Roots of the future

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Roots of the future/11 - Two wrong worlds: the land of toys and the island of busy bees.

By  Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 13/11/2022

"The child is an artist, he is in love with life. And don’t you dare to whisper words to lovers against the object of their love, don’t you dare to show the least beautiful and most cruel aspects."

Vincenzina Battistelli,  Modern children's literature (La moderna letteratura per l’infanzia), 1925

Our reflection on Pinocchio, and this series of articles, have now come to an end. With a revelation that a village is not enough to raise a child: it takes the whole universe. And with a great speech on kids’ work and on reciprocity.

One of the many unique gifts of infancy and childhood is an ability to relate to others much greater than our own. Kids, girls and boys are able to converse with insects, birds and trees. It is as if the bundle in which they arrive on earth there also contained a different and deeper gaze and hearing enabling them to see things and understand languages, an ability that then vanish once they grow up. Perhaps they are the sounds and words of Adam before Cain, voices and images of that Promised Land that we glimpsed as children, which we then forgot, but which we still dream of some nights - and we really love the dream. Here lies the root of true reciprocity between adults and children. They have something less than we do, but they also have something more, which if we manage to recognize it protects us from a wrongful form of paternalism, creating one of the most beautiful spectacles under the sun: genuine fraternity between adults and children. Francis of Assisi was able to feel this fraternity with all living creatures because, out of an endless love for the Gospel, he had managed by grace to become a child again. Francesco's friends love Pinocchio very much, because they see something of the "jester of God" in him, of that freedom that only children (natural or evangelical) possess.

[fulltext] =>

Pinocchio talks to blackbirds and fireflies, crickets and fish. Among his decisive experiences of reciprocity are those with the pigeon that carries him on its back for a thousand kilometres, or with the tuna fish that saves him in the sea. The mastiff dog, Alidoro, rescued by Pinocchio when he was in danger of drowning, reveals a precious secret to him: «In this world, what is done is also returned». It is the fundamental golden law of life, reciprocity, and it is revealed to him and fully experienced by a dog: in fact, when Pinocchio is about to be fried in the green angler’s pan (chapter XXVIII), Alidoro is the one who «baits him» and then saves him. Pinocchio tells us that a village is not enough to raise a child: it takes the whole universe.

The society in which Pinocchio was born was very different from ours. Families and the Church raised children and young people within the confines of a very precise idea of ​​the world. The educational rules were clear and shared by everyone, and so Collodi could be transgressive simply by taking Pinocchio’s side, Pinocchio who was disobedient and ran away from home. When we look at boys and girls today, however, we immediately realize that their poverty consists in the impossibility of disobeying due to the lack of shared and clear rules to challenge. This is the foremost experience of many teachers. Nevertheless, even in this case, if we manage to move beyond this first dimension, we could discover something different.

After having tried, in vain, to swim to Geppetto in the middle of the sea, Pinocchio swims to the Island of Busy Bees (Chapter XXIV): «The streets were swarming with people running hither and thither about their business: they all worked, everyone had something to do. Not a single idler or a vagabond could be found, not even if you looked for them with the help of a small torch». It is not an industrial country: it is an industrious country. Hence, not an image of the birth of capitalism, but that of a frenetic society without any spare time, of a country without idleness. The use of the bee metaphor was very common to indicate a good society. "The Fable of the Bees" by the French moralist Fénelon described a world where «idleness and laziness have been banned», and «merit is the only path that leads to the top positions» (Les Abeilles, late seventeenth century). Reading this chapter, Collodi-Pinocchio's sympathy for this society of only work and no free time does not transpire - perhaps he had more sympathy for Mandeville's "The tale of the bees" and his praise of vice. However, Collodi's criticism was not aimed at adult society: it was the society of children that was closest to his heart.

Once he arrives on the island, Pinocchio exclaims: «I understand - this country is not made for me!». Actually, it is a place very similar to the Land of Toys: in the Land of Toys there is no school ("the fall holidays begin on January 1st and end on the last day of December: chapter XXX), only games; in that of the industrious bees there is no spare time, only work. Two worlds that are wrong in different ways. It is not true that kids do not want to work. They just want to “work”, once in a while and in their own way, in their own world.

«What do you want to be when you grow up?» – asked my teacher friend, Matteo, to a fifth grade student. «To rest», she replied. Our kids are overloaded with "work": school, homework, gym, music, dance classes, swimming pool, catechism... A time management that leaves very little room for sweet idleness, which, as children, is instead essential to them. It is in that free time, made up of long hours spent playing, talking to a toy or a cat, (a time that now must also be freed from smartphones), that the imagination develops, and creativity and the desire for different things grow. It is the land not on sale, where children can and must be allowed to graze wild. I was raised with mathematics and poetry, but I learned some of the most important things in life while running around endlessly across the meadows, during long summers spent making dams and diving in the stream, building tree huts. Long hours without the presence of any fathers, mothers, teachers, or educators - and thus I grew up in my beautiful "land of toys". We adults can live (badly) even without the Shabbat: kids however cannot, they would die in their souls without a different kind of seventh day.

Pinocchio is hungry (he is always hungry): «There were only two ways left for him to be able to feed himself: either ask for some work, or beg for a penny or a morsel of bread». But «he was ashamed to ask for alms», because Geppetto had taught him that «only the elderly and the infirm have the right to ask for alms... All the others have an obligation to work». It is all too clear that this world is not the one Collodi loved - one must be very careful to identify where an author's thoughts can to be found: it almost never lies in the explicit morals of their characters. In fact, in the newspaper Il Fanfulla, Collodi wrote: «Begging in public is strictly prohibited In Florence. This is a good thing. No one asks for alms in a civilized country. In highly civilized countries, not only does no one ask for it, it is simply not done. And it is precisely thanks to this very strict prohibition that you will find a beggar on every street corner in Florence» (1874).

