What difference can a person make

Life plans

Norbert Bolz

To person

Dr. phil., born 1953; Professor of Media Studies at the Technical University of Berlin, Institute for Language and Communication, Strasse des 17. Juni 135, 10623 Berlin.
Email: [email protected]

The problem with self-actualization is turning freedom into meaning. What gives us dignity in the eyes of others is not the standard of living, but the way of life.


Everything we do is based on risky decisions. We must therefore always ask ourselves the questions: What is right? And: what is important to me? How do I find my life theme? Not being able to distinguish between important and unimportant is the essence of stupidity. Above all, one has to understand that what is informative is not already important; and that nothing is important in and of itself. The concern produces the importance - important always means: important for me. The most important thing is to understand what is important to you.

But mind you: importance does not mean self-interest. This can be seen from the fact that many people are successful but dissatisfied. Those who only satisfy their self-interest do not increase their self-esteem. Business success cannot replace social recognition. In other words: Business success is not an indication of whether a person has succeeded in giving meaning and shape to their own life. In the early days of capitalism this was still understood, because back then the individual not only had claims but also duties. So it was true for the Puritan: Duty gives meaning to life, conduct of life gives form to life. Of course, a sense of duty and lifestyle can no longer determine our behavior today as they did then. But what then?

Humans do not have a biogram, which means that, unlike animals, they do not fit into the world. And that's why they need identity formulas. Who am I? Of course, I answer this question very differently than you do. Each individual has to define a role in life. Humans are not simply identical to themselves, but must first establish their identity. Anyone who writes their résumé as part of an application, of course, knows that they cannot fantasize freely; the curriculum vitae must be credible and must not contain any contradictions. And yet: every résumé is a script that you write. And that applies to the formation of identity in general: You can only live if you define a role for yourself.

It is therefore a misunderstanding to believe that the real person is behind a mask. The self is the dramatic effect of everyday theater. You play the role of being yourself. And this self-expression is the basis of social trust. This means that human dignity, which is supposed to be "inviolable", is the result of a successful self-expression. The most up-to-date form of this self-expression is available on the Internet: broadcast yourself. Internet portals such as YouTube, StudiVZ and MySpace show us pure forms of a public display of identity. Instead of discovering the "true" self, it is about creating an interesting self. Trying on - this is no longer just done with clothes, but also with lifestyles and worldviews. Many, especially young people, who grew up with the Internet and experience it as second nature, can no longer do anything with the classic ideas of privacy and intimacy. YouTube, MySpace and the casting shows on television signal exhibitionism and voyeurism as a new megatrend.