What is an adverse environment and how can we thrive in it? The current climate for living, creating, and maintaining stable income streams is extraordinarily difficult. The environment turned recently even more difficult. We went through a pandemic accompanied by
- the breakdown of credibility of governments and media
- the right to think on your own and to express that thoughts freely have been steamrolled almost everywhere in the world
- spending by governments and public debt has been exploding to the absurd
- election processes, the rule of law, and consequently the legitimacy of institutions are no longer beyond reasonable doubt
On top of that comes a big war in Europe, and another one looming in East Asia.
Such circumstances mark certainly an adverse environment. But a second thought tells us that a world like this was in human history not the exception, but the norm. And still, there were always people growing personally and living in abundance. Some people thrive, no matter how adverse the environment is for them.
Sorry for the Delay
I am almost three months late with this podcast episode. And the reason is not, that I did not have a computer, an office, a home, or food. In fact, I had those months everything I needed.
The true reason is, that thinking about the current situation is really painful. But, if I want to master the current environment, I have no choice other than collecting information, listening to many – even insulting – reports, stories and half-truths.
That’s painful and sucks my energy. But, if I want to come out on top of this, I have to understand what’s going on.
In the late 19th century and throughout the 20th century there was the notion that everyone lives in the same reality, defined by universal truths.
As we all know, this era of universal truths did not exactly lead to peace and mutual understanding. Instead, people ganged up around this or that set of universal truths, also known as ideologies, and tried to subdue, enslave, or kill anyone daring to question the wisdom of the locally dominant gang.
Their kingpins were people like Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot… Others are Ruhollah Khomeini, Mobutu Sese Seko, Idi Amin. More examples include Osama Bin Laden and Abu Muza Zarqawi. All of them believed that
- they are fighting for the truth,
- have the moral high ground
- their enemies are evil
- they must save the world from the evil
The easiest way to get a decent living in such a place means joining he locally dominant gang and exchange loyalty against alimentation. Follow their orders without asking questions, and they will take care of you. It is obvious, that such an arrangement leads to personal decay instead of personal growth.
But so what, people get what the stomach demands. They turn an adverse environment into a stomach friendly environment and thrive in a limited way.
Conflicting Layers of Truths in an Adverse Environment
I want to discuss this concept of conflicting layers of truths at the example of the war in Ukraine. The competing layers of truth and the corresponding framings lead to unimaginable suffering and dying in Ukraine. The result will be a completely redrawn geopolitical landscape in Europe. How it will look afterwards is not yet fully decided. This is fought out on the battlefield.
But if you want to avoid ending up as victim of that enormous transformation, you must understand it. It does not suffice to repeat the mantra of the first, the second, or third party.
I do here a partial analysis of the upcoming tectonic shift as an exercise, and as an example showing how to identify some underlying currents in a fast shifting and unpredictable environment.
After isolating the powers pushing into different directions, you can identify some possible scenarios and prepare for them. I left this part for you, because I am today not concerned about predicting the results. My topic is to find a way for staying on top of this upheaval.
The Ukrainian Layer
Ukraine as a country was created after the first world war. Territories belonging up to then to Russia or the Austrian-Hungarian Empire were cobbled together. The relationships between the different ethnic groups were not really friendly over the centuries, there have been ongoing fights and wars.
But this new country Ukraine was established in a centralized fashion, one central government dominated almost everything. This implicated the probability that one or the other ethnic group would dominate the whole country.
A few years later Ukraine was absorbed into the Soviet Union, and this gave the Russian cultural heritage in Ukraine naturally the upper hand. When Germany attacked the Soviet Union in 1941, Ukraine was a main target. Many Ukrainians with the cultural heritage connected the Austrian Empire and thus to the German culture sided in the ensuing battle with the Germans.
After the German defeat in 1945, Ukraine was again one of the most important parts of the Soviet Union. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Ukraine became again an independent country. It did not take long until the old cultural tensions resurfaced. In 2014, in the context of a possible association treaty with the EU, this tension erupted into violence and war.
The Russian Layer
Eastern Ukraine was the staging area for the most dangerous offensive of the German army in 1941 against the Russian industrial heartland, leading to the siege of Stalingrad. At the time, it was far from clear that the Soviet Union or Russia would survive this.
Therefore, Russia was certainly alarmed, when after 2014 armed formations, bearing the symbols of some of the worst units of German armed forces in the 1940s, resurfaced just at that point of geostrategic vulnerability.
The European Layer
The Prussians and later the Germans, the Austro-Hungarians and the Russians competed for several centuries over control of Eastern Europe. At times, those powers fought wars and at other times, they divided the lands up between themselves. Especially Poland was divided up between Russia, Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire several times, until it ceased to exist.
After the end of the cold war an new strategic partnership between Germany and Russia emerged, symbolized by the natural gas pipelines under the Baltic Sea. It looked like German industry backed by Russian natural resources could steamroll the complete EU. If you think that is not true, ask people from Greece, Cyprus, Italy, or even Bulgaria. Ask the governments of Poland and Hungary, they have also a story to share.
The Global Layer
A Europe dominated by a German-Russian strategic partnership would severely weaken the power and influence of the United States.
There remains until today a very fruitful transatlantic relationship regarding technology and innovation. But, if the European scientific and technological potential would be separated from the US or even turned against the US, a world ruled by Chinese information technology and artificial intelligence would be even closer than it is today.
