Moritz Neumeier is a comedian, father and a man. In an interview with BRIGITTE.de he talks about his perspective on abuse of power – in each of these roles.
BRIGITTE: Moritz, you have dedicated an entire program to the unpleasant moments in life, such as shame. Even in the context of abuse of power, it is often a reason why people do things that they don’t actually want to do. Or she keeps quiet. How do you manage to get up on a stage and talk about unpleasant things?
Moritz Neumeier: There is a clear difference between stage and private. Personally, I also find it incredibly difficult, but I practice it because I would like to be able to do it. But on stage it’s not me, it’s the character I created and this character is capable of saying unpleasant things.
If it’s difficult for you, why did you decide to talk about unpleasant feelings anyway?
A lot of things make me uncomfortable. Sometimes I’m sad, I don’t know what to do, I’m ashamed. I thought that was my problem. Until I realized: most people have the same issues, but you don’t like to admit them because you feel powerless or think you’ll be judged.
The first time I didn’t even consciously do it, it was some joke that wasn’t good and I realized, oh, I’m losing people and then I said exactly that very honestly. And there was a certain kind of laughter. It wasn’t a funny laugh, it was people laughing because they felt caught. Then I realized: That’s a much nicer laugh, There’s something therapeutic about realizing through laughter that I’m not alone with my problems.
People have incredible power over me without even knowing it.
Where does power find itself in your life?
I definitely have power over my children. We try to give the children as much say as possible, but some things I just decide. When it’s cold outside and my kids don’t want to put on a jacket, it’s nice if I try to convince them, but if they say no, I can’t say: Well, it’s your decision. It’s my responsibility to make sure they don’t get pneumonia. I have the power to say, be careful, you go out like this or not. But there are different forms of exercising power, of course I try to solve this as non-violently as possible in communication. This isn’t always possible with three children and a stressful everyday life.
Then I have power over my employees, which I cannot deny because I pay them. Even if I see things loosely, it has nothing to do with how they feel they have to do their job because that’s what I’m paying them for in the end.
And I am very active in my children’s school. It is completely organized by parents and there, too, power arises in group formation. Although the school’s definition says there should be no power, of course there is power. In fact, no job should be different from any other, whether you’re on the board or the cleaning team. But not in people’s perception. You can write down three more times that everything is a flat hierarchy, that’s not the case for people and I had to realize that first and learn to deal with it.
The first point is to see: there are automatically power imbalances in a society.
Does someone or something have power over you?
In the beginning you are dependent on the stages inviting you, the organizers liking you, the magazine writing about you, the television recording you. There is great power from the audience. YouTube, Facebook and Instagram and the comments have a lot of power. For years I tried to act the way I thought people expected me to. So social conventions have great power over me. I was able to free myself from most things professionally. I don’t have a boss anymore, the audience doesn’t seem to care what I say up there and I’ve deleted all the apps. That’s why it’s more private now.
People have incredible power over me without even knowing it. For me it is extremely important that they like me.
Have you ever witnessed power being abused?
Yes, so with me too, I also abused power. Unconsciously. Sometimes even consciously, because I wanted to achieve a goal and saw no other option than to exploit my position of power. It’s not that I suppress people, but in my job I have the opportunity to say that I’ll only be involved in a project if we do it the way I want. In the end, this is also an abuse of power because we are not on equal terms and I am giving an ultimatum.
When you talk about power imbalances, you can say five times, well, I’m not doing that, it has nothing to do with me.
The first point is to see: there are automatically power imbalances in a society. The second is to accept that you are definitely part of it. Just because you don’t notice something doesn’t mean you don’t do it. The third point is to see that it’s not just about us. We are not the first people for whom a power imbalance could arise. There have been many men before us who have pushed power downwards and we grew up with that.
That means you have to be aware of it. And that’s a lot of work.
When you start paying attention to how men behave in a conversation, you realize that the line between dominance and power is a very thin line.
Are you specifically talking about men?
When you start paying attention to how men behave in a conversation, you realize that the line between dominance and power is a very thin line. And also among those who work completely democratically. This is also an abuse of power when men demand a lot more speaking time, present arguments nine times and, if that doesn’t work, become louder.
Do you think that there are more men who abuse power?
Above all, I believe that it is still men who have power. In the area in which I work, be it at events, on the radio, in any editorial office or broadcaster, it is rare that there are women who make decisions. I hear more and more about projects from young women, but if you’re honest, they always rely on those up there – and I don’t need to gender them – to say, yes, you can do it. It’s absurdly male dominated.
I didn’t know a lot of things for years, I reflected a lot with my wife. It’s not just that I have power. I had no idea not only how much power I possess, but also how important it is internally for me to have that power. In every discussion group with several men, there is ultimately a power struggle, which actually makes every male conversation extremely stressful. I think only when you recognize that can you see whether you can stop it.
My children will also sit in therapy and think: what was wrong with my father?
How do you model new images of masculinity for your children? And how do they deal with power structures in society?
I think the most important thing is to model it yourself. So the most important thing is that I reflect, with books, my wife, but also in therapy. Why am I the way I am? Why do I act the way I act? Then we have a school in which gender is introduced from the first grade onwards, in which a sociocracy prevails, in which everyone understands what their rights are – and where my rights end and someone else’s begins. I think it’s good when something like this is put on the same level as English, math, etc. at school. You are welcome to learn French, but what is important is how we live together in society.
Are you already observing power relations with your children? And if so, how do you try to deal with it?
You notice that with three children in three age categories, certain power relationships emerge. Naturally. One is simply stronger and bigger than the others. When that happens, we try to talk about it directly and incorporate it pedagogically into everyday life.
At some point I am no longer important, but rather the peer group around him. Then I can still try to talk about it. But I don’t get a lot of things. All I can do is make sure he has certain tools and hope for the best.
The same thing with my daughter, who is growing up as a female person and has completely different issues. Sometimes I wonder: Why do you do that? You don’t have to do that, you don’t always have to worry about other people, you can just make sure that you’re doing well. But it seems to happen automatically! No matter how much you pay attention, the influences are too great, so that my daughter now exhibits completely different behaviors than my son. We have tried a lot and are talking about it. But: we all mess something up. My children will also sit in therapy and think: what was wrong with my father?
Thank you for the interview!