Switzerland at the dawn of 2018
Report of a Listening Post held in January 2018
PART 1: THE SHARING OF PREOCCUPATIONS AND EXPERIENCES
In this part, the Listening Post participants were invited to identify, contribute, and explore their experiences in their various social roles, be they: in work, unemployed or retired; as members of religious, political, neighbourhood, voluntary or leisure organisations; or as members of families and communities. This part was largely concerned with what might be called, ‘the stuff of people’s everyday lives’: the ‘socio’ or ‘external’ world of participants.
Lack of direction, searching, questioning what is next? Many people joined around a sense of looking for the next thing, whatever that may be. For some a new job, for some a new love, for some an education, for some a new nationality. Older and younger people share a pre-‐occupation with searching for their joy, their direction, their purpose. People in Switzerland general are not typically dealing with poverty, famine, dislocation that other people around the world suffer, but people in Switzerland are experiencing a more existential yearning for finding meaning in life.
Snow! Finally after two or three years of overly warm winters with no snow, Switzerland has snow again. It is like a fairy tale, the simple joy of crisp white snow. Not only does this snow make skiing possible for many who enjoy this sport, but it offers reassurance for many small mountain villages – the epitome of chocolate box Switzerland. Clearly skiing is reserved to a certain segment of the population AND it is also a major sport, past-‐time and way for friends and families to connect through outdoor exercise. The record number of sportsmen and women going to the Winter Olympics this year is testimony to the importance of winter sports. The lack of snow during the last years has threatened the viability of small mountain communities who earn their livelihood in ski season. The relief and child-like joy of SNOW has been palpable.
PART 2: IDENTIFICATION OF MAJOR THEMES
In Part 2, the aim collectively was to identify the major themes emerging from Part 1.
A Return to Simple Pleasures
Time with friends, sharing food, typified by Swiss dishes such as fondue or raclette, enjoying the beauty of the countryside, walking were cited as simple pleasures. Whether it be the influence of the growing awareness of mindfulness, or an appreciation for the natural beauty and relative serenity that is typical of Switzerland or simply an afterglow from the Christmas holidays and time spent with loved ones, there was a sense of optimism, joy and gratitude.
On the surface, Switzerland is a haven from the political maelstrom that affects other countries yet underneath the surface hidden tensions prevail. Health care costs have been rising faster than salaries and cost of living. This has been true in the country for many years but is a crippling cost for many people. Underneath a calm façade alarming numbers of people go missing every year, although there is little in the press about this. Teenage suicide is sadly not uncommon and the deaths of two local boys shocked participants who had to deal with the after-effects on children as young as 14. Questions about asylum seekers and Switzerland’s role in accepting record numbers of asylum were rife
PART 3: ANALYSIS AND HYPOTHESIS FORMATION
In Part 3, the participants were working with the information resulting from Parts 1 & 2, with a view to collectively identifying the underlying dynamics both conscious and unconscious that may be predominant at the time; and developing hypotheses as to why they might be occurring at that moment. Here, participants were working more with what might be called their ‘psycho’ or ‘internal’ world: their collective ideas and ways of thinking that both determine how they perceive the external realities and shape their actions towards them.
The following two hypotheses are offered drawing on the pre-‐occupations and themes outlined above.
Hypothesis 1: Cautious Optimism
There is much to be optimistic about in Switzerland. The country has been ranked as top of the World Economic Forum’s ranking for Global Competitiveness due to its flexible economy, excellent education and first class public health. It also tops the global innovation ranking (Cornell, INSEAD and World Intellectual Property Organization). Furthermore it was ranked fourth on the world happiness report reflecting a general level of satisfaction that people enjoy. Seeing news about atrocities, natural disaster, and difficulties elsewhere, there is a sense of gratitude and optimism for living here.
There is a gratitude for living in a safe haven and a cautious optimism for the future. Because the world seems to be tumultuous – the so-‐called VUCA – volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, it is hypothesised that people in Switzerland appreciate the relative calm here. The optimism is in part gratitude for living in the country but also in part a feeling of a need to balance the pessimism evident in so much of the world.
Hypothesis 2: Surfacing the Tensions
Underneath the optimism, the serenity of the countryside, the glamour of international meetings like Davos, of multinational companies being headquartered here people in Switzerland are dealing with tensions. Like people anywhere, people experience tensions of daily life. The cost of living is extremely high and despite comfortable lives, existential questions prevail. The contradiction between a society that is affluent, top of global rankings and leading in innovation and the tensions that exist under the surface is not immediately obvious but is nevertheless a daily reality.
Because the surface view of Switzerland is affluent, clean, organised, multi-‐ lingual, and picture-‐perfect tensions that exist under the surface can be over-‐ looked or brushed aside. It is hypothesised that this spilt between the tensions that exist and the image is a way of preserving the ‘good life’ yet the personal cost of this can be high with difficulties hidden.
Convenor: Dr Heather Cairns‐Lee