November 7, 2023

Joana Breidenbach – Disinformation Through the Lens of Trauma

Thomas is joined by cultural anthropologist, social entrepreneur, and author, Joana Breidenbach. They discuss the ecosystem of disinformation that is fragmenting society and the systemic factors that contribute to it. Joana explains the role that technology plays in how we obtain and interpret information, exploring the motives of those who spread disinformation, and the historical trends that have made it increasingly difficult for people to understand unfamiliar perspectives. She and Thomas also examine how individual and collective trauma can make us more susceptible to disinformation, and how greater self-reflection, embodiment, and humility can make us more resilient to it.

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“This inner clarity, my capacity to relate to more aspects of myself, to relate to other aspects and other people who are different from me, all of these are capacities that are crucial if we want to build epistemic integrity in a society which is very diverse but which still has some shared understanding of reality and is able to take multiple perspectives into account.”

- Joana Breidenbach

Guest Information

Joana Breidenbach

Dr. Joana Breidenbach holds a PhD in cultural anthropology and is the author of numerous books on the cultural effects of globalization (e.g. Seeing Culture Everywhere, University of Washington Press 2008), as well as the children’s crime novel Edwina Ermittelt in Berlin (Gestalten Verlag 2014). She is co-founder of betterplace.org, Germany’s largest donation platform. In 2010, she founded the betterplace lab, a think tank researching the use of digital technologies for the common good. The betterplace lab has evolved from a hierarchical organization to one which is radically self-managed.

In her latest book, New Work Needs Inner Work (Vahlen Verlag, 2019) and the online course The Future of Work needs Inner Work, Joana has described this transition towards a fluid, competence-based hierarchy in detail. Joana invests in impact-oriented startups such as Clue, DeepL and nebenan.de. In 2018 she founded Das Dach Berlin to promote meaningful innovation.

For more information, visit joanabreidenbach.de

Notes & Resources

Key points discussed in this episode include:

  • Joana’s think-tank, betterplace lab, and their work to understand the challenges at the intersection of technology and democracy
  • How increasing social inequality and colonialism lead to polarization and inability to navigate complexity
  • Embodiment as a remedy for intuition that has been impaired by trauma
  • How externalizing problems amplifies them, and how doing our inner-work bolsters us intellectually
  • The need for us to become more aware of the filters through which we view the world

Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: Hello and welcome to the Point of Relation. My name is Thomas Hübl. This is my podcast and I am very happy to be sitting here with Joana Breidenbach. So first of all, most welcome.

Joana Breidenbach: Thank you very much. Happy to be here.

Thomas Hübl: We are both really interested in the whole phenomenon of disinformation. Let’s start our conversation. I think we can go through different topics today, so I’m very interested in what’s the internal state like, what allows in us, in our internal architecture, in our awareness and our consciousness in the way we live, and maybe as in the way we are traumatized with what allows this information to be a phenomenon in our society?

And you’ve worked a lot on researching this information. So I would love first for you to give us an overview of what’s your research, what are you finding? How does this information show up? What are the areas where it’s maybe the most critical or the most severe and then maybe we dive into the phenomenon itself.

Joana Breidenbach: Glad to do so. Maybe just to give some kind of context, I’m always really interested in digitization and the common good. So that really is the intersection, the work of various better place companies, which I have founded and confounded are dealing with. And in our think tank, the betterplace lab, we have also looked at democracy and how is democracy evolving and what are the challenges at this intersection between technology and democracy?

In the beginning, I must say, I was very, very positive. I was a tech enthusiast definitely, I really saw the potential for technology to give a global voice is really a stage to have so much more participation and so much more to really mirror the existing complexity of the world in a hitherto unknown way. So it took us actually in the think tank also quite some time to actually come to terms with all the negative aspects which we’ve seen in the past, I would say in maybe 15 years, and how we are actually using technology to update democracy on the one hand and what can we do and what also what kind of really scary symptoms do we see which are affecting all our world in the technological age.

Disinformation really came to the forefront in this very scary year of 2016 when we had the US elections, when we had Brexit, and in Germany, we also saw a rise of our radical right-wing party. In many other countries like the Philippines, for example, that’s a hotbed of disinformation. So it was suddenly a global phenomenon. We watched the narrative which was being applied, and we saw that it was being read as disinformation, and I would like to say what actually is disinformation, you know, what’s the definition in a bit. So technology is creating disinformation. So technology is fragmenting society.

