“We still act like cavemen a lot of the time.” Christian Grass and Bruno Roeder
They both had exciting jobs, attractive partners, lives filled with status symbols, but sorely lacking in food for the soul. Until they met five years ago, and began courageously following their own path.
These two men turn heads. Looking like perfect partners, the way they philosophize, debate, finish each other’s sentences, and mirror each other’s gestures, seeming to exist in complete symbiosis. A harmonious couple, at first glance.
Christian Grass and Bruno Roeder met just five years ago. Today, they are business partners and best friends. It may come as a surprise that these two German men changed their lives so radically together. After all, they both started out in appealing careers – Christian Grass, 51, as a journalist (for German newspapers Die Zeit and Die Welt), writer (“Der Narzisst”, “Der Irrweg…des Herrn Karl”) and communications expert, and Bruno Roeder, 45, as a managing director of various companies. Yet despite all that gloss, they were both missing some substance for the soul.
We met in their current professional playground: online, on a business platform. After a quick flurry of messages, the three of us met for a coffee in Zurich. “Brilliant and reflective,” was my take on the pair, yet “bewildering and somehow unpredictable.” But these two men aren’t quite so easy to compartmentalize. They sparked my interest.
As I was fascinated by what Grass and Roeder had to say as communications experts, as well as men and members of ‘Generation Midlife Crisis,’ bringing with them a fairly bulging bag of life experiences, we met for an interview. An interview which – in my eyes – turned out to be bewildering and surprising in equal amounts. What began as a look ahead to the year 2019, ended up in a meandering journey, taking in philosophy, poetry and politics.
“Change is the only constant.” Christian Grass and Bruno Roeder
Which issues will preoccupy us most in 2019?
Christian Grass: First of all, the issue of asylum will continue to occupy a great deal of our attention. We need to find new approaches and ask ourselves questions like: what does bringing people together really mean? That will be a very important issue.
We’ll talk about how the political parties have changed. What kind of a future is there for politics, if at all? To what extent should people make politics, as is the case in Switzerland? In Germany, this is currently the subject of big debate.
Technocracy will be a growing issue. ‘Digitization’ has been misunderstood. People think you can explain a new era with technical answers. But in my view, that doesn’t work. We’re going to get into some difficulty in this regard, as politics also has to drive digitization. If it only operates on a technical level, it’s going to be tricky.
I also think that we will ask the question of tomorrow in the new year. What will the new year bring for us in the third millennium? What does our tomorrow actually look like? In the last century, we were able to explain tomorrow relatively easy – not so in this century. We don’t know what our world will look like in ten years’ time. But I think there are many people who are pondering this.
Bruno Roeder: When we talk about tomorrow, young people will play a big role. So we should consider why digitization has major side effects on young people, such as “FOMO” (fear of missing out), cyberbullying, etc. We need to protect young people from digitization. Digitization holds a lot of possibilities, of course, but also a lot of risks, as it’s still a lawless no man’s land.
“People don’t want to change.” Christian Grass
Anna Maier: You talked about changes. A new year is always a new opportunity to become aware of these. Why is change so important?
Christian Grass: In my opinion, people need to change on a permanent basis, as external circumstances constantly force them to. This is a problem for people, because they don’t want change. They feel comfortable in the little straitjacket of the hamster wheel they move within. They’ve made it nice and comfortable for themselves. It’s warm, it’s cozy, they have a well-paid job. They might even define that as happiness and contentment.
But change is the only constant. The entire transformation that you can trace back over the last few centuries and over 70,000 years of Homo sapiens…
Bruno Roeder: …and I think this is exactly where the problem lies, and why people have such trouble changing: in certain situations, they still act like cavemen. They stay in their cave and don’t go out to see what the wide world really looks like. That’s so deeply entrenched in our evolution that people have huge issues approaching change.
Christian Grass: That’s what’s interesting about it: the complete contradiction. On the one hand, we’re burning with the desire to change things. And we attempt to do so, in small steps. But we often start off wrong. We say that change could be a sabbatical. Or a new car.