The puppet meets a first passer-by: «A man all sweaty and out of breath, who was pulling two carts loaded with coal, all by himself with great difficulty. Pinocchio went up to him and, lowering his eyes in shame, said to him in a low voice: Would you be kind enough to give me a penny, because I feel like I am dying of hunger? – Not only a penny, replied the charcoal burner, I'll give you four, provided that you help me haul these two carts of coal home. – I am surprised! - replied the puppet almost offended – for your information, I have never been a mule». Pinocchio had asked, in a low voice, for "charity", and the man offered him a contract instead. Pinocchio does not accept. Then he meets a bricklayer: «Come with me to help me bring the mortar, and instead of a penny, I'll give you five». Here the coins become five, but Pinocchio does not accept the two men's contracts, and starts begging instead. Not even now does he follow the recommendations of his father and of the world of grown-ups, but choses transgression: «In less than half an hour another twenty people passed by, and Pinocchio asked all of them for a few coins, but they all answered him: - Aren't you ashamed…? Learn how to make your own living!».

Pinocchio prefers alms to work; he prefers feeling ashamed to having a contract. Children's right to food and possessions does not arise from a do ut des relationship. No, our duty to feed them arises only and solely from their condition as children. Their bread or living does not have to be deserved. Pinocchio’s and the children’s rejection of the contract shows us a wider human horizon than that of merely merit and trade – we are worth more, much more.

And in this context, children are very similar to God, and God is very similar to them.
At the end of his stay on the island, Pinocchio actually ends up doing a job: «Finally a good woman passed by, carrying two jugs of water. – Would it be all right with you, good lady, if I took a sip of water from your jug? » asked Pinocchio, who was burning up with thirst. «Drink up, my boy!» The dialogue with this woman begins with a gift. A woman, who later turns out to be his fairy godmother, answers Pinocchio's first request for a glass of water with an unconditional "yes" and does not ask him to earn the water, she simply gives it to him.

The only good reciprocity when it comes to kids is the one that is activated with a gift, the beautiful daughter of gratuitousness. Pinocchio continues: «I got rid of my thirst! If only could get rid of my hunger…! - If you help me carry one of these jugs of water home, I'll give you a nice piece of bread. - Pinocchio looked at the pitcher and answered neither yes nor no. Here, the woman's speech resembles the previous dialogues with the men. Again, Pinocchio does not accept. However, here is the turning point: «And together with the bread I will give you a nice plate of cauliflower seasoned with oil and vinegar... And after the cauliflower I will give you a nice bonbon filled with rosolio liquor». That woman had surpassed the exchange of equivalents. The reciprocity of children arises from an asymmetrical surplus. The contractual exchanges that adults engage in are too little for them: «Pinocchio was no longer able to resist the temptation of this last delicacy». The different kind of reciprocity of kids begins with a gift and continues with a surplus. This is how, down the line, they will learn well the art of the different and necessary reciprocity of contracts.

Collodi's masterpiece concludes the "Roots of the future" series and our dialogue with some great authors - I hope to be able to resume them sometime in the future. As of next Sunday, I will return to the biblical comments with the Book of Esther. Every time I reach the end of a journey in the "Avvenire", my first thanks go to its Editor, main companion and protagonist of all my new journeys, each time taking place within the wounds and joys of our time – a difficult and daunting, but always wonderful task because we only have time to love.

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Roots of the future/11 - Two wrong worlds: the land of toys and the island of busy bees.

By  Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 13/11/2022

"The child is an artist, he is in love with life. And don’t you dare to whisper words to lovers against the object of their love, don’t you dare to show the least beautiful and most cruel aspects."

Vincenzina Battistelli,  Modern children's literature (La moderna letteratura per l’infanzia), 1925

Our reflection on Pinocchio, and this series of articles, have now come to an end. With a revelation that a village is not enough to raise a child: it takes the whole universe. And with a great speech on kids’ work and on reciprocity.

One of the many unique gifts of infancy and childhood is an ability to relate to others much greater than our own. Kids, girls and boys are able to converse with insects, birds and trees. It is as if the bundle in which they arrive on earth there also contained a different and deeper gaze and hearing enabling them to see things and understand languages, an ability that then vanish once they grow up. Perhaps they are the sounds and words of Adam before Cain, voices and images of that Promised Land that we glimpsed as children, which we then forgot, but which we still dream of some nights - and we really love the dream. Here lies the root of true reciprocity between adults and children. They have something less than we do, but they also have something more, which if we manage to recognize it protects us from a wrongful form of paternalism, creating one of the most beautiful spectacles under the sun: genuine fraternity between adults and children. Francis of Assisi was able to feel this fraternity with all living creatures because, out of an endless love for the Gospel, he had managed by grace to become a child again. Francesco's friends love Pinocchio very much, because they see something of the "jester of God" in him, of that freedom that only children (natural or evangelical) possess.

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The most beautiful daughter of gratuity

The most beautiful daughter of gratuity

Roots of the future/11 - Two wrong worlds: the land of toys and the island of busy bees. By  Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 13/11/2022 "The child is an artist, he is in love with life. And don’t you dare to whisper words to lovers against the object of their love, don’t you dare to show the ...
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Roots of the future/10 - Collodi reminds us that money is a complex, delicate commodity, and not good for kids.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 06/11/2022

Money is a delicate commodity, generally bad for kids. Collodi knows this, and reminds us of it in the splendid and eternal economic pages of Pinocchio.

Money and kids come from different worlds. Contacts between them are always risky and often harmful. The only good stock exchange for kids is mum and dad's stock exchange. Their law (nomos) of the house (oikos) is the gift, not the contract nor the incentive. When they need money, they ask their parents and it is within this non-economic relationship where the ABC of economy is learned. Economic dependence on their parents is excellent, because money known at the outset as a place of gratuitous love creates the ethical premises for giving the right value to contracts and work tomorrow. At home they learn that money comes from the work of their parents, who spend a lot of time away to earn that money with which to live well.

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It is this first domestic gratuitousness that gives the right measure to money, to work, to the economy. Pocket money to be managed and administered independently, however, creates a commercial context similar to the "little trader" (Garoffi) in the book Cuore/Heart, more in keeping with Collodi's Gigino, "The little man before his time" (Happy stories/Storie allegre). In fact, when we start using money as an incentive at home, removing it from the concept of being a gift, thereby making it a means of motivating our children, we distort both the concept of family as well as that of money. The pocket money becomes the "why" a girl will do the dishes and maybe the cleaning. Money, furthermore, erodes that great law of education: good and right actions should be done merely because they are good and right, not for any monetary incentive. On the other hand, when we do not even learn the ethics of gratuity at home, one day it will be difficult to learn the different and complementary logic of a contract. Young people today are not developing a good relationship with the job market partly because the economic logic enters the home too soon, thanks to the Trojan horse of responsibility.