And I, as a good student of Thomas Hübl, thought, well, actually, maybe it’s not that easy. You know, maybe it’s not that tech is doing this thing to us, but maybe it’s that there are these prior existing systems of fragmentation, which, of course, now do get amplified with technology, because we do know that false information travels on average 6X faster than normal news. We also know that it’s really the global phenomenon and it is really being amplified also by new artificial intelligence technologies where you can create very easily deepfakes, for example, which are videos of people who look very, very realistic and where this boundary between what we perceive to be reality and this simulated reality is really getting more and more blurry.

We were really interested to look at this more deeper than that, too, and especially, first of all, to ask this question of what actually is disinformation?
Because the boundary of disinformation and other kinds of information actually is fairly thin. It’s very porous. Of course, there are some areas where it’s obvious that there are lies which are being spread on social media. Yes, I think we probably all know Pizzagate that apparently Hillary Clinton was having this pedophile ring in the cellar of a New York pizzeria, which actually led to real rifle assaults in that space. We also know that many Russian bots infiltrated Black Lives Matter newsgroups and first of all, positively affirmed black identity, but then actually spread news that the AIDS virus was being created on purpose by the US government in order to disseminate black and gay communities. So there are certain aspects where I think that’s ambiguous, these are real lies with malicious intent.

But then there are also, of course, many different systemic paradigms which nowadays clash because we are living in this era of where one paradigm of understanding the world is coming to an end and a new paradigm is we are creating a new paradigm.

At this intersection also, you can see many competing knowledge, stories, dreams, where, for example, in health you have evidence-based medicine and then you have natural remedies, you have homeopathy, you have things where it’s not so easy maybe to say, Oh, well, this is true and this is false.

We have also, interestingly enough, many cases where something which we have labeled as just information before – a few months later, we actually take to be a serious theory. So one instance was the corona. Where did the coronavirus originate? And there was a theory, and that was first labeled disinformation that it came from Chinese laboratories. And then later on, people actually said, okay, well, this is a reasonable hypothesis. Let’s actually look at it. And of course, then there is one last boundary, which I’m also really interested in, because of course, you can frame so many things differently.

For many, many years, the pharma industry has created lots of new illnesses. And you can say, well, is this also part of this inflammation or the oil industry which has tried to manipulate consumers and said, well, you as a consumer, you have your individual carbon footprint and they have created a whole ideology around carbon footprints which individualize a problem, which is really an industrial problem and our own problem, ja?

So we’ve really tried to also look more into what actually is getting labeled as disinformation. We found out that this is not so not so easy. And then what we did in the first part of our research, what was that? We looked at a kind of value chain of disinformation. We looked at who was actually initiating it, what are the motives of people who are initiating it. Like, I mean, the people obviously often name Russia, the Chinese state, Iran is often cited, but also individuals, radical parties are the initiators. And then you have a whole industry, actually, of people who are creating, placing all of the disinformation.

Then you have the platforms which disseminated at the end of the value chain, you have the consumers and who are actually consuming it and being are being influenced by it. So this already gave us a very big map actually, of this whole landscape of disinformation where obviously many different actors profit from it and take different things from it, but individuals take very different things from it.

So it’s not so easy, ‘Oh, here’s this villain and they create something’ and then the poor consumer is being misled by it. I think that for us really was interesting, and then we also looked at and that’s then my final point before we dive into this, more into aspects of it, we also looked at a whole industry of organizations fighting disinformation. So we have, of course, the platforms. I think YouTube takes about 10 million videos offline every quarter, ja? So we have NGOs who are fact-checking and who are providing more realistic information in some areas. We have then law companies who are helping victims of disinformation. We have regulators, we have organizations being very keen to upgrade the media literacy of children in schools. So right now we have a whole landscape of people providing and fighting disinformation. And even though there are so many actors involved and the. Is a lot of research going into it. We still don’t really know how big the problem is?

