A lightweight becomes a heavyweight
“The most important person is the one you are with at this moment.” Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (1828 – 1910), Russian writer, farmer and philosopher
No, I’m not talking about the 3 – 5 kg each of us has put on, on average, since the phase of shutdowns started. As a lightweight you’d have a good hand for the future, for the categories that apply in rowing, triathlon or boxing would put you in the 55 – 62 kg live weight category – which I suppose qualifies as a dream for many of us, independently of the prevailing circumstances. It was the designer Karl Lagerfeld who observed, quite correctly in my opinion, that “dieting is the only game we play in which we win when we lose.”
No, what I’m talking about here is the frequently unnoticed threshold that many people suddenly cross who – deliberately or accidentally – used to feel invisible. They become well-known players.
We all know about beginnings, which are well-known to be rather difficult. Be it in kindergarten, school, the army, training or our professional careers – we all start out as lightweights. We feel as if we were atoms in the midst of an unstructured mass, and we feel that everyone except ourselves moves around and about incredibly coolly and self-confidently. It takes a while to get to know and understand the rules of the new community we’ve landed in – and to realise that others can perhaps simply hide their insecurities a little better. The latest sociological insights have ascertained that bluffing your way through society is a positive quality, for “presenting yourself credibly” is already an accomplishment in and of itself, according to the sociologist Niklaus Luhmann. Well, at least now I’ve remembered why I never became an actor.
But how can we transform the essential elements of life, that is to say those conventions needed for survival, into a more free-wheeling approach, and transform ourselves from a lightweight into heavyweight?
In professional circles the advice frequently given is to be patient; it just takes time to earn your new colleagues’ respect. But is that really true? I assume it’s true that politeness can become friendliness and fairness empathy in the long run. It’s also been observed that people lose respect as soon as they’re successful. This type of hard nut – we all know them – doesn’t have a tendency to revise their opinion, as time goes by, of someone whom they’ve already categorised as a quantité négligeable.
Being accepted on account of being useful is further uncertain terrain. Top performances, on the one hand, are soon perceived to be a matter of course, and any sympathy, on the other, soon collapses if the performance does too. You can indeed become a useful idiot – whether Lenin coined the phrase or not.
I think that there are two phases in the transition to becoming a heavyweight. First there is the basic acceptance of ourselves as a person, as someone who can express their opinion and take part in decision-making processes, even if they may not always prevail. That is frequently more difficult than it sounds, as the interaction of everyone involved is needed for this. Social philosophers such as Pierre Bourdieu have called it – admittedly rather dramatically – the “battle for the symbolic capital of equivalence.”
The second phase is related entirely to our own thoughtfulness. My experience tells me that every person has it in them to become a heavyweight. It only depends on enjoying enough respect from a group in the right situation so that you can and are allowed to employ all of your abilities for the benefit of all. I was rather impressed with advertiser Linda Kaplan Thaler’s words. “You have to treat everyone you meet as if they are the most important person in the world – because they are. If not to you, then to someone, and if not today, then perhaps tomorrow.”