Pinocchio's troubles start with money. Geppetto has just sold his jacket to be able to buy him a primer – a parents' job is to stay in shirtsleeves in order to enable their children to study: I ​​have seen this and I see it in my family as well. Pinocchio (chap. IX) is enchanted by the call of the piper (it is interesting to note that "incentive" derives from the Latin word incentivus, the flute that tunes and enchants), het puts aside his intention to go to school and decides to join the "Puppet Theatre". He asks a boy: «How much does it cost to enter?» Even Pinocchio knows the fundamental law of life outside his home: if you want something from someone, you have to offer them something in return. He does not try to circumvent it; he accepts it and tries to get the «loose change» he needs. At first, he tries to make a barter: he offers the boy his flowered paper jacket in vain, then his shoes, and then his breadcrumb cap. Finally, he offers him his most precious possession: «Would you give me some money for this primer?». And here comes the boy's decisive answer: «I'm a kid, and I do not buy anything from other kids», a kid, as Collodi comments, who «had more sense than he did himself». Kids do not sign contracts, they do not have to make money trades. However, here is the turning point: «I'll get the primer for small change - shouted a second-hand clothes dealer». An adult, a trader, a professional dealing with money come into play, who act in an illegal way establishing a wrongful relationship with the boy. Children must be protected from "second-hand clothes dealers"; merchants need to be chased away from the temple of kids with walking sticks, because they have the right to a different kind of oikonomia where the only currency is gratuity.

Pinocchio enters the court of Mangiafuoco thanks to that bad small change. We already know the story. This one also ends with more money: the notorious «five gold pieces» (chapter XII), another source of many of Pinocchio's misadventures. However, this second monetary episode is different, seemingly the opposite. Mangiafuoco does not trade with the puppet; but gives him, or rather, gifts him with five gold pieces – regalo/gift is a word that comes from rex, regis: regalie/king, and signals its asymmetrical origin: the gift is given by (or to) the powerful. However, once more, money coming from an adult does not end up bringing any good results for the boy. A good motivation (as that of Mangiafuoco appears to be) is not enough to make money into something good for the kids. Not even a gift is a good thing, if done outside of a child’s primary relationships and therefore not mediated by his or her family. Money that reaches kids directly without the mediation of their parents tends to turn bad.

In fact, it is the possession of the golden pieces that end up exposing Pinocchio to being abused by the cat and the fox. Meeting them along the road, Pinocchio tells them: «I have become a real gentleman». Maybe he was exaggerating, but in Tuscany in the 19th century you could about five quintals of wheat with five gold pieces. He was not much of a rich man, but he certainly was handling too much money. The boy naively talks about it with two strangers, two adults. This sincerity and reliance on adults is part of the transitory and beautiful wonder of children and young people, and it is also their main vulnerability: «And he took out the coins he had received as a gift from Mangiafuoco». As a gift, indeed. This exploitation by the cat and the fox is so serious in Collodi’s eyes that in the first version of the story, it eventually leads Pinocchio to his death (chapter XV); telling us that making a mistake with money can be fatal for a kid, a matter of life and death.

«Give us your purse or die», the killers shout at him – a terrible thing to put kids in front of this dilemma, because they nearly always end up losing their. In order to create the manipulative dialogue of the cat and the fox Collodi resorts to a language of gifts and altruism: «I will give you the other five hundred pieces as a gift», says Pinocchio. «A gift for us? Shouted the fox, indignant and feeling offended – God save us…! We do not work for some vile interest: we work to enrich others» (chapter XII). Then Pinocchio says to the cat: «If all cats were like you, the mice would be very lucky indeed» (chapter XVIII). However, there is more. In the important episode of Pinocchio taking the place of the watchdog Melampo, the puppet realizes that there is something wrong in the corrupt proposal that the martens offer him (you be quiet, do not bark, and we'll give you a bribe, a «plucked hen, ready for tomorrow's breakfast», chap. XXII) and reports them to the farmer. However, the martens use a language of exchange and interest, and the puppet uncovers their crime. The cat and the fox, on the other hand, being much more cunning and real experts in humanity, use the language of gifts and a general disinterest: and "kill" him. There is nothing more serious for an adult than manipulating the language of gratuitousness to deceive a child (or indeed anyone).

Cats and foxes know that kids live in the world of gifts, it is their mother tongue, and so they utter words of death while using good words of home. Here, Collodi also proves that he is a real expert on the debate regarding the role of selfishness and altruism in modern economy, and perhaps he had Adam Smith's famous phrase in mind: «I have never seen anyone who claimed to be trading for the common good doing anything good» (The Wealth of Nations, 1776). More generally, a sign that often reveals the presence of a "killer" in an economic relationship is his declaration that he works only to enrich others, without any personal interest. Pinocchio could not have known that true and good economics thrive on mutual advantage, and that the absence of an advantage in one of the two parties is a sign of the presence of a vice, of a certain kind of cheating when thought out by the party that would have no interest in the exchange. However, we should be well aware of this.

It is interesting to note that the cat and the fox have already been introduced at an earlier stage, in an early novel by Carlo Lorenzini (not yet Collodi), The secrets of Florence. Chapter II, “Two birds of prey”, introduces us to Count Calami and Countess Floriani grappling with their victims: «“You have to pluck a quail with a little bit of humanity”, said the count. “All humanity consists in, is not making it screech”, said the countess, whose eyes shone ominously like those of a wild cat» (Carlo Lorenzini, The secrets of Florence/I misteri di Firenze, p. 33). The environment in which the two «big birds of pray» (an expression found in the town of Acchiappacitrulli, chap. XVIII) operate, is that of gambling. The Marquis Stanislao Teodori is captured by them in the gambling scene and proceeds to eventually ruin himself gambling: «I saw him come to the table with twenty paoli coins in his pocket and bet half a paoli coin at a time. Shall we play him on his word?» (p.34). Later, in Giannettino, Collodi's book for children that precedes Pinocchio by a few years, at its centre we find the scene of Giannettino gambling with the money his mother had given him to buy an atlas: «The toughest guy in the brigade said: "I have a suggestion, what if we bet and he who loses has to pay dinner for everyone?". "Yes, yes, get your dices", the others shout... "All right", says Giannettino, "let's gamble for five lire". He played and lost them» (Collodi, Giannettino, p. 238).