There is a very interesting recent study, just a few months old, which showed that the influence of Russian bots and Russian disinformation in the US election of 2016 was actually not very significant at all. They proposed the theory that maybe our idea of misinformation that we ourselves are so worried and feeling so insecure about what information is real and what is not, that that actually is the major influence of this whole talk about disinformation and that many liberals especially clung to this idea of disinformation because they just couldn’t believe how otherwise people would ever vote for Trump. So it was their own excuse. But actually, you know, The facts don’t give the same answer. It seems that only very, very few people were exposed to the bulk of this Russian-led misinformation. And that’s really the story is much, much more complex.

Thomas Hübl: Yeah, I think the part that you said – the fear of being misled, I think I want to park that for a moment because I think that’s an important player in the whole conversation. And but I want to ask you so, at the betterplace lab or in the work that you are doing around misinformation and disinformation – what do you do if at all what do you recommend to a regular user? Like, what are the signs or how can we navigate through this landscape? And is there science that can get translated into practical guidelines of how to operate in this kind of vast ocean of information that’s now there, which is that it’s great because there’s a massive global learning, but there’s also kind of the kind of hierarchy in the information that we can consume. So you get a whole ocean of stuff. So are there any practical guidelines from your experience and your knowledge can be distilled that you can see, okay, here at least a few things or principles or guidelines that we can take into account when we navigate through vast media, social media with every landscape nowadays?

Joana Breidenbach: Well, I think there are some easy recommendations. But they don’t go very deep, I must say. Yeah, because technology is improving so incredibly that it’s even for experts really, really hard to discern what is what. So of course, we can make people aware of the commonly used strategies in the field of disinformation that you take the look and feel like the forms of the graphics of serious media outlets, and then you copy-paste unserious content in it, ja? You see that if suddenly a very spectacular news comes up, you know, I would always say, well, first double check it. Of course, check the sources where things come from. Take back a step before you actually spread something yourself, but wait a few hours and see how that news is, whether it’s being re-informed or not. So there are a few things people can do, but actually most of them have not proven very successful. I think that shows us that there is such a need also for people to believe in this kind of spectacular, divisive kind of news that really we have confronted with something else.

So I think we can do certain hygienic methods. We can advise people, we can hold platforms to a certain extent accountable that they might like certain things which are suspicious. But again, I mean, that also is a double-edged sword because do we really want platforms to regulate and to be the guardians of what kind of information we get? Yes or no? You know, if I look at Elon Musk and what kind of his ideas do I want then to be the guidelines of what is real news and what not? I don’t think so.

So at the moment, we have given platforms far too much power, I believe, because the regulatory bodies are a bit paralyzed and I think the EU is really trying to do something. So there are, of course, efforts. But for me, when I look into this phenomena and how we have continued working with this really is to look much deeper and to understand some more of the underlying factors which make people so open, so willing to join in this play of fragmentation in a way.

What we have been doing is that we’ve tried to analyze some more underlying systemic factors, which we believe are part of this fragmentation and which really prepare the ground for news to then hit us – me, as a consumer and then to spin off in a direction which maybe if I would be a bit saner, I would think, well, no, I’m not going to follow you there.

And so what we’ve tried, we’ve tried to analyze. I think we came up with 12 trends or macro trends which have led to a world where people find it increasingly difficult to relate to perspectives which are different from their own. And I mean, if I just maybe name two or three. I think one certainly is what could be called the neo-liberal agenda, which has since the 1980s-90s in politics, really led to an alienation between lots of citizens and politics because politics has retreated and has given big companies so much power, ja?

It has also led to an increasing social inequality where many people actually do feel very scared, very in need of many things, which they don’t get, and where you have lots of envy and where you have polarization, and certainly also the demise of journalism and the soulless money in quality journalism is also one off and has led to this to this fragmentation. But of course, when you just also look at imperialism, colonialism, I mean, as in Germany, the Holocaust and how we have dealt with it, I mean, there are so many fault lines which are really dividing society. And for large parts of the 20th century, the ideology and the practices of the nation-state were so they were kind of creating a cohesive society, but a lot of it was fairly superficial. The Internet then amplified many, many more voices which are now being heard. And we live in such diverse societies, and so many of these two separate perspectives don’t get heard. So there’s so much disbalance and that that is a really fertile ground for disinformation and I think it became really apparent throughout all the interviews which we did for this kind of research.

