Elective affinities

Henning Kullak-Ublick

In Europe, friends and acquaintances often play a far greater role in life than the familial ties. On the other hand, in 2015 the Shell Youth Study found that an intact family is one of the most important aspects for the development of young people, even though compared to previous years the desire to have children has declined in favour of a fulfilling occupation.

In 1809, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe wrote his famous Elective Affinities. In it he casts a light ahead onto our time: we don’t experience our blood ties as our important relationships, but rather our intellectual and emotional closeness to other people. New forms of community have emerged from this, communities which have decided to share their life based on the individual decision of everyone involved. A downside of this development is the isolation that many people now experience, especially old people, along with the separation of the generations, who often have little or no contact with each other outside their work context.

Family, community and shared identity are no longer supported by traditions but rather, like so many aspects of our time, must be increasingly consciously shaped and maintained to find the balance between care, protection and individual freedom. This immediately raises the question of what experiences our children have with us adults, as these experiences will one day form the basis for their own ability to build communities that, looking beyond communities formed purely out of convenience, are developmental spaces for others as well as themselves, in the family or elsewhere.

Class communities are one such infinitely valuable experiential space because there, in the internal space of familiarity, security and trust, children can go through all the developmental processes, crises and experiences they need to take a hold of their individual biography. By learning together, they experience from one another just how unique each and every one of them is. If a whole school breathes such a spirit, it becomes a force that is capable of changing society.

The effect would be even deeper if also young and old, lived experience and unspent strength, were to meet.  Maybe the time has come to practice this in schools as well, unforced, but rather full of curiosity. For the relationships of the future.

About the author: Henning Kullak-Ublick, class teacher from 1984 -2010 at the Flensburg Free Waldorf School; board member of the German Association of Waldorf Schools, the Friends of Waldorf Education and the International Forum for Steiner/Waldorf Education – The Hague Circle, as well as coordinator of Waldorf100 and the author of the book Jedes Kind ein Könner. Fragen und Antworten an die Waldorfpädagogik.