From Existential Openness to Optimism

Silvija Visinski, DSW
Zagreb, Croatia


In discussing concrete possibilities for realizing the settings presented in the document formed within the framework of the Spirituality and Social Work Course during the Social Work Summer School, this paper is geared toward certain “segments” that are mainly individual and personal to each person. Namely, there should be more insight, at least partial, in order to later expect certain opinion changes, i.e. in concrete actions in the context of achieving those things mentioned in the said document Toward a Peaceable Community.


About Toward a Peaceable Community document


In the first part, the overall project mission is described as “we seek to prepare social work students, practitioners, faculty and allied professionals for collaboration in the creation of a just and peaceable world, locally, regionally and internationally building a socially sensitive responsible global citizenry committed to the dignity and well being of all persons, children, youth and adults.” Considering the fact that the action emphasis is placed on the local, regional and global levels, as they are intertwined and inter-influenced, it is important that at the outset a brief perception of current circumstances and their influence on human dignity and speaking in the broadest term the quality of life of various individuals and groups. In order not to over-extrapolate this paper with a lot of and in-depth analysis of numerous forms of contemporary, for the most part postmodernist, existence of man (including discussions about everything this entails, why, and axiological aspects, etc), there will be a brief citation of “Toward a Peaceable Community”. This will include summarized descriptions of realities, which will, among other things, as per the analysis itself, alter our mode of action. This is also a contribution to a more precise comprehension of the basic principles of this document. It concludes that we all are “experiencing the negative effects of an increasingly globalize culture and economy, if not to the same degree. While a few derive a great benefit from a homogenized world society, the greater majority of people in many countries suffer continued economic and ecological threat. We are all ultimately at risk from damage to the planet and a global economic system, which is unable to distribute goods and services fairly to all of the Earth's people. We face the huge and crucial challenge of living in harmony with the whole of life on our planet . . . resources are to readily exploited for maximum profit without regard for social or ecological cost . . . technology without wisdom and service without humanity bring high levels of waste and pollution . . . the twentieth century witnessed an extraordinary advance of technology as an end in itself, with an increasing disregard for natural and human consequences . . . technologies and technique are without the guidance of humane values and moral vision . . . research and methodologies are used without ethical reflection.” Furthermore, we are also faced with a whole series of other negative phenomenon. It is important to try standing up to them. They include, for example, problems linked to the “corruption of international institutions and the refusal to implement charters and covenants created to assure peace and dignity . . . the reliance on sophisticated armaments, militarism and violence . . . “façade” or “restricted” pseudo democratic forms, which mask the power of elite, wealthy and dictatorial politics . . . cultural homogenization, colonization, and a crisis in human values, manipulation of the media . . . rapidly growing dominant ideology of individualism, competition, consumerism and careerism replacing social ideals . . . loss of personal identity, hope, faith and trust.”


From the above partial quotes it is obvious that our “our common plight provides the basis for a new international solidarity in the human family. A competitive, polarizing, alienating social order cannot be the civilization of a future in a truly global village. An alliance of interests, able to meet the threats against the human and natural life of the planet demands a participatory and consensual civilization, based on the recognition and integration of cultural diversity.”


It is logical to ask whether man and the society in which he is fighting for his existence as mentioned above, can adequately face all the economic, ecologic and other challenges that influence his very survival and predetermine his future. Moreover, it easy to notice how rarely contemporary man ponders fundamental issues pertaining to the very meaning and point to life, which transcend the trivial limits of technological effectiveness profit, achieving a certain standard of living, i.e., the context of a consumer-based society. On the other hand, politics as such is decreasing in its influence; it has “traditionally” and “initially” a role in directing society as a “steppingstone” for further development. Primarily this is considered to be the reaching of a general good to facilitate a better quality of life for the general population, as opposed to the continued prosperity of a smaller segment referred to as the “social elite” that is selfishly stockpiling riches in various, particularly material, forms. Various global environmental problems and other sparsely addressed issues briefly mentioned in “Toward a Peaceable Community” appear as a consequence of this type of mind frame and action. We are witness to a huge rift between necessary and realistic necessities in contrast to the need to literally different and unlimited demands that always transcend the mentioned limits, spreading like a certain kind of individualism in its negative sense.     Moreover, as such, this supports a particularly self-centered and morally relative relationship toward all extreme realities, frequently inadequately defined in the social and humane sense, despite the valuable efforts of the public and non-profits sectors up to now.   Nothing else can be done other than to ask why this is so.  What has lead to the fact that today one equally accepts news of a worldwide humanitarian tragedies caused by pointless wars or biological weapons threats and some worthwhile new and creative methods of aiding the sick or children, who live under extremely varying and often unacceptable conditions on all four corners of our planet? Why are dollars and cents more important that the overall good something would do to society as a whole? Why are people so slow to understand that this method directly and indirectly supports the logic of big business, which as a goal always has the unlimited exploitation of all economically, ecologically, and socially feasible resources of societies, cultures and even whole continents (Africa, Latin America), resulting in the exploitation and manipulation of individuals and groups? Regardless of age, sex, material status, education, level of rural or urban amenities, belonging to a certain civilization milieu, etc. this very global phenomenon in its extremely negative form is quite prevalent and ominous.