We also looked at something which we are both very interested in. We also looked at the role of trauma in this. And we spoke to you, some other psychologists and we really learned that people who have gone through severe individual or collective trauma do find it difficult to hold the ambiguity of either-or scenarios of a more nuanced view of reality. It seems as if for the nervous system, it’s pretty important to either go there or there. And there’s this holding of tensions. which, of course, in our world, which is so complex, so full of conflict, and that capacity which is so crucial. And more and more people, including myself, really have to stretch ourselves in order to be able to cope with this complexity, so much uncertainty and the knowledge that we really have to create a really a new social system, a new ecology, new economics. I mean, The kind of world we live in is really, really very challenging.

So this inner clarity, my capacity to relate to more aspects of myself, to relate to other aspects and other people who are also different from mine, all of these are capacities which we in our research and also based on your work, really came up with that they are crucial if we want to build some kind of epistemic integrity in a society which is very diverse but which still has some shared understanding of reality and is able to take multiple perspectives into account.

Thomas Hübl: It’s beautiful. Yeah, but to speak for a moment to this shared reality, because I think disinformation is also based on disembodied mental activity. And so if trauma resides in our bodies, emotions and nervous systems and of course, in our minds, but it creates a disconnect between what informs me intellectually and what can inform me physically.

I think that we don’t have a good grounding sometimes to ground information in a sense-making so that what I think can make sense in my physical experience is kind of my compass. This alignment is my compass in life. That’s why sometimes, even if I don’t know what’s the truth, I feel that that’s not really true. Something I feel that there is a sense that we have, ‘This sounds strange,’ and if we get a feeling that somehow it doesn’t align, even if I don’t have to prove what is true. And I think we all know that, but we sometimes also know when we are not connected to ourselves and we are overthinking. So we are much more susceptible to that reality.

I think also, given that AI can amplify that level of fake or deep fake, we are actually called to be more embodied as the only remedy, I believe. Otherwise we are going into a kind of a collective psychosis if we cannot ground the information that can be used in many ways in kind of adverse or hurtful manners.

That’s why what you spoke to, I think, is so important because we are all responsible for not only our own relationship to disinformation, but we are also responsible for our ecosystemic impact. We all have an ecosystemic impact. Either we are grounding a lot of information and there’s kind of more clear water around us or we’re adding to that and I think a deep sense of authenticity, a sense of honesty, of transparency, a sense of kind of inner coherence that what we say and what we do is congruent. All these things seem to me like an ecosystemic contribution to take care of this information and reduce it just by living that way. And I’m curious when I see how this relates to your research or your understanding to your work?

Joana Breidenbach: Yeah, a lot. I mean, not only to our research on disinformation, but also in all the other kinds of innovation work I am doing of the kind of communities I’m building as platforms for a more holistic innovation. I mean, for me, that was a journey to move very much from an intellectual and mental heaviness more into my own body, my own relating to my own emotions. And that is actually the journey which we are also now trying to take.

So we say, okay, well, obviously it’s all of this discussion of all the problems and challenges we are facing. Obviously, they can’t be solved with mental activities and with our brilliant minds alone because we know the facts, we will do it. So where else can we get rich data from? And then we say, okay, well, let’s go back to first principles and let’s go to my subjective experience of me, my relationship to the people around me and the wider world.

We try to really step back like that and move away from an understanding that innovation and progress comes from thinking better, but that it comes from, in a way, sensing more and also feeling like it’s just exactly like what you have described to get a felt sense of me in the situation I’m in, me confronting a piece of news. And that’s not a foolproof practice, of course, but I know that we can hone this sense and we can really deepen that. But it takes time. It takes time and it takes love and real effort and to move my center of gravity from the thinking apparatus to a much more embodied way of being in the world.

