Two years ago, I shared on a TEDx stage my three keys to a life without walls. Since then, my life and worldview have changed as I have discovered a fourth key that gives the other three keys boundaries and freedom, love and compassion, energy and safety.
The three keys I shared two years ago are:
- Develop critical thinking
- Learn to love conflicts, especially the inner ones
- Discover your values, especially your core values.
The fourth key is using my emotions as a messenger of my deepest values and identity. Combining this with the other three is bringing about a transformation I never thought possible. Let me explain how each of my three keys has become empowered by the fourth. For clarity, I will share a before and after example for each key.
1. Critical thinking without breaking relationships
When I first tapped into the power of critical thinking about 20 years ago, it had rebellious energy. That energy was necessary as I had to break down the walls in my mind that were built during the systematic indoctrination of my childhood in East Germany. As part of the strategy, I stopped reading books and did not fully trust any teaching or news. I learnt into my intuition and faith in God and decided to walk a path less travelled. Fearlessly and forcefully, I learned to disagree with widespread opinions. By observing the world, I collected data and opinions, questioned them, took them apart, and created my own viewpoint. I began to see that many people don’t have good critical thinking and just repackage popular opinion and present it as their own, without adding any true value. Others just follow the feel-good factor – if it feels good, it must be good.
But my critical thinking had one big problem – it was all about me. I was the hero in my story and acted as if I didn’t need people around me. While I helped others to see and face their own mind walls, I kept myself separate and avoided deeper connection. My critical thinking had become a way to get people to admire me without having to give anything back.
Giving my unpleasant emotions more attention, I learned that my rebellious energy acted against my value of connection. Values like commitment and loyalty were also impacted. The very thing I desired – feeling truly connected – I had rejected for many years. However, critical thinking is also the powerhouse of my core value of curiosity, thus letting go of it was not an option and fortunately not necessary. Following the guidance of my unpleasant emotions to my deepest values, I began to use my values as cornerstones of my critical thinking. Weaponising my curiosity and breaking relationships were no longer an option.
To some of you, this may sound as if I imprisoned my curiosity, though I can tell you the opposite was true. I feel safer than ever with my wandering mind. The clear boundaries of my values created a creative freedom of thinking I never dared to access before. Trusting in the security of my values I can now explore every inch my curiosity leads me to without fear.
With those boundaries in place, my critical thinking has no limits, just edges.
2. Explore conflicts with love and compassion
I’ve learned to love conflicts since 2005. Starting with my marriage, I discovered the value of being different and the importance of being true to yourself. In our relationship, conflicts, therefore, became moments of seizing the opportunities to learn more about each other. We discovered how we complement each other and how we can combine the power of our personalities. It was only later that I began to see that my inner conflicts also had value, though I did not know how to make the most of it.
Learning about the useful purpose of unpleasant emotions gave my inner conflicts a purpose. Now, I had a way to break through my inner walls and find myself in ways I never imagined. As my heart became able to communicate to my mind, my mind’s focus moved from competition with others to alignment with my values. This enabled me to let others be. My wife, who felt unsafe to be vulnerable in our marriage, began to feel safe.
My own journey of self-discovery with the guidance of my emotions impacted other people’s journeys in a similar way.
Suddenly, people started to call me compassionate – something my wife would have disagreed with a few years ago. Others wondered how I can see people on a heart level. Heartset over mindset was my new way of looking at the world.
A few months ago, something tragic and amazing happened at the same time. After a mass shooting in my community, I found myself in a very strange position. I felt a deep love for the shooter (who killed himself) while grieving for our lost friends. I was angry about the choir of people who blamed the shooter, the police, and the government, and called for them to rot in hell. Despite the pain of personal grief and unpleasant emotions, I only saw people with backstories. The offender/victim-thinking became incompatible with my values. My desire was to help everyone. I wanted to share my deep love with people so their hearts could heal no matter on which side they stood. While I appreciated the law of order, I did not want to call for judgement according to the law.
I felt my emotions had revealed a set of complementing values that enabled me to move out of the place of dualisms like black and white, right and wrong, offender and victim, love and hate.
Before the shooting incident, my love of conflict was about clarifying positions, boundaries, and behaviour. It was about opinions and somehow knowing where you and I stand. While that perspective supported connection, my inner conflicts were mainly about the following limiting questions:
- Who do I want to surround myself with?
- Who do I want to keep out?
My old love of conflict was about harmonising external tensions.
Now my love of conflict is about love and compassion. The safer I feel with my unpleasant emotions, the easier it is to hold multiple apparently conflicting things without the fear of losing or giving up myself. These days, I focus on harmonising the inner conflicts between values to create a symphony that will ripple out to others. More and more I recognise that the harmony of my inner conflicts creates safe spaces and places in which others can harmonise their own chaos. People feel loved, heard, and seen on a heart level. Walls crumble.
The boundaries of my values safely enable my inner conflicts to have no limits, just edges.