It is very hard to find good answers to these serious and specific questions. To attempt to respond to them would require such in-depth material that it would supersede the boundaries of this paper. What this paper is trying to do is to partially detect the complicated realities we are all witnesses of and attempting to find certain solutions by enlightening man’s individual and internal “levels” from which, later on, we all form our behavior toward others, our surroundings, the events therein, and the necessity to act differently. In the end, one should perhaps act differently toward oneself, as well. To become conscious in a way, more open and fulfilled, which in itself leads to opportunities to develop more optimistic (despite all hardships), but less realistic, views of reality and its true experience. Namely, it is man who is the source of greed toward himself, thus toward his surroundings; his greed reaches global proportions and problems on all levels (from personal to global). It is clear that there is a certain rift inside of each individual. This kind of conclusion points to the necessity to briefly analyze this level and see what may be changed and how to achieve a meaningful turnaround that would facilitate a radical alteration in mentalities and ways of thinking, as well as actions. This approach would likely ease numerous justly present expectations from various institutions, organizations and other entities (from local, through regional, to a global scale), which are already involved in various attempts to truly, in the end, improve the quality of life of the overall population of this planet in a certain way. 


Seven virtues   


This is a very summarized query of but a few fundamental virtues to better understand them. In essence, it is a look at their meaning and why they should be developed to later reach a better quality activity toward the overall surroundings and on the track of humanity, which is still in this context unavoidable. Seven virtues1 have been chosen for this occasion. Each of them has its own way of forming the lives of individuals, particularly if certain attention is paid them and if a conscious attempt is made to develop them through daily actions, as they frequently tend to be unjustly suppressed by life’s hurried tempo. If we take this kind of approach, in a year or so there will likely be a noticeable change—something new will arise and influence our lives in perhaps a most unexpected way. They could become a major steppingstone in the unpredictability of contemporary life, a building block for constructing openness toward ourselves firstly, and then toward others, which supposes the same toward our surroundings, and problems therein including a realistic and optimistic insight.  This is certainly a good basis for further active participation in reaching a common good, locally and beyond, as this is about the strengths that shape life if one lets them, carrying with them certain potentials. As a feedback “fact” there is insight that one’s own life is, in a way, good and that one is able to find a certain point and reach goals that are profoundly human and fundamental in relation to intolerable omnipresent superficiality. In turn, this strengthens self-confidence and spurs on similar and continued activity. For a better quality and more fulfilling achievement of own goals, for existential openness and optimism in the end, which would pretty much come full circle, this would be a kind of permanent source of positive inspiration.


The steppingstone is described through virtues taken from the aforementioned book, which are there connected to angels that Grün describes as messengers of each other, a deeper reality as a kind of spiritual companion in life through which the image depicted is one of potential transformation we are faced with. This paper also links the mentioned seven virtues to angels in the same way as in the mentioned cited book names and describes them. Just as Grün writes, “with the images accompanying them (angels) we connect precious pictures, thoughts of desiring a different world – a world of security and ease, beauty and hope.”2   


The sisterhood angel


In discussing the experience of an entire community that we, ourselves, are a part of – a “community of brothers and sisters.”3 we realize the sisterhood angelpoints toward an open and honest approach toward others, primarily toward the intention to change oneself, not others. To try communicating without unnecessary exaggeration, certain prejudices, safety mechanisms resulting from bad experiences from the past or simply distrust that transcends the conventional boundaries of natural suspicion toward everybody and everything more or less unknown; to reach this level of openness, to render the sisterhood angel onto others, it is, of course, mandatory that one knows oneself first. That, in turn, demands courage to accept oneself in immanent incompleteness—knowing how to and being capable of loving oneself before trying to love another. These are not easily reachable goals and the process is often long-lasting. Nevertheless, this is perhaps the most important firm decision that is crucial for not only accepting this one, but rather the whole series of other virtues needed for personal growth and maturity. Among other things, inch by inch, we realize that we are geared toward registering a series of negative things or at least what irritates us about others, as opposed to noticing positive aspects, something we would be able to learn from. This negative noticing becomes a part of us. Looking even deeper, we almost never “notice how much energy we spend projecting our own weaknesses. This allows us to prevent others from getting close to us and protecting ourselves from facing what kind of people we really are. Whoever realizes what kind of person they really are, they stop looking for their own shortcomings in others. One truly becomes a brother or sister to everyone person, as one may recognize oneself in each individual person.”4