And it feels scary also because I think me and so many other people, we feel so much pressure to act quickly because we feel that there is so much we need to do right now that the world is burning and we need to act yesterday and I know that you spoke to Bayo Akomolafe who I really love a lot on your podcast, and I sometimes quote him because he always says: “When things are urgent, it’s time to slow down.” And to actually take that step and to go back and not just manically react. And for me as a change-maker to try to change the world out there and try to manipulate it, but to really work in concentric circles and to start with myself and to move from there and to actually look at – that’s what we’ve actually been done with the kind that’s what we have done with the research about disinformation we have now for we’ve just started, but we have not yet time to look at to have conversations with activists who are dealing in the area of disinformation, in the area of climate change, migration and social justice, which are really some of the most contested hot topics, but which are also, of course, crucial for our survival on the planet. And we can do workshops with these groups of activists and look at how I am actually part of the problem I’m trying to solve? And of course, most activists would reject that proposition from the start. They will say, no, you know, I know what we need to do and we need to be like this and this and this. But more and more activists also realize that the kind of change they want to see in the world is not happening.

There is actually quite a deep self-reflexive turn right now in parts of activism where people look into their own strategies and where they come to realize that actually they are deeply entangled with the kind of systemic problems they tried to change. A book which for me was the first one where I really read this very precisely from Anthea Lawson, British campaigner and activist, and she wrote a book called “The Entangled Activist,” and she very precisely showed how actually in our being in the world of how we run our organizations, of how we relate to our ‘enemies’ or the things which we want to change, how all of these relationships were deeply entangled and where activists really where protecting themselves in many ways, but putting themselves on a moral pedestal, exerting lots of pressure, which was so counterproductive, is so counterproductive because pressure creates pressure. So I’m really interested to look more in more higher resolution at what actually is happening in this activist sphere, which is really important that, you know, they exist as a force in the world and at the same time, which often seems so counterproductive and alienates so many people with strategies which many citizens, even though they also want to see the same kind of change, they can’t identify with that kind of change. And so they then don’t want to have anything to do with activism. So I think that for me this is really looking at what is my relationship as somebody who wants to see change in the world. What is my relationship to that change, I think, has become a very important and crucial question in the work which we are doing now.

Thomas Hübl: Yeah, I think that that’s absolutely necessary. But I’m convinced that this is the only way. In this sentence: I am part of an ecosystem. Or I am the ecosystem. Everything is in the difference. And I think the dualism that we keep when we say, okay, when I walk through the forest, nature is all around me versus nature is through me. That change that becomes again a felt experience that I am aware of my interconnectedness or interdependence with nature, that I am also nature and not just looking at nature. That change, I think, is a significant healing.

That’s why I often say that systemic traumatization created normalized processes in our society. And when we say we are also on the planet as human beings or we are also part of the ecosystem, no, we are not just part of the ecosystem. We are individuals, but we are also the ecosystem and at the beginning sounds a bit strange, but when you look deeper, the question that you’re raising is absolutely crucial. Do I feel interconnected with the issue that I am looking at or passionate about one or so something in the world? Or am I looking at it?

I think you are really touching something very crucial here with the work and also the kind of the workshops that you are offering in that direction for activists to come to a deeper connectedness. As Tao Te Ching writes beautifully, “If you turn the world into an object, you lose it.” I think that externalization of the problem is the root cause of the problem. And I hear you say that very beautifully, and I’m so happy that you’re passionate about this. And so what do you see when you work with the activists through the work that you are building? What do you see is the transformation? What do you see as a change of perspective? What are the practices that help to change the perspective, if you want to scale that, what’s your current experience?

Joana Breidenbach: Well, first of all, my experience really is to acknowledge how deeply ingrained this is. Recently, I looked at the purpose statements of some of the NGOs in Germany and the foundations who are dealing with climate change and who want to save nature. The stance from which they wrote these mission statements from, was so obvious that it is first we exploited nature, now, we are going to heal it.

A friend of mine recently wrote a really nice article where he said, well, you know, this is the same kind of attitude. First of all, it’s nicer to save the world than to destroy it. But still, you think that you, as a human being, are the person to create everything. You are the one in charge. You are the one who can shape everything, and you have the separation between yourself and the object you want to change. If that is already in every mission statement of organizations, you know, you can see how foundational it is. We have just started with this awareness building and we also take it very much. We try not to teach and preach this, but we really want to explore it together with the groups of activists we work with.

What I observe is, first of all, that it is pretty difficult to really get to invite them to a more self-critical stance because so many people are so invested in their position in the problem they are trying to solve. So many of them have had trials. But that’s also where trauma comes in again. So many people have had deeply wounding experiences in the areas they are now trying to solve with their work. So that’s already in the original DNA of the organization, there is some kind of a crack. And it’s not necessarily the crack that the light comes in.