We try to achieve change through material goods. We think that if we take these steps, we’ve done something to change ourselves.
The point is that many people are burning with wants and desires that elicit changes: “I just want to work somewhere else, I’ve seen it all here, I’m not interested in the structure I’m stuck in.” But then we lack the courage to do something. We often get stuck in a rut.
“I had to watch while everything around me collapsed.”Christian Grass
Anna Maier: But sometimes, of course, we are also forced into change. They say we get so-called ‘wake-up calls’ in advance. What was your own personal wake-up call in life?
Christian Grass: That’s not an easy question. My wake-up call took place over many years. I personally used to describe myself as a people-pleaser. I was someone who wanted to do everything right by others. There was a lot of pressure on me to perform, from childhood onwards. For me, teachers weren’t educators. They were people who told me I would never make it, no matter what.
I did a lot to prove to others that I was managing my career successfully and that I had a girlfriend. The really normal things you use as a sign to show that you’re a normal person who, as a result of a good education, gets a god job, and, ideally, a nice car and a good-looking girlfriend.
Yet I had to watch while everything around me collapsed. Everything. The girlfriends weren’t at all happy with me, because they only wanted part of who I am, what I embody. They didn’t want the whole person, Christian Grass. As soon as there were problems, I noticed that they became more selfish, that they withdrew.
But that was ultimately my own mistake. I sought love too intensely. I tried to tie people to me. That led to problems. I got jealous. It got difficult psychologically.
It was no different at work. I was stuck down one-way streets. There was always someone above me. Although I had a lot of responsibility, I noticed that this system wasn’t working for me. I felt trapped and knew I could do more. I wanted more, too, but it wasn’t happening.
Then I had a physical breakdown. This breakdown happened 17 years ago. It was shortly before I came to Switzerland. I didn’t feel good any more. I was very desperate, very sad. I asked myself big questions about the future.
Then, Switzerland was a kind of opportunity to escape the old life. That went well for a while, until it ultimately didn’t. The same things kept happening in my life, because I kept making the same mistakes.
I lacked the courage to change until another breakdown five years ago, which had a lot to do with how I was still trying the same things: trying to find love, to get enough recognition. So I gave it up. But that didn’t work, either. On the contrary: it got even worse. I felt completely alone, extremely unhappy and dissatisfied.
Then I met Bruno. I told him everything. He was the only person. Everything.
Anna Maier: Why him?
Christian Grass: I don’t know. Maybe because he listened to me. But probably because he didn’t judge me, either. That was more important. I realized relatively quickly that he didn’t judge me for what I did wrong.
I ended up in a psychiatric institution then, five years ago. I wanted it myself, three weeks’ time out in this hospital. Bruno came to visit me every day.
My doctor said: “So now you’ve got two options. You either choose life or not. You have the choice.” That was the first time I really became aware of what it meant. We all have something I had forgotten about: we have the freedom to make choices. We have free will.
“I don’t know my real parents.” Bruno Roeder
Anna Maier: Is it actually possible for people to change without a degree of suffering?
Bruno Roeder: For me, there wasn’t this ‘big bang theory’ effect. There was no big dramatic moment. But there was always something swimming along in my subconscious. It’s got something to do with my start in life: I don’t know my real parents.
I must say that I grew up in the best, most wonderful, beautiful family, with four siblings. Everything – apart from the obvious blemish, that I didn’t know where I came from – was wonderful.
But in retrospect, my life always played out the same way. I had many talents – particularly in visual imagery – but never released them, because I didn’t want to stand out.
Yet I always achieved and sought out success. At 30, I was already on the board of Switzerland’s biggest importer of promotional items. I did well academically, too. I was good at sports, played soccer, then became a coach and took the team from the bottom third of the league to the top.
And then in relationships: I always went astray. Honestly? I didn’t know what love meant. I was always in long relationships, and that’s what love was to me at the time. That’s how I had my son, whom I love more than anything.