It is quite probable that Collodi was a "gambler". It seems that he resumed writing the second part of Pinocchio in order to pay this kind of debt: «The bets followed the ups and downs of his purse a little and when upon leaving the gambling den of Palazzo Davanzati at dawn, he heard some money jingling in his pockets, he shrugged his shoulders and there was no talk of even picking up his pen again, unless his pockets felt much lighter» (M. Parenti, Rassegna Lucchese publication 1952). In fact, when reading the chapters dedicated to the cat and the fox, we come to realize that the climate is more that of gambling than of the economy of his time: «Do you want to make five miserable gold pieces into a hundred, a thousand, two thousand» (chapter XII). The logic of earning a lot of money without making any real effort, as the big parrot reminds Pinocchio (chap. XIX), «to honestly put together a little money you have to know how to earn it either with the work of your hands or with the wit in your head», was and is the great illusion-disappointment of gambling. And today of certain financial systems that resemble it a bit too much, as well. There is a lot of Collodi in Pinocchio. Pinocchio is also the man Carlo Lorenzini who sought his own redemption by sublimating himself in a wonderful donated story. This is one of the things that art is capable of doing, transforming our dirt into beauty for others. Creating a masterpiece requires fragility, the fissure of the soul from which artists peek at paradise on certain brighter day.

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Roots of the future/10 - Collodi reminds us that money is a complex, delicate commodity, and not good for kids.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 06/11/2022

Money is a delicate commodity, generally bad for kids. Collodi knows this, and reminds us of it in the splendid and eternal economic pages of Pinocchio.

Money and kids come from different worlds. Contacts between them are always risky and often harmful. The only good stock exchange for kids is mum and dad's stock exchange. Their law (nomos) of the house (oikos) is the gift, not the contract nor the incentive. When they need money, they ask their parents and it is within this non-economic relationship where the ABC of economy is learned. Economic dependence on their parents is excellent, because money known at the outset as a place of gratuitous love creates the ethical premises for giving the right value to contracts and work tomorrow. At home they learn that money comes from the work of their parents, who spend a lot of time away to earn that money with which to live well.

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The ABC primer is called gratuitousness

The ABC primer is called gratuitousness

Roots of the future/10 - Collodi reminds us that money is a complex, delicate commodity, and not good for kids. By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 06/11/2022 Money is a delicate commodity, generally bad for kids. Collodi knows this, and reminds us of it in the splendid and eternal econ...
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Roots of the future/9 - In truly great books the character runs off, doing things that the author never even thought of.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 30/10/2022

"Pinocchio" is a book about the essential freedom of children and the adults who try to deny it. And it reminds us that working hard does not guarantee that we can leave misery behind

Boys don't put their fathers on their backs; the backs of their fathers are instead their favorite place from which to look at the big world and to stay away from issues related to money and work.

In the few really great novels, the characters escape the hand of their author and begin to live their own free existence. In medium and lower level books the author is the god of his creatures, he is the artisan of his, inert, puppets that perfectly execute the commands of his fingers. These puppet characters teach their writer nothing and therefore very little too us as well, because the story's conclusion is already inscribed in his intentions. In great books, however, once brought into the world, the characters leave the context of the book, leaving their home, and begin to run free doing things that their author neither wanted nor thought of. Here the author lends his pen to a daemon, and his different creatures continue to live, grow, die and resurrect many times over, even resurrecting their author, called to life with the cry: "Come on out!"

[fulltext] =>

The Adventures of Pinocchio is one of these truly great books, which has died and been resurrected many times over. Pinocchio is one of these liberated characters, who has grown larger than his original author. In Pinocchio, there is a lot of Carlo Collodi, but not only. Because what Collodi makes Geppetto experience - he cannot keep the puppet he has just created at home, a puppet who moves, trips, and runs away, doing things that the author never imagined or really wanted - he himself experienced with his own book. The puppet left the hand of the puppeteer. Collodi's virtue, however, lies in having wished that his characters should be different from him. Thus, in the introductory note to his Occhi e Nasi /Eyes and Noses, a book of short stories published in 1881 only a few months before the first episode of Pinocchio, he writes: «I called it that, eyes and noses, to imply that it is not a display of fully formed figures... the reader should finish the work and complete them himself». The masterpiece was born in that "gap" between Pinocchio and Collodi, and that free and liberated land has been able to generate the most disparate interpretations. Including those, daring ones, which have interpreted a sort of secular version of the Christian history of salvation in it (Biffi and Nembrini). The quality of a work of art is also measured by its ability to say things that the author did not think of, did not really intend, or even detested.

I have met Pinocchio several times in my life. My last reading as an adult shocked and moved me. I understood that Pinocchio is above all a beautiful book. I also understood that The Adventures of Pinocchio are above all a book about freedom, about life as an adventure, in particular about the freedom of children, necessary yet often denied by the adult world. Geppetto carves his piece of wood with the explicit intention of turning it into a puppet, but at a certain point, and very soon, he begins to call him "son". The first immediate message of the book is therefore clear and shocking: in that Italian society of the mid-nineteenth century, which was trying to "make Italians" on the basis of an Enlightenment and rationalist pedagogy, children were treated like puppets: pieces of wood of hard and wild rind that one day will become good citizens thanks to education. Pinocchio escapes from a world of fathers and teachers who try, with many sacrifices and commitment, to tenaciously build puppet-children, to straighten that «crooked wood» through education and rules (Ecclesiastes, 1,15). Pinocchio, however, has an extraordinary resilience to the education of adults and goes on to live his wild, irresponsible, naive, risky, imprudent and stupendous freedom. In a society that manufactured new Italians as artisans manufacture furniture («to make a table leg»), Collodi writes a book on the resistance of young people to the educational tendency of society. Pinocchio does not want to go to school, nor does he want to work, and so he runs and escapes from the only places where a decent boy should have been; he learns about life in the streets (here, we have a true analogy with biblical humanism), where he has extraordinary experiences and where he learns the trade of living. Pinocchio has four feet (two burned and two remade) but he has no ears: «In the hurry to sculpt him, he had forgotten to make them».