To actually invite them into an awareness of their own actions and their own perspective on the thing they are trying to change actually has an impact, ja? Which I mean, in physics, you know, that has been known for some while, but it seems to be quite difficult. I find one interesting way of how to I mean, there are certain inroads I would say, one is that so many people in my sphere of work suffer deeply from their work. The work culture, the self-exploitation, the very bad conditions most activists live in. Also materially, and the kind of also often dysfunctional organizational structures they are operating in.

Right now, actually, you see with this increased pressure from the outside world, I see right now many teams exploding, actually. There’s so much internal tension in organizations. And part of it has to do with the fact that they are so frustrated that they don’t feel that they can change something in the outside world, then the tendency seems to be that the internal sphere which you can create or control needs to be as pure as possible so that you have now lots of, if tied around privilege and structural discrimination and all of these hot topics within organizations.

But at the same time, of course, these organizations are just exposing the systemic struggle in themselves. And so it is that seems to be, for me, an area of where people are very open and receptive, that they do feel the pain of, you know, exhaustion, burnout, poverty, depression, all of these symptoms, which often are very prevalent in NGOs, and through that you can actually start a conversation and say, well, you know, you want to create really something very different in the world. How come that in your immediate environment, there is so much tension that is so much also, you know, so many bad words, so much struggle. And that, in a way, makes people think, actually, yes. You know, how come that I don’t even in my immediate environment, manage to create the kind of conditions which I want to see in the wider world? If I feel at the moment that if we work a bit in these concentric circles, that could be a good strategy because it’s so apparent and the pain is so big also in organizations.

Thomas Hübl: Yeah. I completely resonate with this. And I think also kind of partly in the philanthropy world, there are also big fights going on amongst people that actually have the resources and want to do good. But the frictions create such stagnation. I very much agree with you on that, that only the shift in I cannot treat my own trauma in the world. I need to be able to clarify my motivation, find a deeper relationship, even if it’s painful. And then relationality is the channel for the agency and then many people will feel included in it is the change process is not being talked to. That being talked to is so normal in our world cause we all grew up in a collectively traumatized environment and that’s how we learn to see the world.

It’s like in the water. Let’s look at many people, look at our parents or teachers like people around us and that’s how we got trained, basically. And I think that’s so important. It’s really a systemic change. And I also believe what you just said, if we see if I cannot live it in my closer environment, something is not working. That’s a really good sign to say, Let’s stop for a moment and look at what’s happening here. And also, the other principle that I hear you speak to is the externalization of information is always a sign that I cannot embody what I am seeing. Because otherwise it wouldn’t feel that way. Otherwise you feel connected and the truth doesn’t need to feel confrontational and all of that. It’s much more connected. So, yeah.

Joana Breidenbach: I mean, for me, a beautiful example is that there are certain German activists who speak about the same topics, but the way how they speak about it is so different. Some are really triggering for many, many people, you know, and there are others who say exactly the same things. But the way they say it, people just listen to it and are interested in starting a conversation. For me, that is really, really telling that it’s the space in between which determines everything.

And it’s not so easy, actually. We are also trying in the betterplace lab to integrate, especially more people of color. We are a pretty white team and we have been looking at other trainers, facilitators who we can invite to do the work with us. And it’s not so easy because there is so much, as you say, externalization that there is so much blame. And it seems to be really difficult for many people to be willing to, also from diverse backgrounds. And I know it’s a huge, very differentiated discussion of what role should people of diverse backgrounds actually play in educating the privileged.

And I fully get it that it shouldn’t be them, that we also as privileged people have to do a lot of this work ourselves and not use others and retraumatize many other people who then are constantly confronted with the same stereotypes and the same ideas. It seems right now more difficult than a few years ago to actually have constructive dialogue about these topics because they are so highly politicized. And there are also many different ideologies in the room and many different degrees of how much safety do we need to have in a room in order to hold these conversations across populations with different degrees of power and privilege? And so I find it’s really, really interesting. And for me also, I mean, I’ve learned so much in the last years about myself. Also, I must say, through the collective trauma facilitation training, which I’ve done with you, and I’ve learned so much. And again, I knew so much already as an anthropologist. I had read about so many of these things, not maybe under the lens of trauma, but under the lens of postcolonial studies. But to experience it in myself, to really become much more aware of the filters through which I look at the world, where I can relate to where I’m also numb and can’t relate to and can only relate intellectually. That has really encouraged me also to do this kind of work in an unconventional way and to really try to get people immersed and to to play more also and not only to do all of this work intellectually.