But then I met Christian. My transformation began then, but not with a whack on the head to tell me I suddenly had to change, but it changed a little as a result of my resolution: we’re both taking a different path now. That came from the gut, it didn’t originate in my head.
Anna Maier: Not that it’s any of my business, but it might make it easier to understand what you’re saying: are you a couple, or are you friends?
Christian Grass: No, best friends.
Bruno Roeder: People often ask us that. Our symbiotic relationship seems to aggravate some people. But I never wanted a romantic relationship with Christian.
Christian Grass: And in the beginning, that was a problem, too. Because I thought that when I got so close to someone spiritually for the first time, then it should also be possible on the physical level. But Bruno didn’t want that. And I had to accept it.
“We’re disappointed, we’re cheated, we’re betrayed.” Christian Grass
Anna Maier: Earlier you touched upon a few moments in your life that were quite brutal. How brutal were they for you?
Christian Grass: Now we’ve already entered the territory of deeper reflection on why we’re here in the first place. That’s an unbelievable journey of discovery. Death is a part of this life. That in itself is brutal enough. The inevitability that we’re all going to die and don’t know how and when is a condition of brutality.
I’m 100% convinced: our primal fear is the fear of death. This primal fear is stoked by other huge fears of loss. This life is – when you look at the unvarnished truth – marked by decay from the very first hour. This means we are approaching biological death from the moment we are born.
Life also has so much to do with performance, with asserting yourself. These are the bags of suffering we all carry. They are often full. We’re disappointed, we’re cheated, we’re betrayed. As humans, we all have dark sides in us that we play out, too: jealousy, hatred, fear, anger, rage.
There’s a very important line that we talked about this morning on the train: “We do to others what has been done to us.” That explains a lot. We all assess things very differently, though. Bruno judges something that’s done to him – such as disregard – much less harshly than I do. I respond with a reaction: If someone doesn’t recognize me, then I will cease to recognize them, too. Only that’s a total mistake if we’re on this track.
If we know that life is full of challenges, suffering, illness, pain and death, whatever happens, if we know that this is a part of our lives that we can’t erase, then explicit questions arise:
why is this the case? What is the underlying purpose of a human life? Is the purpose that we have to move in the straitjacket, that we have to suffer? Or does this suffering have a different meaning? Does this suffering mean to tell us something completely different?
This is when the philosophy of life begins. It begins where you also see life as a heavy thing and aren’t only led by the hula-hoop moments and glimmers of hope.
We constantly need to prove the status we have, the power we have, the amount of material things we have. That really disturbs me. After all, people who have everything often struggle just as badly from a mental perspective as people who have much less.
“We don’t want to see ourselves erased.” Christian Grass
Anna Maier: But there are also people who say they don’t want to worry any more deeply about life and its meaning. And yet death preoccupies a lot of people a great deal, although it’s a given, just like eating, sleeping, and loving. Why does death seem so ominous to so many people?
Bruno Roeder: I think I can answer that. 99% of people believe that everything is over after we die. But I’m convinced that that isn’t the case.
If you believe that we have a soul, and that this soul is on this planet for a millisecond before it carries on, then you don’t need to be afraid of death.
So, if I already know that I’m only here for a short period of time, then it would be an obvious choice to make something beautiful out of life, not force myself into a straitjacket, but spend the time freely and wonderfully instead.
Christian Grass: Of course – after a very long journey we’ve taken together for five years – that sounds much easier than it is. In my opinion, the fear of death has other causes.
We don’t want to see ourselves erased. We’ve gotten used to ourselves, we’re almost in love with ourselves, with what we do. We feel indispensable. We feel very important. We don’t want to believe that at some point we will be lowered into a grave or cremated and that all that will remain of us will be a pile of ashes and nothing else. That’s a key point.
Another is that we have a fear of missing something. This big question is coming up again just now in the era of digitization. Life should be extended. Woody Allen, Larry Page, these are people who want to live 500 years. Why do they want to live 500 years? Because they believe they have a lot left to experience in these 500 years?