The departure angel


While contemplating the above-mentioned we realize that in this kind of opening up toward ourselves and others, it is necessary to have a certain feeling of self-security, regardless of what this means to whom, or how and why it stands. In general, security is usually defined as being on “familiar turf”, somewhere where we feel right at home. Hence, it is natural for one to want to reach such a place, and it is hard to move on. As aware as we can be of the justification of such a need, which generally appears due to transcendence of certain frameworks, situations, periods, etc., it seems almost impossible to move on and acquire new experiences, to re-conquer the unknown—in a nutshell, to learn from moving from one cycle to another. A departure is always, in a way, the destruction of the old in order to embrace the new, e.g. another view of one’s self and those around us. A kind of “promise” of something new surfaces in this case, something never before seen that facilitates new opportunities. A frequent dilemma is whether to stick with one’s current state of being, which is often unsatisfactory, yet familiar, and venturing into a new internal/external change that can be frightening because it presumes the knocking down of certain barriers, denouncing numerous presumptions, giving up some old habits, etc. Along with all of this, somewhere deep inside our heads a predominantly irritating thought comes to mind that life is truly lived only if one constantly starts anew. However, in today’s world (as has been the case throughout the past) one takes with them certain specific traits, so Grün notices the departure angel also has a difficult time in doing his tasks because the “basic contemporary mood is resignation, self-pity, depression and over-sensitivity. We mostly like to complain about how everything is too difficult and nothing can be done. This is why the departure angel is what we need most today . . . who will give us the courage to set out on our journey in order to let new opportunities of being together begin blooming, a new relationship toward all creation and new ideas in politics and business.”5


The openness angel


In the same right, in order for us to set out on this journey, a certain kind of openness is needed, only—this is always on some other level—linked with something different so that the openness angelis omnipresent, particularly intertwined with the aforementioned sisterhood angel, spurring us on to honesty and kindness in our interpersonal relationships. Meanwhile, acting in unison with the departure angel, he points out that “open people are always ready to learn new things, experimenting with new technologies, permitting new development. Open people remain alive and awake”6


The attention angel


Nevertheless, in all that is done, even in this context, a certain degree of caution is necessary. One must pay attention to the regular daily routine, let alone achieving certain intentions deemed important for living. Without the wholehearted assistance of the attention angel, it is difficult to truly reach them in a satisfactory way. A whole series of details are overlooked, as they are considered unimportant. It takes us a long time to grasp that the little things in life, baby steps, are a part of a larger whole. “Many people do not even realize what they are doing. They create an illusion of life. However, they are out of touch with real life. Attention should bring us in touch with things, people . . . at that point I feel alive, as opposed to life passing me by.”7 Attention is linked to respect. Respecting one’s self and others. Hence the attention angel joins the stubborn intentions of the others to better comprehend all endogenous and exogenous circumstances, thus facilitating an even more precise realization and a more profound insight into the art of living. Just as has been the case with everything else mentioned up to now, this virtue also has to be patiently practiced.


The unfettered angel


Still, so as not to make this praiseworthy, yet tedious, work seem so rigid, stressful, exclusively dead serious, as well as even boring to a point, there is the unfettered angel. Yes, it is really him! He tries to make us a bit more casual and to have a certain distance from ourselves. He tries to make us worry less about every little thing, who will think what about us, or how something will be interpreted by others, etc. He makes us simply try to be more spontaneous, childish, and flirty in some fleeting moments, though it is a bit paradoxical that spontaneity is a natural instinct rather than a conscious tendency, as it would be difficult to consider this spontaneous. Nevertheless, in an attempt to remove the mask we frequently wear and free ourselves from our regular daily roles, at least for a time, we can more easily face up to where we are, what we want, how we can reach this and approach everything in a more casual manner with a higher degree of confidence. Furthermore, “being unfettered means being full of life. Being unfettered to this degree is impossible to reach without a great amount of effort. There are times we feel like we are exploding with life. Everything in us is blossoming . . . we are full of crazy ideas. The prankster in us is often transmitted to others. This is how freedom is born. Others suddenly feel free enough to trust their own intuition, trust the child hidden inside them who wants to play without asking why and to what end.”8