Thomas Hübl: When I hear you speak also, you said something very powerful. You said “I have a lot of knowledge as an anthropologist.” You studied this. You are very informed about post-colonial or colonial structures in the world. that we are living in a time when the deeper embodiment of knowledge is actually intellectual knowledge, emotional knowledge, physical knowledge, relational knowledge, ancestral knowledge, so that there are so many dimensions of knowledge, and you said “When I became aware of the filters that I look through, so through my own cultural conditioning, through my own ancestral conditioning, then we begin to see more.“ And I somehow think that this is the new thing that’s emerging in our evolution. That kind of looking “at” the world instead of looking “as” the world. And we are more and more beginning to look as the world. And so much is in that difference. And so I find this very powerful, what you said. I just wanted to highlight that.

Joana Breidenbach: It is difficult in a way. I think probably it is easy to convey because if you embody it, you embody it – it’s there and at the same time, for somebody like me who constantly struggles at this boundary between “as” and “at” I do see, I mean, when I look at this immense complexity with through in which we are living, I am living, there are moments certainly when I do see this complexity in a much wider context. And then my own sense of myself is so different then when I am more like a static, rigid being which looks at the world. But when I understand myself more to be connected, I mean connection. I think that’s crucial. That’s the transmission of all of it. I need to be connected even in a small just group of people or my own family, in order to have that fluidity. But then to actually be in the world, really, it is so very different from what at least I hope to habitually know. And that, of course, also creates a longing in me to have more of that. Because otherwise I’m just overwhelmed, and I can see that. In a way, I think it’s amazing how we are not overwhelmed constantly all of the time. I really, really want to create environments where people can do that kind of learning, where people can slow down. That being said, from somebody who also often speaks very fast and where this more embodied situated being in the world is being experienced, really that the world is so very different than.

Thomas Hübl: Speaking to the humility that we sometimes miss in our world and that we are humble, where we can be that vessel like when we are overwhelmed by complexity because the cup is big enough, you know, it’s like the cup is big enough. Complexity becomes simple but we are also humble and say, yeah, but we all carry the wounds of our past. We all carry some of the transgressions of our ancestors in us.

In these places, we are not to whose complexity feels overwhelming, feels out there. It feels we are looking at it versus we are looking as it and that’s true too. And it is like being humbled to be at that edge and not seeing that is a deficiency but is a growth edge that is very interesting. And I think then we need to accelerate in a way a very important developmental process.

I see our time, so just to conclude our conversation, do you feel there is anything else that you as a conclusion you want to bring here at the end or something that you didn’t say that is very important to you?

Joana Breidenbach: I would end with this what you just stressed: to be aware of this amazing power, to acknowledge more of what is right now and not to divide myself into this I found it very powerful what you often say that I split reality into two. If I create a vision out there in the world of what the world should be like and what is the ideal vision of the world, and if I want to be effective in all areas which we’ve spoken about, social change, the topic of disinformation and all of that, that’s to acknowledge what is in me – that is really the starting point and to become more fully aware of what I can relate to and what I can’t relate to, that has huge power.

And it is very difficult because we do live in a world, me included, where we constantly want to act and do things and immediately manipulate the outside world. To really take this step and take the space to explore what is it here? What is it right now? I think that for me makes a huge difference.

Thomas Hübl: Yes, I very much agree with that. It’s a beautiful way to maybe let this conversation rest with everybody who’s listening and then see how that speaks to everybody who is in this space. Thank you, Joana, that was beautiful and great work you’re doing. So thank you very much. I think we touched on some very essential topics throughout this journey we are speaking.

Joana Breidenbach: Thank you, Thomas. I don’t know how to divide my own work from yours because so much of what you taught me is now showing up in this manifestation here.

Thomas Hübl: Thank you.