Standing up for your values and taking responsibility, not only for yourself, appears to be out of fashion. I think we should start to change this.


When was the last time you took a clear stance for something? When did you last say: 'Stop- No more!'. When did you call foul play recently?
And I am not talking about changing your profile pic to support an occasion, putting a sticker on your bumper or laptop.

When it comes to taking a stance I am more thinking about what you and I can acutally do on an everyday, habitual level. Beyond protest.
And to make this clear right from the start: I am not saying that I was in any kind better or superior than you, dear penpal. We are in the same boat here.

To go further, I would like to introduce two words that may help describe better what I have in mind. For once, German language has a few appropriate nouns in stock that I prefer over the English ones. For example: Zivilcourage (moral courage) and Haltung (clear stance). I do believe that we have serious issues with the lack of both in German society. Let me explain why.

My personal tipping point to start thinking about my clear stance was the sum of horrible events that led to the killing of ten innocent humans and fellow citizens in Hanau, Germany on February 19, 2020 by a racist. Barely two weeks ago.

I believe, this killing spree occured to some extent because of the toxic atmosphere that we let happen in German society today. It is fueled by a global niche movement of contemptous racist people and the hostility that has taken over the digital space, political debates and everyday arguments. And: because too many of us (me included) have for too long failed to take a clear stance.

It's time to exclude the excluders.

Let us never forget Germany's history- not only the one that luckily ended 70 years ago, but also the most recent one ranging from the NSU killing 10 people 2000-2006, the assasination of politician Walter Lübcke -who took a stance for refugees- in 2019. Not to forget Germany's former head of state intelligence who obviously has sympathies for right-wing ideas to put it mildly.

I could go on, but let me make a bigger case in defense of Haltung and Zivilcourage. A recent example in this context is the refused handshake and its follow up speech by Thuringian president elect Bodo Ramelow and AfD's Björn Höcke during a recent and most irresponsible political skirmish (Which was preceded by the drop of a flower-bouqet a few days earlier).

The refused handshake: Bodo Ramelow taking a stance against right-wing leader Höcke. Image courtesy of WELT

Yes, it did feel good to see political figures stay true to their values, making a symbolic public statement and call to action that Süddeutsche Zeitung summed up: "It's time to exclude the excluders."

I am part of the problem.

But then I thought: what is my responsibility in all this- as a citizen, as a human being? And I remembered this often-quoted saying: "you are not stuck in traffic you are traffic." I believe it applies to society as well- I cannot blame society as a whole and take myself as an individual out of the equation. I am part of the exact society that helped nurture the atmosphere described above by not stepping up and taking a stance. I am part of the problem.

There are many topics that I have a strong opinion or sentinemt about- they include inequality, digital feudalism, illiberalism, climate change, tax avoidance, discrimination, right-wing populism, xenophobia, the European Union's negligent idleness on all things migration- especially these days on the greek border.
However, I realize now: having a strong opinion does not equal taking a stance. Because taking a stance means to put yourself out there- at risk- it means to expose your values and publicly defend them.

Honestly, I am not sure how exactly I can put myself and my values more out there, yet. But I do want to find out. If you feel the same, I would be happy to hear from you or meet you at ZEIT Stiftung's event Demokratie braucht... Haltung: ein alter Begriff, eine aktuelle Forderung on March 17, 2020. (Democracy needs... Haltung: an old concept, a current call.)

Thanks for reading!
– Matthias