Pinocchio is therefore a wonderful and powerful ode to the freedom of children, and hence it is also an ode to fatherhood understood as a painful and necessary loss of control over one’s children, who in order not to become puppets must at one point or another leave home. Pinocchio is therefore the continuous struggle between the boy and the puppet. Thus, Pinocchio is not telling its readers: “Kids, go home and be good and obedient”; no, rather it is saying the opposite: “Stay kids as long as possible, resist and run from the adults who want to deny you your irreducible freedom: your crooked wood is beautiful”. «Who cancelled all the children from the face of the earth?» (Eyes and noses/Occhi e nasi). Thus, we can read Pinocchio without prejudice, realizing that Pinocchio is in a constant flight from the place in the world that the great - Geppetto, Mangiafuoco, the Fairy with turquoise hair... - had in store for him.

Collodi's sarcastic criticism of the hypocrisies of his neo-bourgeois world reached its climax with Pinocchio, "a childish prank", as he called it, a children's story therefore exempted from any prudent philosophical-pedagogical reflection. Books designed for kids have the characteristic to free even their authors from the virtues of their essays and serious novels, because by writing for the enchanted world of children, every now and then, they manage to become free again. And so, the criticism surpassed the critic, and that masterpiece that has loved us for one hundred and forty years was born.

In a society that emphasized the sociable nature of man, Pinocchio is also a lonely boy: his friends are animals (and they are wonderful), puppets, Candlewick, with whom he does not engage in social activities, he does not carry out collective actions. He is a terribly lonely being even in the decisive moments of his story, including his death, hanged, in what must have been the end of the first version of the story (chapter 15): «Oh father, if only you were here», but his father in fact was not there - and this absence of the father is the decisive difference between the death of Jesus and the "death" of Pinocchio. Thus, it reminds us that kids are much lonelier than adults generally believe. In Collodi's world there are children and grownups, there is no middle ground. Pinocchio is no longer a child but he is not yet an adult: «To be a man he lacks something, and to be a boy there is something more than what is needed» (Eyes and noses/Occhi e nasi). Pinocchio practically invented adolescence, which is the age of daring escapes and breathtaking races, when you return home happy and then leave home even happier. The closeness between Pinocchio and the "prodigal son" of the Gospel of Luke is to be found in him leaving his father's house not in returning to it. Or in the literary "younger brother" of the prodigal son (by André Gide) who on the night of the banquet to celebrate a return puts on his shoes, greets his brother who has just come back home and leaves to seek that very freedom that his brother had not been able to conquer. Collodi is entirely on Pinocchio's side, and he is always there, even when Pinocchio carries out all his mischief, because giving in to temptations is a constitutive component of adolescence: what boy or girl would not have followed Candlewick to the Land of Toys? We grow up not so much by resisting temptation but by learning from our mistakes, and then resuming the race – resisting temptations, after having called them by name, is instead the essential task of adult life. Thus, in Pinocchio, we have the unsolved, and therefore always vital, intertwining between Homer's Ulysses and Dante's Ulysses, that is, between the nostalgia of returning home and the irrepressible urge to leave it as soon as one returns; and with the Florentine native Collodi, Dante always wins over Homer. Pinocchio keeps running away, and when looking at him in this gesture of his does we do not come over to say: “Go home”, but: “Go ahead, continue your race full of freedom”.

The economy is very important in Pinocchio. Collodi was a careful observer and very critical of the ideology that work (perhaps in factories) was the solution to mass misery in the industrial age and the wandering of children, a society where the poor much too often ended up in jail. In Eyes and noses, in the story "The street boy", he wrote: «The working who is not at all made in the image and likeness of God: because God only worked seven (six) days and he has now been resting for six thousand years».

We cannot fully grasp the essence of Pinocchio's adventures without the concepts of poverty, hunger, work, money – this is why Disney's Pinocchio (1940), set in a beautiful Nordic village without any kind of poverty, is a betrayal of Collodi. The name of the protagonist, on the other hand, says it all: «I want to call him Pinocchio. This name will bring him luck. I met a whole family of Pinocchi: Pinocchio the father, Pinocchia the mother and Pinocchi the boys, and everyone was doing well. The richest one of them was asking alms». Geppetto's house is an icon of absolute poverty, where the fire and the pot are only painted on the wall. Pinocchio is always hungry, always looking for food, and rarely finds it. Without misery and hunger, one cannot even understand the meaning of work and working in the story of Pinocchio: «What is your father’s occupation?», Mangiafuoco asks him - «Being poor», Pinocchio replies. Geppetto did work, but he was poor: working did not free him from poverty or hunger. Unlike the ideology of his (and our) time, which used to think, and still does, that work would defeat poverty and hunger, Geppetto works but is radically poor. Collodi was well aware of the fact that it is not enough to work in order not to be poor, and the reality of recent years is very clearly reminding us of this, even if we continue to invoke abstract work to condemn the very concrete poor as cursed.

Pinocchio has a very bad relationship with money; it is at the very origin of the unfortunate pages of his story – something we will see in the coming weeks. He does not work, nor does he want to work. He will begin to work only at the end, when, as a new Aeneas, he will have saved his father from the whale by placing him on his shoulders. He will work because he will no longer be a boy. Boys do not put their fathers on their backs; the backs of their fathers are instead their favourite place from which to look at the big, vast world, and get ready to take off on their flight of freedom. Above all, they have to stay away from money and work, and when adults offer them to them they should just run away, run, and never stop running.

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Roots of the future/9 - In truly great books the character runs off, doing things that the author never even thought of.

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 30/10/2022

"Pinocchio" is a book about the essential freedom of children and the adults who try to deny it. And it reminds us that working hard does not guarantee that we can leave misery behind

Boys don't put their fathers on their backs; the backs of their fathers are instead their favorite place from which to look at the big world and to stay away from issues related to money and work.

