For a ‘Friendly’ Future
31.12.1994., From a presentation at the Youth Congress. Assisi, 31 December 1994Speaking of a possible ‘friendly’ future, I would like to present two aspects to you which I think are important to make the future, and perhaps also the present, more amicable and less hostile for us.
Of the major causes and tasks facing us I believe that of reconciliation with nature undoubtedly has a position of very great importance. Years ago, being green was fashionable; there wasn’t an advertisement that did not find it necessary to underline the ecological quality of the products it was trying to sell us: an ecological car, ecological food, ecological materials and so on. Ten years ago, to have people’s support you had to say “what we are offering you, what we are selling you, is not only good for you, it is good for nature”.
This fashion, being just a fashion, was soon over. Unfortunately this fashion is also over at the high political level. Do you remember the major world summit in Rio de Janeiro two years ago, where north and south should have come together to establish how to use the resources of the whole of humanity, of the whole planet, in a judicious and responsible way? Well, the north, which should have tightened its belt a little, simply said that it wasn’t interested, and apart from some generic promises (to pollute less, fell fewer trees, exterminate fewer living species), the summit ended really without major commitments.
But now, it seems to me, there is a need today among those who are not looking simply for a short-term commitment (i.e. not those who shout freedom when everyone shouts freedom, who shout justice when everyone shouts justice, or even shout peace at the moment when everyone shouts peace, or democracy, or solidarity) for special attention to be paid to the integrity of creation, or if you like, to the reinstatement of the biosphere, even against the current trends and outside the dictates of fashion.
A Simple Life
Many may ask themselves - “But reinstatement, reconciliation with nature - what does it mean? What precepts should I follow? Who will give me reliable indications as to what to do, which animals in danger of extinction to fight for, which trees to preserve?” I believe the basic message of reconciliation with nature, an objective which we should, and can, set ourselves, without fear of being refuted, is substantially a single one, that is - to lead a simpler life.
When, almost two hundred years ago, Kant was concerned with what type of moral message could be found for everyone, believers and non believers - that is, what type of rule or formula would be valid for everyone - he finally came up with this rule: try to behave in such a way that the criteria which inspire your action can be the same criteria which inspire everyone else. That, finally, was the most secular and universal formulation that he could find.
If we look at the situation in the world today, a world populated by over five billion people, we should at least say that the criteria which inspire our actions should be capable of being multiplied by five billion; that is, you should try to pollute only to the extent five billion people could allow themselves to pollute, try to consume the energy five billion people might consume, and carry out the deforestation five billion people could allow.
So I believe the first and fundamental ecological message one can give today is simply that of a simple life, a way of life that consumes little, a way of life that shows great respect for all we encounter, including animals, plants, rocks, landscape - that is, including everything which is given on loan to us, and which we must pass on to others.
A second aspect which I want to offer you as a possible contribution to a ‘friendly’ future, also has to do with reconciliation and cohabitation. And this is not cohabitation with nature, but cohabitation between cultures, cohabitation between ourselves with our differences, that is, between groups of people who do not identify with one another, although they live on the same territory.
Nowadays, in Europe, especially in the large cities, the presence of people with different languages, cultures and religions, and often different skin colours, will become increasingly the rule rather than the exception.
To put it simply, I think we have two choices. One, is that which has become famous recently under the term “ethnic cleansing” - that is to clear every territory of the others, to make it homogenous, to make it exclusive, ethnically exclusive, and thus to say that those who will not become the same as the rest, because they want to preserve their diversity (or simply ended up there and are not even being allowed to integrate) should be made to go, by whatever means, even including extermination.
The other possibility is that we should equip ourselves for cohabitation, that we should develop a culture, a politics, an attitude favourable to cohabitation - that is, to plurality, to speaking and listening to one another. Now, I believe that as long as it didn’t cost anything, as long as it was a fashion, being multi-ethnic, multicultural was like a trendy outfit, it made you chic. For example Italy was a country in which all the major newspapers were full of scorn for other people’s xenophobia - “the Swiss have held another xenophobic referendum… In Germany there have been instances of xenophobic intolerance… In France…” etc.
Today we see, tragically, that this is becoming the reality with us as well - perhaps for the simple reason that earlier we didn’t have these ‘others’ among us, and so it was easy to put up with them as long as they stayed a long way off. Once they are here, it becomes more difficult. I believe, however, that promoting a culture, laws and a social structure for multi-cultural, multi-ethnic cohabitation, is becoming one of the distinctive signs of a quality of life, one of the conditions for having a future we can live with.