Yet increasingly it’s about experiencing an incredible amount, absorbing everything to excess. This is what we’re afraid of: that suddenly a black curtain will fall and we’ll see only darkness.
Only to me, that seems a false assessment of death. I believe death is only the doorway to a next dimension, that the earth is three-dimensional and there’s a fourth dimension. I could explain it, too: the body exists on two main levels. We have the biological level and the level of consciousness.
Bruno Roeder: Which is scientifically proven.
“I believe death is only the doorway to a next dimension,” Christian Grass
Anna Maier: Which leads to the next question: can artificial intelligence ever replace us?
Christian Grass: Never. The level of consciousness is what Silicon Valley tries to talk us out of. I don’t mean that in the sense of non-existence, but talk us out of its being reliable.
Our limbic system is fascinating. It has the biggest storage capacity of all. Everything you’ve experienced, everything I’ve experienced, everything Bruno has experienced is stored in our limbic system. That’s where we get our bag of life experiences.
But there are also many things which are to do with our thoughts and feelings that are products of our consciousness. What is this consciousness, something you could also call a soul? Where do your thoughts come from, which I can’t read? I don’t know what you think. Why is this the case? I can see how you move. I can see how you look. But I can’t see your thoughts. Where do they come from?
As soon as you deal with them, human beings consist of two realms: the natural and the supernatural. Then the question of death becomes a different one, too. Because then, death would only be biological death. Consciousness might be able to live on.
“I have fears I can’t overcome.” Christian Grass
Anna Maier: Does that mean you don’t fear death, because it carries on, in your view? What causes you to feel fear, then?
Bruno Roeder: I’m afraid of bats. A childhood trauma. When I was six years old, I was in a tower in the South of France while my parents were in a restaurant over the way. In the night, around 50–60 bats came to the window of this tower. That’s the only thing that’s frightened me in life until this day.
Christian always says I must also have other fears. But no, I don’t know the feeling. Maybe it’s got something to do with how I just popped out from somewhere into the world. I don’t know where I come from. I was just there. I don’t know anything about the first three months of my life.
I always think a struggle for survival began there, back when I was just a baby. How did I survive these first three months? Of course, I can’t remember, but my subconscious does.
That’s why I’m not afraid of anything except bats and heights.
If I take steps in my life that are sometimes the wrong ones, then I just take an alternative route. But I’m never afraid of deciding on something.
Christian Grass: I am. And that’s a big difference. I have fears. I’m someone who’s sensitive to pain. I have lots of physical pains, as well as spiritual ones.
I have fears I can’t overcome, because I was always a fearful person. I was an awfully fearful child. I was afraid of everything.
The biggest disaster – and please don’t laugh – was when my mother dropped a fur glove in the snow. I sat behind her as a small child and saw it in the snow. I got scared. I was so scared of this fur glove that my mother could hardly calm me down.
Yet another philosophy of life, the fact that I know for myself that God shapes this life, helps alleviate my fears enormously now. That completely changed my concept of life.
Bruno Roeder: The issue of belief has become central for us. Although I’ve always believed in God. In my twenties and thirties, however, God didn’t play a role. I was a successful businessman, conscious of prestige. I always ate in the famous Kronenhalle in Zurich. I went to Hong Kong, to Asia. I had a family, a girlfriend, a child. I didn’t need a God.
Then came the time where I started concerning myself with God again. And I’m very happy about it. I trust God with everything.
“God must be the opposite of chance.” Christian Grass
Anna Maier: Admittedly, this subject comes as a surprise to me. Every culture has a deity and many go to war because they believe only this one God should exist. With the risk of things getting completely out of hand now, because it’s such a big, fundamental theme: who is God?
Bruno Roeder: Certainly not an old man with a white beard, as we’re told everywhere. God is everything. Look at the beautiful flower there. That’s God.
Christian Grass: God is – if you like – a primal force of real, true love, which we cannot understand, because we understand love completely differently.