In the few really great novels, the characters escape the hand of their author and begin to live their own free existence. In medium and lower level books the author is the god of his creatures, he is the artisan of his, inert, puppets that perfectly execute the commands of his fingers. These puppet characters teach their writer nothing and therefore very little too us as well, because the story's conclusion is already inscribed in his intentions. In great books, however, once brought into the world, the characters leave the context of the book, leaving their home, and begin to run free doing things that their author neither wanted nor thought of. Here the author lends his pen to a daemon, and his different creatures continue to live, grow, die and resurrect many times over, even resurrecting their author, called to life with the cry: "Come on out!"

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The occupation of being poor

The occupation of being poor

Roots of the future/9 - In truly great books the character runs off, doing things that the author never even thought of. By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 30/10/2022 "Pinocchio" is a book about the essential freedom of children and the adults who try to deny it. And it reminds us that workin...
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Roots of the future/8 - Education for all was designed and wanted in order to reduce distances

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 23/10/2022

The book "Heart"/"Cuore" is a reflection on school and work, and gives us unlikely and wonderful words about what they both still represent in the eyes of children and in the lives of adults today.

De Amicis was able to give us a phrase that is the very distillation of a sea of ​​wisdom: «The poor love the alms of children because they do not humiliate them and because the children who need everyone resemble them».

The book “Heart”/”Cuore” is a book on school, and therefore it is not a book on merit. School, the entire school system, was never founded on merit. If we look at it from afar and on the surface, we see grades, some failures, and subsequently think that school resembles a business: grades being used as wages, academic achievement as career advancement. However, this is too distant and therefore the wrong view of school (and businesses). The meritocratic ideology that is successfully trying to occupy the school too is based on the dogma that talents are merits and therefore whoever has more talent must be rewarded more. However, we all know that this dogma is a fraud, or at least an illusion, for society and even more so for the school. Because talents are gifts, and our performance in life depends on the talents-gifts received, but very little on merits (because my capacity for commitment is also a gift). What is the merit in being born smart, rich, or even good? This is why school has been inspired by values ​​that are not only different from those of meritocracy, but also diametrically opposed.

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The school of all and for all was wanted ad designed in order to reduce the social and natural inequalities that meritocracy, that is, the ideology of merit, increases. All boys and girls go, and have to go, to school, not just those who are deserving. Everyone must be enabled to flourish and achieve his or her own excellence, not just the most deserving. Everyone has the right to receive care, esteem, recognition, admiration and dignity even if they do not have many merits or if they have less than others do. Furthermore, school is a wonderful garden with many flowers with different talents: «Precossi, I give the medal to you. No one is more worthy to carry it than you. I do not give it to you only due to your intelligence and your good will; I give it thanks to your heart, to your courage, to your character as a good and kind son. Is it not true - he added, turning towards the class - that he deserves it for this as well? Yes, yes, they all replied in one voice». Precossi was the son of a blacksmith who drank too much and occasionally beat him. Nevertheless, he got his own medal too.

It was not Derossi's medal, who was top of the class. It was the medal of a different kind of school. De Amicis was then followed by Maria Montessori, who eliminated the grading system, and then Don Lorenzo Milani and the school of Barbiana. The democratic aspect to it was a multiplication of Precossi’s medals, which today are called school inclusion and support teachers; because we have learned that there are not only merits in a child's lives: there is life too. The day someone convinces us that even school must be founded on meritocracy, we will start handing out medals, all identical and always to the same pupils, and we will soon have special classes and schools for the non-deserving, inequalities will explode and democracy will finally have given way to meritocracy, which is the main attempt at an ethical legitimation of inequality.

Heart/Cuore also has a lot to say about work. The poor were the ones that worked in that Italy. In the fields, in the workshops, in the factories there were no rich people, lawyers or professors. “Cuore” offers very good words about the labour of workers and craftsmen. This is what Enrico’s father wrote to him: «Once you are at University or in high-school, you will go to visit your classmates in the shops or workshops... do see to that you despise the differences created by personal wealth and social class, due to which only the cowardly regulate their sentiments and courtesy». That new-born Italy was trying to take the principle of fraternity seriously, a principle which was also dear to Mazzini, and hoped that people belonging to different social classes could learn to feel like brothers, sisters and citizens before perceiving their many differences once in school.

The little mason. He is the son of a bricklayer, one of Enrico's most beloved companions - who instead comes from a wealthy family. One day he invites him home: «The little mason has come today, all dressed in garments handed down by his father, still stained white with mortar and plaster». Cuore/Heart often shows us the little mason in his characteristic and most sympathetic gesture: he was amazing at making “funny faces”, a relational resource that he uses every now and then to transform a severe reproach from his master into a choral smile. Speaking and playing, the little mason «told me about his family: they live in an attic, his father goes to evening school learning how to read and his mother is from Biella». The description of the workers' evening school is among the most beautiful pages in the book: they were «speechless as they payed attention to the class». I saw the boys I met in schools in Africa and Asia, with the same hunger for knowledge and a better life, in those men who were for hungry for knowledge. They then have a snack together, on the sofa: «When we got up, my father did not want me to clean the back of the chair on which the little bricklayer had left white stains from his jacket». De Amicis concludes the episode with a passage from a letter from Enrico's father, where we find some of the most beautiful words written about work in our literature: «Do you know, son, why I did not want you to clean the sofa? Because cleaning it would have almost been like reproaching him for soiling it… And what you produce while working is never dirt, it is not dust, but lime, paint, all you want; but not filth. Work does not get things dirty: never say of a worker who comes home from work: he is dirty». These pages are also part of the collective soul of the Italians, which enabled them to write the following decades later: «Italy is a democratic republic founded on work» (Article 1).

The poor. It is yet another letter written by his father to Enrico: «Do not get used to being indifferent to the misery that extends its hand to you». We, on the other hand, are perfectly accustomed to the misery of the world; then we realized that our indifference became the new great poverty of our time, preventing us from suffering from the poverty of others due to the atrophy of our soul. We no longer suffer from witnessing misery because we have morally impoverished ourselves.