Given that we have spoken of inter-cultural communication, I believe that it should not take place just as a demonstration of good will, an obligation, almost with one’s teeth gritted, but should also become a pleasure. I think in cohabitation between our different people, it is very important that each of us does not feel in danger, that is, does not feel threatened. When someone feels threatened, the temptation to resort to violence is near, and there is no conflict more compelling than an ethnic, racial or religious one, which soon forms fronts and alignments which then become very difficult to reconcile.
So I believe that one of the major tasks today, for everyone who would like a ‘friendly’ future, is, in fact, to become in some sense, each in his small way, a bridge builder, a constructor of bridges of dialogue, of inter-cultural or inter-ethnic communication. If there is no inter-cultural communication, I believe we will move towards a ‘generalised Yugoslavia’, to put it in a rather pessimistic way, but not, I fear, far from reality.
Criteria for a ‘Friendly’ Future
Those are the two aspects I wanted to present to you in support of a ‘friendly’ future. Now I would like to make a short digression regarding four small methods of proceeding which can help with this.
The first relates to the credibility of words. I believe that nowadays, with reason, there is very little faith in words because it is difficult to distinguish news from advertising and reality from lies, which, if they are repeated authoritatively and on television, become reality itself. Someone who says “come and see for yourself”, is credible, someone who has an experience to offer in which everyone can participate, is credible. But where there is no “come and see”, I would be very suspicious. In this sense, television is a question of “seeing” but it is indirect seeing, to the extent that no verification is possible.
A second criterion is what I would call ‘the criterion of the five just men’, and it goes back to the negotiations about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. You will remember that Abraham tried to prevent the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, maintaining that many just men would die in the catastrophe along with the wicked ones. Then a long negotiation started because the angels said – “give us a credible list of the just men, select at least five, with names, because otherwise we will not believe you”. I think that if we don’t want to become the prisoners of our illusions, we need to undertake a minimum of checking regarding the five just men - checking, that is, whether others also consider important the things that seem important to each of us, and getting together with others that share our views, before going to sound off on television.
Another approach to the construction of a ‘friendly’ and equitable future is that of concluding pacts, including very formally. I believe there are many forms of agreement, forms of alliance, that can be made, and which can restore dignity and justice to those who are apparently on the receiving end. Think of the great Emmaus experiment, where the so-called human outcasts of the Emmaus communities - considered as such by many - have learnt first to restore dignity to waste - to refuse - collecting it, separating it, reusing it and putting it in circulation - and then earning dignity again themselves. I believe that today the model represented by an alliance, a reciprocal pact, is not only a very important condition, but also one that can be pursued very practically, because we are at an easy level of communication.
The final aspect that I find very undervalued today is that concerning the relationship between the northern hemisphere with, respectively, the South and the East. Nowadays the left is very keen on the Third World. On the other hand, those who come from a tradition further to the right, pay more attention to the East, because they were brought up for a long time to feel solidarity with those oppressed by communism. So we run the risk of reproducing today, even after the fall of communism, these separate lines of solidarity, either with the South or with the East. Speaking of alliances, of pacts, I believe it would be a good route to follow if we tried, in the various things we are undertaking, to have partners in the east and in the south. And we should see that they get to know one other, because they are often in competition, and both are trying to court us.
I have reached the end, and I would like to attempt a summing up, with a variation on a very well-known motto. You know the motto that Baron de Coubertain took from antiquity and revived for the modern Olympics: the motto - citius, faster, altius, higher, fortius, stronger, more powerful. Citius, altius and fortius was a playful motto in itself, it was a motto specially for the Olympics, which were certainly competitive, but also is some sense a game. Today these three words could well be taken to represent the quintessence of our civilisation and its competition: force yourself to be faster, to get higher and to be stronger. This is more or less the fundamental message we are being given today.
I am proposing the opposite to you. I offer you - lentius, profundius and soavius. That is - to invert each of the terms - slower instead of faster, deeper instead of higher, and softer instead of stronger, with more energy, more muscles, more, as it were, rumbustious. With this motto one will not win any head on conflict, but perhaps one will have more staying power.
From a presentation at the Youth Congress
Assisi, 31 December 1994.