There are many kinds of love: Agapes, the primal form of love, unconditional love, Eros is the one we prefer to deal with as people, because we say that eroticism feels good. We believe that we can feel love in a sexual element. That can be the case, but in these circumstances, it’s sometimes very much misunderstood.
The question of God is an unbelievably complex question. Approaching it is about establishing that there is something supernatural.
I simply believe one thing: God must be the opposite of chance. God is power, God is reckoning. The world we live in thus acquires a completely different position.
Anna Maier: How do you react when somebody says: “I don’t believe in anything”?
Bruno Roeder: With a tired smile, to be honest. To go back to the start, as I said, look at this flower. This plant is God. If everything we see is God, where is God, then? This is exactly what people need to know, even those who would argue that God doesn’t exist: God is in us.
Anna Maier: What would you say to the statement: people start believing in God when things aren’t going right for them.
Christian Grass: Yes, the fair-weather God. We’ve written article about this that got thousands of people talking. We create the fair-weather God when things are going well for us and we say “thank God”. And when things are lousy, we suddenly start soliciting God. I think that’s a bit arbitrary.
Anna Maier: But you also first found God in hard times…
Christian Grass: Of course, it even makes sense. I went to a classical school at the Benedictine monastery in Ettal in Germany, where we practiced God pretty much according to the principle of ‘ora et labora’ (‘pray and work’). I didn’t grasp it as a ten-year-old. I didn’t get along with the padres. I didn’t get along with anyone there. I had to run to church, but didn’t see God anywhere. I didn’t want him, either. I tried to manage everything on my own.
I’ll tell you something. When the doctor in the psychiatric hospital said: “You have two options. You can choose life or not,” something happened. I fell on the floor and cried. I had never cried like that in my life. As I cried, there was one main thought in my head: “I can’t do it alone. I’m incapable. I’m too weak.” I was talking to God.
“I’ve given up the illusion of being loved like people in books.” Christian Grass
Anna Maier: You said something important earlier. Life is a chain of decisions that we have to make, whether consciously or unconsciously. Which decision in your life took the greatest courage?
Bruno Roeder: Taking this completely different path. Being different from the mainstream. You won’t believe it: 99% of my colleagues, friends, business relationships are gone. Completely gone. That’s OK. That isn’t a problem for me.
The decision took courage, but I don’t regret it for one second. But there have been very difficult moments in these past five years – financially, mentally, or in terms of relationships.
Christian Grass: For me, the courage was in letting go, giving up. I had to give up the illusion of my life. That took courage.
I suddenly realized I couldn’t expect the illusion of being loved like people are in books. I couldn’t expect someone to throw their arms around me and say: “Wow, you’re amazing, everything you do!”
Consciously letting go of these things inside made me incredibly afraid at first. Afraid of being alone, of not knowing what would happen next. That in itself took quite a bit of courage.
I would like to say something else about the value of friendship, if I may: after saying goodbye to a life’s illusion, friendship now plays the biggest role in my life. But a friendship such as the one offered me by Bruno isn’t easy. A friendship is hard work.
But when you discover what I did, basically trusting another person and being open and honest with them and not having to pretend in order to be able to speak them, then that’s the greatest.
“You shouldn’t forget. You should accept.” Bruno Roeder
Anna Maier: Bruno Roeder, you previously mentioned that you lost 99% of your acquaintances because you are now the person you really want to be. That must have been a painful experience. How can you forgive and forget?
Bruno Roeder: You shouldn’t forget. You should accept. There’s a reason why the past went how it did. That’s part of life. And even if 99% break away, you get to know new people, new situations.
When you’ve accepted that these cycles are part of life, then you’ve got nothing to fear. Only then are you open enough for a trusting friendship.
Anna Maier: There’s something fascinating in that: how important is it to be able to let go?
Bruno Roeder: Fundamentally important.
Christian Grass: It is, yes. We have these dark sides, like rage, within us, and we produce an incredible power and energy to work ourselves into a rage because of these negative thoughts, this hatred towards others, towards structures, towards systems, judgments, instead of accepting and taking on board what’s done to us, integrating it into our lives and saying: that’s mine. It showed me the way.
