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  • Writer's pictureArjanna van der Plas

My 'favorite' German word

Weltschmerz.


It’s one of those words that work best in German (appreciate the effort Google Translate, but “World Pain” doesn’t quite cover the depth of it).


Weltschmerz can be described as having a firm belief that things could and should be better, encapsulating a sense of grief at how the world keeps falling short of expectations.


It’s the sorrow I feel when watching the news about the new Dutch cabinet, featuring among others a minister of migration who is famous for referencing the great replacement theory.


It’s the shame I feel when I find myself in an all-you-can-eat restaurant, seeing people mindlessly stack piles of hamburger patties on their plates, without wondering where that meat came from, if it’s going to nurture their bodies, and if they are actually going to eat the whole pile.


It’s the desperation I feel when watching any news from the Gaza area.


If that sounds at all familiar, I’d like to share some of my weltschmerz remedies with you.


Remedy 1: You don’t have to watch the news. I know you might feel an obligation to stay up-to-date, but if you’re a sensitive soul like me, it’s not going to help anyone to expose yourself to the never-ending stream of bad news. If you do want to engage intellectually, it might be more helpful to read a historical perspective on the war that triggers your weltschmerz than to keep drinking from the breaking-news-firehose.


Remedy 2: Surround yourself with people that share your dream for a better world. I felt so lonely in the all-you-can-eat restaurant, wondering if I was crazy for feeling the suffering of the cows that had became these cheap hamburger patties, and how the soil that got depleted to ‘efficiently’ grow the lettuce leafs on top of them. But as I wrote in my earlier email, you’re never alone with your crazy ideas, and I am now actively reading, and talking to, people who understand my weltschmerz - and also want to turn their pain into action.  


Remedy 3: Ever heard of the circles of concern and control? Weltschmerz is the ultimate ‘circle of concern’ problem: we suffer from all that’s wrong in the world, and feel powerless in the face of it. The ancient Stoic philosophers held that we can live more peaceful and fulfilling lives if we focus our attention and energy on what we can control.


So that’s what I find myself pondering these days: rather than being consumed by guilt and pain about how disconnected humans are from nature and severely damage the very ecosystem that we depend on (my nr. 1 source of weltschmerz), I’m currently exploring what I can do to help others remember how amazing it is that we are part of nature, and can collaborate with, rather than try to dominate, mother earth.


I don’t know yet what that will look like, but even the creative process of figuring out my next steps in connecting my past experience working in the sustainability field with my current experience as a coach already lessen my weltschmerz a bit.


If you have any books I should read, people I should follow or connect with, documentaries I should watch, podcasts I should listen to that can help me identify my role to play in what Donatella Meadow brilliantly described as the most powerful leverage points for systemic change towards a more connected world, let me know!


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