Principles, values, purpose

I’ve been self-employed since 2008, and that has been tied to a more or less permanent condition of confusion. I embrace that confusion, as the world is generally a confusing place, and I try to make the most of it by constantly asking questions:

What am I doing, why and where should I go from here?

I simply want to contribute to a society and a world, that is a little bit better with a little more openness, respect, empathy, diversity, understanding, sense of community and playfulness (quick note: I think playfulness holds value in and of itself, but also as an approach to meaningful changes).

I realise that this is way too big, idealistic, ambitious, naive and down-right impossible. Even so, anything less feels like it’s not enough. I know that I can’t change more than the smallest things, even if I spend my entire life on this path. I do, however, believe this is all any of us can hope to do. Small changes through an endless number of small steps:

I think change happens, step-by-step, little step by little step, as people do things differently. That’s the only way it makes sense. People on the ground start to do things a bit differently, and start to expect things to happen a bit differently, and then this gets absorbed into the more macro-level context of how people in government, or visible in the media, do things, and what they expect things to be like – David Gauntlett

I consider education one of the key areas in changing the world, as we need to educate humans who are themselves empowered to become catalysts of change – in their own lives and the world at large. This doesn’t mean that I’m just interested in education. On the contrary, I’m interested in most things, that influence our lives.

One way of reducing my day-to-day confusion is by working with a set of guiding principles or values, that I try to embed in all my work. The list is not exhaustive and it’s constantly being renegotiated:

Distributed ownership

I believe few concepts capture these values better than the notion of global citizenship:

The world faces global challenges, which require global solutions. These interconnected global challenges call for far-reaching changes in how we think and act for the dignity of fellow human beings. It is not enough for education to produce individuals who can read, write and count. Education must be transformative and bring shared values to life. It must cultivate an active care for the world and for those with whom we share it – The United Nations Secretary-General’s Global Education First Initiative

I think the world and the structures we have created are highly malleable, and that we can change it through a series of more or less controlled experiments. My approach is thus to design and carry out small and big experiments, that I think support my guiding principles (the festival CounterPlay is one such experiment).

None of this is fully thought through, and I’d love input. As with anything I do, I prefer to share ideas, while they are still being formed in my head, negotiating meaning with people around me, online and offline (yes, the latter does happen from time to time).

My personal agenda

Even if you accept the above, you might ask: what’s in it for you? What’s my personal gain? I often meet people, who don’t really understand why I’m involved in this or that initiative, and a slight confusion about my agenda is not uncommon. I fully understand this, and as I wrote in the beginning, I’m confused myself.

While I’m confused about many things, my motivation is quite clear to me, however. This whole time, I’ve had two overlapping reasons for doing what I do:

First off, I want to be part of making meaningful changes in the world based on the principles outlined above. I rarely initiate or engage in projects, where I don’t see the opportunity to support at least some of my core values.

Secondly, and closely related, I want to do things that make sense to me. I want to play and be playful, to have fun, to embark on adventures, to smile and to jump with joy, but also to be challenged, to feel like giving up and to scream in frustration. Combine the theories of flow and self-determination theory, and you’ll have at least part of the explanation.

Immer ein Abenteuer” as an old man in Germany once told me.

I basically want a good reason to get out of bed every morning and go to bed with a smile on my face – I’m a simple person that way.

None of this has to do with money. I honestly don’t care about money. Money is no goal, and if I could, I would never talk about money again in my life. I’m not that naive, and I know and accept that I must make some money to keep on working like this. I need money to support myself and the projects I find important. I’m fine with that. I currently consider turning all my activities into non-profits to remove the focus on profit (or reduce it as much as possible). Also, If I cared about becoming rich, I would probably not have spent 7 years being a self-employed grassroot activist in domains, where money are scarce.

I also don’t care about a career as such, progressing through a series of more or less predetermined stages. I’m not here for raises, fancy titles or lots of employees/subordinates. I do love, however, to feel that people appreciate what I do. I definitely like the recognition.

My strategy (business model, if you like) is to create opportunities for and with people, and, by doing that, to create opportunities for myself in the process. I try to never do anything for my own sake, but I also always do things to that will allow me to do more things I like doing. If I can do that for the rest of my life, I wouldn’t wish for anything more.

I imagine that the clearer I can make these considerations to anybody I interact with professionally, the easier my life will be and the further I can come on this endeavour of mine.

If I could make one wish, it would be this: I hope nobody would ever suspect that I’m in this game for any other reasons than the ones stated above.

I’m not and I will always work against hidden agendas, as I don’t find them conducive to positive changes. Agendas are fine, we all have them, but why keep them hidden?

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