The humility and freedom angel


However, being free enough to trust your own intuition, to be direct, confident and open to look yourself in the eye, while simultaneously staying cautious, also means being free to denounce oneself and one’s personal needs. This demands considerable courage—thus, honestly attempting to take a more profound stand for others. Trying to understand others, realize what their needs are, while not exclusively relying on your own vision of what their needs are. The humility angel, in order to really implement this, tells you that, “unity with people and one’s self can be experienced only if one (the individual) is prepared to stoop to their level and to the truth about themselves.”9 Humility also supposes modesty, but this does not mean avoiding all of life’s tasks for a lack of confidence, thus living with false humility. After concluding that one must relax, and have the strength to give oneself a bit of freedom, once again we see that it is a case of having the courage to accept oneself without condemning others; hence, a partial, logical, intertwining with the sisterhood, openness, caution, unfettered, and the final—unmentioned to this point—freedom angel. All of the above listed limits, fears, suspicions, insecurities, doubts, etc., are in a way issues about freedom and obligation. A lot is said about exterior political freedom, human rights, etc., but in interpersonal relationships in every day life many do not truly feel free in the way that it would represent an obligation. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Freedom of obligation is responsible behavior toward individuals and interaction with other members of individual communities, societies and humanity as a whole. Usually it is difficult to express what you are thinking, as sometimes it is important to have the necessary sensibility of what to say and when without truly hurting another, being mainly unconcerned about what others will think about you, to be your own person. This is in opposition to being uptight about being what others would expect you to be, to swim against the current, particularly when it is paramount in order to improve both the individual and overall conditions of life. In order to achieve something in the line of reaching a general good on a local and other levels, as has been indirectly mentioned above, talking about freedom does neglect considering its other segment concerning responsibility. If there was no responsibility, freedom would turn into anarchy, which is diametrically opposite to what the original intention was. It is important to be able to freely and responsibly be self-disposed in order to progress on the general and overall social levels. Grün contends that this brand of responsible freedom is needed to “have successful friendships, successful marriages. I need freedom in every relationship. I am obliged by freedom. I am free in my obligation, as I have space within myself that no other can enter. I would like the freedom angel gives you this kind of internal freedom so that you may truly feel like a free man and walk through life with your head held high.”10


Instead of conclusion and  the courage angel


Thus we see that every further step in this summarized analysis constantly leads us to new realizations that are worth our undivided attention, while simultaneously pointing out how all segments have parts from those preceding them, hence confirming their being intertwined, including portions of a much greater whole and their interdependency. In this light a broader view and a return to the document this paper cited at the beginning, it is becoming obvious that the seven researched virtues comprise a much deeper foundation and are an unavoidable part of the seven principles mentioned in “Toward a Peaceable Community”11. They also represent the very stuff of and necessity for directions for any further practical actions. Perhaps it is a bit clearer what all of these principles take into consideration and the amount and kind of effort needed for a truly thorough realization of this valuable document.


Finally, there is none other choice than to courageously and patiently begin a gradual endogenous and exogenous change and see what these aforementioned angels have taught us after a year, what new actions have been taken, what practical experience has been acquired and what has been done in the local community. Every serious decision, including the one to make certain changes, means a kind of obligation, if considered from a positive angle and walking down a chosen path with no guarantee the choice made was the right one. There are only numerous intersections that demand the previously mentioned openness and courage for making the necessary decisions and being prepared to face certain obstacles, which will inherently come primarily because after they are conquered and new ideas and experiences have been accepted, the next life cycle has opened with other realizations. In such situations it is good to have one more angel with us—the courage angel—in order to ease and increase one’s confidence in deciding to do exactly what needs to be done at a certain time.



1 Virtues were taken from Anselm Grün 50 Angels for a Year , Zagreb, Krš?anska sadašnjost (from hereforth: KS), 2004.


2 Anselm GRÜN, 50 Angels for a Year, Zagreb, KS, 2004, pp.6.


3 ibid., pp.53.


4 ibid., pp. 53-54.


5 Ibid. pp. 23-24.


6 Ibid., pp. 72.


7 Ibid., pp. 119-120.


8 Ibid.,pp. 18.


9 Ibid.,pp.126.


10 Ibid.,pp. 82.


11 The principles are: The Protection of Humanity in a Technological Era, Protection of Human Livelihood and Well-being in a World Economy, Promotion and Protection of Consensual, Participatory, Egalitarian and Open Political Society, Protection of Cultural Diversity and the Promotion of Peaceful Coexistence, Promotion and Protection of Neighborhood and the Common Good, Protection of Personal Integrity and the Encouragement of Human Solidarity.



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