But there is a very different way of understanding growth, disruption and crisis. It is articulated not by a psychologist, but by a student of the German existentialist Martin Heidegger.
This is Otto Friedrich Bollnow, who started off in 1925 with a PhD in physics, and whose pedagogical and philosophical writing continued well into the 1980s. Bollnow struggled with Heidegger’s claim that we discover our authentic selves through the experience of angst – a crisis of anxiety and dread – which arises only when we face up to the reality of our own death. Bollnow came to believe that it is not always death and angst that play this crucial developmental role. Other kinds of crises are just as important, and so are other emotions and experiences. Bollnow observed that:
It seems to belong to the nature of the human life that it does not proceed as a unitary and continuous process of progress and development. Rather, [one] must run through successive and distinct phases which are separated from one another by breaks, and according to which life from time to time commences again with a new beginning.
Instead of Heidegger’s angst, Bollnow believed that a rather different inner orientation and frame of mind was important. This is hope, which Bollnow saw as the touchstone of human emotion and existence: ‘Hope thus points to the deeper ground in which the feelings of patience and security are rooted, and without which [we] would never be able to relax [our] attention or go to sleep tranquilly.’ Hope ‘comes to us without any effort on [our] part, as a sort of gift or grace,’ Bollnow adds. It is a frame of mind that connects us to the future, not as the inevitability of our own death, but as ‘an infinite source of new possibilities’. Hope can provide firm ground as crises batter, challenge and change us.
What is needed is neither a new universalism nor perpetual satisfaction or self-actualisation, but the openness that only hope can give.