal is there­fore not obe­di­ence, but per­son­al respon­si­bil­i­ty. Con­stant­ly hold­ing the ris­ing num­ber of cas­es against the naughty cit­i­zens and threat­en­ing to shut down pub­lic life again if they con­tin­ue to rise, or even “a lone­ly Christ­mas”, as Markus Söder put it with a raised fore­fin­ger, does not help at all, but main­ly cre­ates fear, dis­plea­sure and resistance.

Chil­dren are just like adults on this point: we want to coop­er­ate when­ev­er pos­si­ble, but we don’t like being manip­u­lat­ed to do so.

Jes­per Juul

A lit­tle more humil­i­ty in the face of the com­plex­i­ty of the sit­u­a­tion on the one hand, and respect for the respon­si­ble and in most cas­es very pru­dent cit­i­zen on the oth­er, would suit our gov­ern­ment well. It would have been more hon­est and pow­er­ful after the sum­mer hol­i­days to admit that the sit­u­a­tion is com­plex and ambigu­ous, and that the gov­ern­ment and its advi­sors are not ful­ly aware of the rea­sons for the increase in the num­ber of cas­es. The behav­ior of cit­i­zens would then be just one fac­tor, and a sea­son­al increase in res­pi­ra­to­ry infec­tions, as every year, would be anoth­er. And, of course, one could then also have self-crit­i­cal­ly ques­tioned whether we are mea­sur­ing the right thing in the right way and whether we are look­ing at the right indicators.

Instead of sim­ply blam­ing the cit­i­zens and their mis­con­duct for the increased num­bers, one could have turned one’s back on one’s own doorstep and stan­dard­ized through­out Ger­many under which cir­cum­stances exact­ly (test strat­e­gy), which PCR-test is to be applied in which way exact­ly (which gene or genes) with which cycle thresh­old (see this arti­cle in the New York Times). And one could have con­sid­ered more mean­ing­ful met­rics than the sim­ple 7‑day incidence.

In such an over­all pack­age, a shut­down of pub­lic life would then be part of a joint effort and long-term strat­e­gy and would not have the bland after­taste of dis­ci­pli­nary action. With a some­what hum­bler atti­tude, it would also be easy to get rid of the many abstruse con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries by not wip­ing aside or sim­ply ignor­ing oth­er inter­pre­ta­tions of the sit­u­a­tion and the fig­ures — which are per­fect­ly nor­mal in view of the com­plex­i­ty — but by con­struc­tive­ly inte­grat­ing them into this strategy.

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