Crooks at work, bad relationships, they all have a deeper meaning for our lives. This meaning lies in change. If we don’t change, we can’t bring about evolution. To do this, we also need to be able to let go. If we can’t let go of our old workplace, if we can’t let go of our ailing relationship structure, to do something new, we’ll never do something new. Letting go is a key principle in life, but it’s one that isn’t easy.
“Don’t think I’m crazy.” Bruno Roeder
Anna Maier: As for letting go: people who dwell upon lots of thoughts, including difficult ones, are often drained. Can you switch off your thinking for a little while? Is that possible?
Christian Grass: Yes, no, sure. There are moments. I’ve practiced them. We call it the minute break. It’s a quiet minute where you try to turn off your thoughts. It doesn’t work initially.
Bruno Roeder: But it happens.
Christian Grass: Yes, it happens. There’s a trick. If this minute comes and you think to yourself that you don’t want to think about anything, you’ll think anyway. Treat these thoughts as clouds that come and you can then simply choose to let them float by. You’ll notice that you aren’t thinking, but you still sense the thoughts. At some point, after a while you’ll notice that you aren’t thinking any more. You can do that for a minute or even longer.
Bruno Roeder: There are also breaks with images. There are moments where I completely shut down with my thoughts. Then worlds of images open up to me. I’ve had that since I was around five years old. I always had trouble getting to sleep because I saw images constantly. I’ve been going around with images in my head for 40 years now.
In these short breaks from thinking, it’s as if I’m in an empty room and I see images. I can’t describe everything I see. There are unknown colors. There are faces. Don’t think I’m crazy. It’s not like a moment of euphoria. You’re simply free.
Christian Grass: It really took training to bring about this peace in me. That has something to do with contemplation. It’s a journey within yourself. That isn’t easy.
Do you know what mental freedom means for me today? I love two elements: sky and water. Now, after many years, I have got the opportunity to live in a house at Neuchâtel. There’s an abbey and vineyards and a lake – all linked by a path where I often take long walks.
When I walk there, I hardly ever encounter anyone; perhaps a dog and its owner at most. I don’t need to think about or reflect on anything. I go step by step and feel more and more connected to this unbelievable landscape. Gradually, it all becomes one: the trees, the steps I take, the breath, the water and nothing else.
Everything comes from these fifteen minutes, Ms Maier. Suddenly it occurs to me what kind of strategy we could pursue. Suddenly I realize how I will move ahead with the novel. Suddenly you start thinking completely differently. You’re more relaxed, you’re unburdened, and much more devoted in how you think.
“It’s a necessity in life.” Bruno Roeder
Anna Maier: When you describe your walks, the much-quoted phrase “go with the flow” springs to mind. In an era when we’re all slaves to our tightly-packed schedules, how important is it to simply let yourself drift?
Christian Grass: Really important.
Bruno Roeder: Absolutely, yes. Since Christian moved to western Switzerland, we have this space between us that we never had before. Unfortunately, we can only go walking together four out of seven days, but this ritual remains.
I go walking here in Zurich, too. It’s a necessity in life. I get a lot from nature in these moments. It’s the same with me. I often come up with solutions and ideas.
Christian Grass: I go walking everywhere: when I visit major cities, I deliberately get lost. We wrote about it in a blog once: in Tegel in Berlin, there’s a bus that goes to Osloer Straße. The bus just stands there and it has that destination written on it. No one in the world knows where Osloer Straße is in Berlin. It isn’t the Kudamm. Nobody goes there, but I do.
I sit on this bus and travel into Berlin to this street that sounds like Norway: Osloer Straße. It’s exactly these experiences which are worth a lot more to me than any others, as they reveal an unknown part of a well-known city.
Bruno Roeder: In Rome, we walked in fog and bad weather.
Christian Grass: Yes, we walk. Sometimes I walk on beaches alone. If I didn’t have these walks, I don’t know how I’d cope with everything.
