"Weltschmerz": When you deeply hurt for what's happening in the world!
Updated: Jun 1
The word “Weltschmerz” initially came into being as a by-product of the Romanticism movement in Europe of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. This is a German word that the poets of the Romantic era adopted to describe their pain and suffering for what was happening around the world and their difficulties adjusting to those realities which they perceived as threatening their right to personal freedom. "Weltschmerz," which was formed by combining the German words for "world" ("Welt") and "pain" ("Schmerz"), captures the melancholy that often characterized the artistic expressions of those times but also describes how many of us feel right now, as we experience a global pandemic and the realities of racism and poverty.
Although we are all in this together, we all are having very different experiences. People in minorities and poor countries are dying without the medical care that is needed to survive the virus. People with a history of mental illness, domestic violence, child abuse, and neglect are in deep suffering at this time. People are losing their jobs and facing financial struggle and the uncertainty of what the future might hold for them. People are dying alone and in fear because of the virus, racism, and poverty. The world is hurting and it’s calling for change.
How can we be part of that change? People all have their own unique identities and experiences in the world, and consequently the areas in which they hold privilege vary. In general, these areas tend to be neglected and outside of people’s awareness. We can’t change what we do not see. We need to ask ourselves the question: where is my privilege? And go deeper. The challenge is to recognize one’s areas of privilege and commit oneself to the extra work of going deeper, read and investigate, pay attention to the influence of privilege on our understating of others, educate ourselves through diverse sources of information, and develop a diverse social network that can enrich our world and worldviews as well as our understanding of other sociocultural contexts.
Stereotypes, prejudice, and bias are real and when they are combined with power form systems that can be dangerous for those who are not in those circles. Racism, sexism, classism, heterosexism, ageism, ableism, etc. exclude people. Imagine how it feels to be the outsider? Imagine how it feels for others to assume things about you without giving you the chance to present yourself and know you for who you are, not for who they think you are? Imagine being reduced to an “ism”…. To start creating new, equal, and more effective societies we need to deal and validate the reality of the “isms” and take a deeper look at the different ways we hold rigid ideas about certain groups of people.
Today, the world hurts us and many of us are screaming for change, longing for a more “humane” world where we all have a place and can be treated with dignity, have opportunities and live a life worth living. Today we can say that we have “Weltschmerz” and be with that pain, embrace each other with compassion and understanding, and meet each other where we are at to create a better tomorrow for the generations to come. It all starts with each of us. What are you willing to do?