The one is Benediktinerpater and best-selling author of spiritual books. The other was a top manager and served time in prison for embezzlement. Anselm Grun and Thomas Middelhoff met at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
It is a day of personal confessions and self-knowledge at the book fair: Benedictine Father Anselm Grun (74), who normally gives other people tips for a successful life in his 300 or so books to date, admits that he himself knows doubts about faith well. And Thomas Middelhoff (66), a former top manager convicted of embezzlement, says: "I've lost everything – and yet I don't feel any deprivation."
Grun and Middelhoff meet in a panel discussion on the subject of "Eighting instead of ostracizing". There used to be a "lack of conscious living" and a "lack of moderation" in his career, Middelhoff said. He had tried to conform to the role model of the successful top manager. "But when you play a role, you are no longer authentic," he knows today.
Today a believing Christian
He sometimes gets a fright when he sees photos from his former time as a manager. "You really don't look real in this photo," he then tells himself. Sometimes he also feels ashamed that he was arrogant. His today's self-knowledge: "Actually you were hollow inside."
Middelhoff was CEO of the Bertelsmann Group from 1998 to 2002, then head of KarstadtQuelle (since 2007 Arcandor). Against the backdrop of Arcandor's insolvency, the Essen Regional Court sentenced him in November 2014 to three years' imprisonment for embezzlement and tax evasion, which he served in Bielefeld. In November 2017 he was dismissed.
Middelhoff now describes himself as a devout Christian and says he feels "that I have been given a second chance by God". The title of his book: "Guilty – Of Failure and Rising Again." In his earlier life, he had "listened to people far too little". As a company leader, he "communicated powerfully," Middelhoff says, "and when it came down to it, I also wanted to be the only 'transmitter'."
Ego and doubts about faith
Mindfulness, listening – that's the keyword for Anselm Grun. In today's society, too little is said about each other and too much about each other – and often badly. Mistakes would be spread. In his observation, while many people have a lot on their plate. This busyness, however, is often an escape from a lack of meaning in one's own life. Some drowned this out by trying to "present themselves as well as possible".
When asked whether he, as a frequently invited speaker, does not also notice a kind of urge to show off, the monk confesses that he too feels his ego. In his public appearances, however, he tries not to put himself in the center, but to be "permeable to the spirit of God.
The Benedictine priest also finds words of self-criticism: "I do write books about serenity and inner peace. But sometimes I also feel small-minded thoughts, restlessness and nervousness in me." And he tells of his own doubts about faith: "I know the experience that – when I pray – the doubt comes: Is this all imagination? Am I only fooling myself so that I can feel reasonably good about myself?? Is that just self-soothing?"But it was only when he allowed the doubts that he felt an effect: "Then, not in my head, but more in my stomach, the feeling comes: I trust the Bible, I trust the faith, I put my money on this card."
Green's first of some 300 books appeared in 1976 under the title "Purity of Heart". At the book fair, he presents "Embracing Doubt: One's own crisis as a sign of moving forward". When he entered the monastery more than 50 years ago, he had a different image of God than he has today, says the religious. At that time, he imagined God as someone "who wants performance and asceticism.
In the end, however, this was only his own strict "superego" that he had "projected into God. After a personal crisis, he then learned to see God as someone "who keeps me alive" and "who creates breadth.
Middelhoff formulates his path to a "fulfilled life model" a bit more poetically: This goes "perhaps back from hell towards heaven".