Then, among these words about the poor, like an unexpected rainbow, we find the words that have pierced my soul and intelligence with their beauty and truth: «The poor love the alms from kids because they do not humiliate them, and because kids who need everyone, look like them». This phrase is a distillation of a sea of ​​wisdom. Those few times when a child or a teenager manages to approach and meet a person in poverty - an increasingly rare event, because the separation of children from poverty is one of the traits of our impoverished time that thinks that immunizing children from the poverty of life is an advantage and richness. That intersection of glances is among the most admirable spectacles that exist. A wonderful unlikely fraternity is created. Boys, girls, kids, and sometimes young people, do not distinguish between rich and poor adults: to them they are all "people". Of course, they notice the differences in appearance, but it is as if they do not see them, because they perceive the soul behind. Hence, they do not feel that wrong sense of compassion that humiliates the person being pitied. On the other hand, the "poor" person (I do not like to use the word "poor" in a generic way) knows that the child is poor like him - «they need everyone» - and thus experiences a sense of true equality with him or her. In my childhood, I was loved by many poor people, who enriched me with their poverty, without the intention of wanting to love me, but simply by being what they were. And I loved them too with my naturally friendly and absolutely sincere childhood and adolescence. Therefore, it is true that only children can give or do something for the poor without humiliating them, together with those adults who have struggled all their lives to save and keep at least some aspect of their childhood. As an adult, it is very difficult for me to just be a brother next to a "poor" person, but when it happens it is as beautiful as it was in my childhood days: «The alms given by an adult are an act of charity, but those of a child are both an act of charity and a caress: do you understand?». Yes, we do.

The workshop. Precossi, another companion, is the son of a blacksmith who was redeemed to life, from a wrongful one, thanks to Precossi’s medal. The boy «was studying» on a «brick turret, with the book placed on his knees». The father, on the other hand, was working: «He raised a big hammer and began to beat a bar, pushing the hot part here and there between a tip of the anvil and the middle». In the meantime «his son was looking at us, with a certain haughty air, as if to say: 'See how my father works!'».

To be proud of the work done by their parents is like good bread nourishing children and young people. Our esteem for the world and for adults begins by appreciating our father while he works. The work of their parents is also important for our children sense of self-esteem. Children know that their fathers and mothers are good and kind even if they do not work, but it is also the duty of a good society to put every person in a condition to be able to work so that their children can say with a haughty air: “See how my father/mother works!” Sons and daughters take pride in any kind of job that their parents do. Even here they do not distinguish the jobs that society considers prestigious from the humblest ones, because it is the beauty of their parents that makes their jobs beautiful - to children, parents are the most beautiful thing in the world. This is why perhaps there is no greater pain than what a child feels when his or her parents' work is humiliated by someone else. It is a profanation of the heart. Meritocracy is also a factory of humiliation for many workers and their children.

When they grow up, at the right time, children will understand that not all jobs are the same, not all jobs are deemed worthy and not all jobs are paid fairly. However, as children they only have to be able to say, haughtily: "See how my father/mother works!"

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Roots of the future/8 - Education for all was designed and wanted in order to reduce distances

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire 23/10/2022

The book "Heart"/"Cuore" is a reflection on school and work, and gives us unlikely and wonderful words about what they both still represent in the eyes of children and in the lives of adults today.

De Amicis was able to give us a phrase that is the very distillation of a sea of ​​wisdom: «The poor love the alms of children because they do not humiliate them and because the children who need everyone resemble them».

The book “Heart”/”Cuore” is a book on school, and therefore it is not a book on merit. School, the entire school system, was never founded on merit. If we look at it from afar and on the surface, we see grades, some failures, and subsequently think that school resembles a business: grades being used as wages, academic achievement as career advancement. However, this is too distant and therefore the wrong view of school (and businesses). The meritocratic ideology that is successfully trying to occupy the school too is based on the dogma that talents are merits and therefore whoever has more talent must be rewarded more. However, we all know that this dogma is a fraud, or at least an illusion, for society and even more so for the school. Because talents are gifts, and our performance in life depends on the talents-gifts received, but very little on merits (because my capacity for commitment is also a gift). What is the merit in being born smart, rich, or even good? This is why school has been inspired by values ​​that are not only different from those of meritocracy, but also diametrically opposed.

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A medal for a different kind of merit

A medal for a different kind of merit

Roots of the future/8 - Education for all was designed and wanted in order to reduce distances By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire 23/10/2022 The book "Heart"/"Cuore" is a reflection on school and work, and gives us unlikely and wonderful words about what they both still represent in th...
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Roots of the future/7 – What is truly difficult is to find life and God where life and God do not exist

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  16/10/2022

My child, for you I would have given all the gardens of my kingdom if I had been queen, down to the last rose, down to the last feather. The whole kingdom for you. Instead, I leave you shacks and thorns... We are just confused, believe me. But, we hear. Let us hear again. We are still capable of loving something. We still feel pity. There is splendour in everything. I have seen it. I see it clearer now. There is splendour. Do not be afraid.
Mariangela Gualtieri

The book Cuore/Heart is a book that, in some pages, still speaks to us. It reminds us of what school (and health care) are really all about. An exercise that is necessary to understand which virtues of yesterday are to be preserved even today.

Each generation must decide which virtues of yesterday it wants to keep and which ones it wants to forget. Very few virtues are virtues anytime and anywhere; all the others are virtues here and now, and some virtues turn into vices (and vice versa) over time. Military virtues were great virtues in past civilizations. They were transmitted within families, in religions, in schools, narrated by fairy tales and novels. Those warrior and patriotic tales are still sometimes able to move us. However, we decide not to indulge in them and look away. Because the history of wars teaches us that the tree of democracy is born, grows, and bears good fruit when other virtues are cultivated as well: meekness, dialogue, reciprocity, compassion, tolerance, non-violence. Therefore, words like "the enemy" eventually left the territory of virtues to enter that of the words to be placed in yesterday's cupboard.