Due to the strong anti-American currents in Germany and Russia, a hegemony of that couple over the rest of Europe would certainly destroy the transatlantic relationship.
Control of Information Flows
Now, those layers, and probably a few more, are present for everyone involved. Each side of the war emphasizes and promotes a convenient assortment of that information and tries to conceal other aspects. They do this to influence people, to channel their energy and behavior into a direction favorable to their agenda.
All those narratives have one thing in common: They contain true components, but they distort reality. They have in fact no intention to mirror reality. Spin doctors design those narratives as tools to influence you, to manage your emotions and influence your actions. Although a good spin doctor does not lie, he guides your attention to the things he wants you to see and hides those aspects that might prevent you from behaving along his intentions. Sometimes, a seasoned spin doctor will draw your attention to a remarkably beautiful or frightening image with little or no relevance to the essence of the situation to hide something else. But he knows that outright lies hurt his credibility and limit his influence.
Obviously, competing narratives do not belong exclusively to the current war. To the contrary, controlling the narrative is a decisive element in every power struggle. Power comes from bundling the energy of crowds. Therefore, no power exists without controlling mind and behavior of the masses.
Government Weakness Increases Repression
But there is a new aspect today: Governments lost a big junk of their ability to control the flow of information around the world. Therefore, they feel vulnerable. They lost the ability to control the narratives in their own population. Such feelings of weakness and vulnerability lead to a gross erosion of freedom all around the world.
Instead of growing freedom, we observe repression growing everywhere. Governments shelve freedom, while giving as reason they would defend freedom. They squeeze and pressure us because “we must overcome imminent dangers”. Sometimes, they cite even a combination of both reasons for their repressive behavior. But, whatever they say, they try to limit our control over our own life. Obviously, this makes for an adverse environment. But adverse environment or not, we are determined to thrive.
Necessary Skills to Thrive in an Adverse Environment
Whenever you are caught in a prefabricated narrative construed to nudge, push, and corral you into a certain direction, you are lost. If you want to thrive, come what may, you need to anticipate and prepare. Those, who want to use your energy, your mind, and your life for their own goal even up to the point of sacrificing your very existence must blind you. The best method for that blinding is spreading fear.
On the other hand, anticipating different scenarios and preparing for them demands a clear mind and the use of all your senses. In the mode of fear, this is impossible. So, we have already a few answers to our question. To thrive in an adverse environment, you must
- know how to manage and switch off fear
- control your energy and emotions
- keep your mind and senses even under stress open
- anticipate possible scenarios and plan for them
- prepare yourself for opportunities and dangers
That allows you to act in the right moment boldly. But you need a few specific techniques, and methods to acquire and master those skills.
Techniques and Methods
Keep Your Distance
During turbulent times, much energy is flowing around. To understand, what is going on, you must certainly feel samples of that energy. But do not allow this energy to overtake you. Therefore, keep your distance.
After receiving a dose of ardor, withdraw to a protected place and take your time to inspect the energy you received. Slice it, dice it, get the information out of it. But limit the amount of energy you take in from the street.
Don’t allow energy pouring in from the street to overtake your mind and your life. Let your soul be the master of your life. Therefore, let those spin doctors keep swirling around you. But take them as spin doctors, not as the authorities they pretend to be.
Manage Your Visibility
If you are different from the crowds around you, you make a perfect target, whenever someone needs to direct mass anger away from the own doorsteps. On the other hand, you must be visible to attract the right people into your network.
Therefore, be aware of your visibility. Decide, where to show up, and where to stay away. That does not mean to be wishy washy, but silence is at times the better solution. When you speak up, speak with clarity. But do not shout nor scream. And choose your audience wisely.
Clarity: A Necessity for Thriving in an Adverse Environment
Clarity. The more fluid and obscure an environment is, the more you need clarity. But how to create that clarity?
Careful observation is one key to clarity. And observation does not merely mean watching. It means also asking, testing, probing. If you observe an aspect you don’t quite understand, research it.
But you need an additional key to create clarity: You must organize your observations, connect them, relate them to things you know already. Helpful is here a simple tool: a note book. If you see something remarkable, take a note. After taking a note, you can move on.
The very fact of writing it into your note book directs your subconscious mind to chew it, to find similar occurrences, to connect the dots. And, of course, you can come back, read the note, check what you have seen, amend it with additional aspects..
Build a Trusted Network
If you want to thrive in an adverse environment, nothing is more important that a trusted network. You need a few people, with whom you can talk openly. There is a thin line to follow between paranoia and negligence. Your network can lend you a hand and provide the stability you need.
Equally important is a good network as an invaluable source of timely and trustworthy information. To thrive in an adverse environment, where reality seems to shift within a few hours, access to timely and actionable information is a must have.
Intuition does not mean to predict the future out of thin air. But a well-trained intuition will help you to decide what to observe and to make sense of your observations. Intuition can guide your subconscious mind, and it can issue urgent warnings you should heed.
You can train your intuition. Start with unimportant things, where you can afford to be wrong. Write down, what you think your intuition wants to tell you. Check it out and see the results. After some time, you will learn to listen to your intuition and to understand the signals it sends to you. Don’t dismiss intuition. It can save your life, if you know how to listen to your intuition and understand what you hear.
This was the manuscript of episode 28 of the podcast Success and Inner Growth. The next Episode, number 29, will discuss the impact of artificial intelligence on our personal life. In the meantime, subscribe here, so that you don’t miss out on further episodes.