“Betrayal has no place in a friendship.” Christian Grass
Anna Maier: I see you as two people in search of authenticity. You’ve talked again and again about your friendship, which is based on this authenticity. What can’t a friendship withstand?
Christian Grass: Lying.
Bruno Roeder: You were faster. I was just on “ly-”. Lying is a no-go. When you have such a deep friendship with each other and are so connected, you have to put your cards on the table.
Anna Maier: But everyone lies everyday. It’s scientifically proven.
Christian Grass: Yes, that’s fibbing. Lying is something different. For example, if I were to say that I deliberately want to do something only on my part and lie to him in the sense that I do not tell him about it, even though it concerns our common business, then I’d call that a brutal lie. That’s a no-go. Fibbing is fine, of course. We do fib now and then or exaggerate a bit.
Bruno Roeder: We also argue.
Christian Grass: We argue a lot, actually. But the great thing is that one of our disagreements showed me that he tends to hit a particular spot within me, where there’s clearly something I haven’t processed. I get annoyed at him about things that haven’t healed within me. When I grasped that, our arguments became very different. Betrayal has no place in a friendship. If you hoodwink the other person.
Bruno Roeder: I’d like to say something else about this friendship. Many people say they have a friendship, but what we realized in recent years is that many people – including very prominent people – don’t have a best friend.
“Sometimes, it seems to me as if we both move in a different universe.” Bruno Roeder
Anna Maier: You seem very symbiotic. You’re incredibly close. Is there any room for other people in your life?
Christian Grass: We sometimes ask ourselves the same question.
Bruno Roeder: We also hear it from other people. What naturally occurs – and here we see those human transgressions again on both sides – is a certain jealousy. Jealousy of what we both have. We don’t understand why people are jealous.
For us, there’s room for everyone, but for others, it’s sometimes difficult. Sometimes, it seems to me as if we both move in a different universe. People don’t understand what we do together, what we experience, the risks we take, the dangers, and the good things that happen to us, all those things.
Christian Grass: One thing that must be said: friendship can become dependency. That’s one of the fundamental problems of our society. Consciously and unconsciously, we are more or less constantly dependent.
“I had to say goodbye to the illusion that Bruno can offer me everything.” Christian Grass
Anna Maier: Christian Grass, you mentioned that you’re someone who needs and seeks a lot of brotherly love, and would like to claim it for yourself. Is it possible to free yourself from the expectations of others?
Christian Grass: Completely? I don’t think so. There’s an important question, and I mean no offense to anyone present when I say, can Bruno really offer me what I desire? I say consciously “can Bruno”? What would Bruno need to be for that to happen? I have a closer affinity for men than women. Wouldn’t Bruno then need to have the exact same affinity to get the full construct? Do eroticism and sexuality belong to that? This is something Bruno can never, would never, will never give me.
Is that a disappointment?
Christian Grass: Initially, it was a huge disappointment. That was difficult for me. I even wrote about it.
Bruno Roeder: We talked about it, too.
Christian Grass: We always talked about it. And I often asked myself: what’s the difference?
If you have a life partner, the world looks a bit different, because you try to include all areas. That can also just be very superficial – a little sex, a little this and that. And often there’s still something amiss with the relationship.
As you asked, I have already had to wave goodbye to the illusion that Bruno can offer me everything that my desire for a man involves. That isn’t easy. It’s not something that works using the mind. It has to be entrenched. But when you’ve managed that for yourself, this friendly feeling grows.
Then it isn’t exactly that dependency, because I’ve overcome it. I would make myself dependent on him if I constantly confronted him with the fact that I wanted other things from him that he certainly can’t offer me as a heterosexual man. Does that make sense? That took a lot of effort.
“I find this ego-driven element dangerous.” Christian Grass
Anna Maier: The theme of narcissism plays a role again and again in your life. Your first book was called “Der Narzisst” (“The Narcissist”). You have also said before: “Godliness is in us.” I get the impression we’re all becoming increasingly narcissistic, the way we present ourselves on social media now, all gloss. How much narcissism can society withstand?
Christian Grass: We all want to be the star sometimes – even if it’s just for a few seconds. That’s how it is. It’s a basic instinct. We want to be seen, we want to shine, we want to be something special. On these “new” media, that are no longer new, but radiate ordinariness, we have the potential to present ourselves.
Bruno Roeder: …and take a selfie for Instagram, fall over and die. More and more people are dying taking selfies.
Christian Grass: That’s exactly this narcissistic aspect. But we’ve got it in us. It’s part of being human. We also want a turn at taking the stage, no matter which stage it is in life. As we all have this narcissistic bent and want to be seen, we don’t need to worry about it.
What is certainly the case, however, is that many people are exaggerating who they are and seeing themselves as much too important. There’s that phrase “après moi, le déluge.” And in terms of a narcissistic disorder, I find this ego-driven aspect difficult and dangerous, too.
Bruno Roeder: In business, of course, we deal with these digital phenomena. I work with a media analytics tool everyday and hear what drives people online. I follow that for hours everyday and see exactly what happens. And I’m seeing this increased narcissism become more and more extreme.
“As long as a society believes that it can reach its goal with nothing but lone fighters, it won’t work.” Christian Grass
What needs to change, in your opinion, for society to develop in a healthy way?
Bruno Roeder: People need to be much more altruistic again, and start thinking about others again, about their fellow human beings. That works.
Christian Grass: I think it has something to do with a change in consciousness. As long as a society believes that it can reach its goal with nothing but lone fighters, it won’t work.
To come back to your initial question about 2019 – I forgot to mention the climate, a major issue that will affect us a great deal in the next ten years. If we are compelled to grapple with more problems year after year, such as the refugee crisis, asylum, climate change and resources, then we must also come up with alternatives today, Ms Maier.
If we follow the path politics is throwing at us, with even more expansion, with even bigger economic growth, with the structures of industry 4.0 becoming even more intensive and exploding to excess, and we all then defend our own power as lone fighters, then the earth will no longer evolve. It won’t have a future.
We need alternatives. How do we save energy? How can we avoid wasting it all? We have to help each other. We have to inspire each other. And that, in my view, has to do with a change in consciousness.
Anna Maier: To even begin to bring about such a process, you first have to create a willingness to change in people’s minds. Let’s end on a positive note. What are you looking forward to in 2019?
Bruno Roeder: Is it selfish if I say I’m looking forward to Christian’s book that’s coming out? I’m reading the first part just now. In it, Christian describes society and offers suggested solutions for how our society can do things differently and improve them.
Anna Maier: It sounds almost like a bible.
Bruno Roeder: No, not at all. Quite the opposite. There’s nothing dogmatic about it. It isn’t a practical guide.
Christian Grass: The book is called “Ego sum”, or “I am”, and is – dear God! – not a bible. The first part describes society and the crumbling of relationships. In the second part, there is a turn towards, and a search for, meaning.
It’s a colorful, motivating and inspiring book. It’s got nothing to do with dogma. I personally reject that.
There’s a lot I’m looking forward to. I’m looking forward to morning coffee in my new garden. I’m looking forward to going on a lot of walks.
I’m really looking forward to a new year of friendship with Bruno. It will certainly be a little different because of the change in location.
And I’m looking forward, because I know personally that society has an incredible opportunity. Everyone can change the smallest of things. For example, I can say that I’d like to smile at people on the bus sometimes instead of looking at my phone. Or also just do something for myself. I’d like to treat myself now and then.
There lies in us – and this gives me hope – limitless potential to make ourselves and others very happy. That gives us the opportunity to create new things again. Another appeal to the new year would be for us to raise our level of conscious awareness.
Bruno Roeder: You should be self-aware, in other words, aware of yourself. That’s important.
Literatur&Kunst – “Unterwegs mit Christian” (“On the move with Christian” blog): www.grasschristian.com
Digital communications: www.tc-communicator.com
Author: Anna Maier
Photos: Jean-Pierre Ritler
Subscribe to our newsletter and you'll get notified every time a new article is online.