[fulltext] =>

The book Cuore/Heart by Edmondo De Amicis, one of the most widely read books in Italy and in the world, talks extensively about virtue. A lot about military virtues and love of one’s country, important virtues for the young Kingdom of Italy. Who could ever forget the 'Little Lombard lookout' (‘Piccola vedetta lombarda’) or the 'Sardinian drummer' (‘Tamburino sardo’)? But the children from De Amicis’ time read those tales of little hero soldiers while they were sitting at their school desks, telling us, perhaps beyond the author's intention, that the right place for children should be the school yard, not the battlefield. Hence, the first criticism of those warlike virtues was intrinsic to the book itself, which, while narrating them, surpassed them to found a different kind of civilization.

I reread Cuore/Heart as an adult. I liked it very much, some pages very much. I did not share Umberto Eco's sarcasm (Elogio a Franti, 1962) and I appreciated Benedetto Croce's fine judgment (La Critica, 1903). A book that speaks about children, families, poverty and a lot of pain, it talks about adults and teachers - the portrait of the 'little teacher with the red pen' is wonderful. Above all, however, it speaks about school, of the first school years for schoolchildren. Cuore/Heart is a book that sees young people, in a society that "did not see" young people or children, and therein began to see them in their act of going to school. It is still there, while they run lightly with their heavy backpacks, and every generation must learn to see them again, to understand them, to understand the present and the future.

We find ourselves in Turin, Italy, in 1886, in an elementary school, after the Coppino Law (1877) which had led to three years of compulsory schooling. It is the dawn of school for everyone and, as in every dawn, the light and the air feel different and unique. Cuore/Heart is a book about the greatest civil and moral revolution in modern times. Before this (and partly even after), only the children of nobles and the rich went to school. Those of the poor, on the other hand, had to work, work too much and in bad conditions - of my four grandparents and grandmothers only Domenico and Luigi knew how to write their own signature, because – being boys - they had completed the first and second grade.

De Amicis is very good at letting us enter the desks of those elementary school classes: «I was born to be a school teacher, and when I see four desks and a table in a room, I feel stirred!» (Pagine sparse /Scattered pages, 1874). This is where we can once again understand what truly was and continues to be the school of all and for all. In that Italy and Europe, the children of the rich went to school together with the children of the poor, different social classes who met and fraternized thanks to the friendship and fraternity at their school desks. It was in the classroom that the social envy that is the root of all social disharmony was dissolved. They were all different and yet all the same. A still semi-feudal Italy that learned the ABC of democracy in the classrooms, which were and remain no less important than the halls of parliament. We were able to write the prophetic articles of the Constitution because we had lived that new humanism and written it in writing and dictate exercises - we are based on work because poor children can go to school. Then we began wanting children with special needs to be in everyone's classes too, thanks to the help of support teachers (I have encountered many of them again in the book Cuore/Heart), thus chasing away the temptation of "special classes". The racial-racist laws were inhumane in every respect, but they were also sacrilegious when they drove Jewish children out of schools. Having to exit the doors of their classrooms then was no less frightening and terrible for those boys and girls than entering the door of the concentration camps.

The stories in Cuore/Heart speak of children, boys, between 9 and 12-13 years old. A wonderful age, suspended between childhood and adolescence. When the innocence of childhood is gone and another one blossoms in its place. An innocence that, for example, is expressed in a new trust in adults - the "men", as the boys in Cuore/Heart call them, because to them adults are the inhabitants of a very different world. The unconditional trust of yesterday's child, which is still there, is now also coloured with esteem and imitation. It is an age where little ones truly love grown-ups, uncles and aunts, masters and teachers. They no longer have the candour of a child, but they have a different one, with more splendour. They also have a typical and extraordinary intelligence that, in certain aspects, disappears with adolescence and that transience turns sublime - this different and ephemeral intelligence is the moral heritage of humanity. Some pages of Cuore/Heart are among the best of Italian literature. Some of its short stories are novels within the novel - we will return to some of them again next Sunday.

From the Apennines to the Andes. It is the story of Marco, a thirteen-year-old Genoese boy, who leaves for Argentina on his own, in search of his mother. I see Marco again in the many boys who still leave alone to this day, embarking on our sea. Sometimes they arrive, some find their mother or father or both, others find the ports closed, too many only find their deaths. When, after a very long and desperate journey, he reaches Tucuman (De Amicis had been in Argentina), Marco finally finds his sick mother, we read one word three times in a row: «God, God, my God», cried out by the mother when she sees her son. Cuore/Heart has been criticized for the absence of religion: this triple word yelled out by a mother fills the book with a highly spiritual fragrance; it is the silence of religion that makes the word "God" reverberate. It is also significant that the most loved and influential children's books in a very Catholic Italy were Cuore/Heart and Pinocchio, books that speak very little of God and religion but that know how to speak to the soul of children (and adults). Perhaps because the works that are born with the intention of writing a religious book are rarely good books (it would require the immense and troubled religious genius of Manzoni or Dostoevsky); because the message tends to devour the art, which has an absolute need for freedom and gratuitousness. God loves to sneak into life without our knowledge, to surprise and amaze us: this is how He protects Himself from our ideologies. However, ideological books, including religious ones, never work with children and young people. Children encounter God and his spirit only in life, not in our ideas about life. They come into the world equipped with a religious sense that they bring as a dowry from the world from which they came and with which they remain in vital and continuous contact for years. They are companions of the angels and the citizens of Heaven. We adults can only talk to them about God if we enter this kingdom of theirs - «if you don't become like children... » It is difficult to transmit faith to children because instead of trying to enter their different kingdom, we ask them to enter ours, which is much less evangelical or religious.

Daddy’s nurse/L’infermiere di tata, perhaps my favourite "monthly story". Cicillo is sent by his mother to a hospital in Naples to visit his father, dad, who has returned from France and is hospitalized there. The nurse points to a very sick man: «Here is your father». Cicillo bursts into tears, «poor daddy, he has changed so much». Cicillo assists him; the patient’s eyes almost always remain shut. And so Cicillo «began his life as a nurse»: he arranged the blankets, touched his hand and chased away the flies». After five days of assistance, a man enters the big room and shouts: «Cicillo!». It was ... his father. The boy had cared for another sick person. He hugs his father again, but he does not move from that bed. His father asks him to come home, and Cicillo says: «There's that old man... He's always looking at me. I thought it was you... Let me stay here a little longer». Cicillo stays, and «went back to being a nurse again». She stays with him for a few days, constantly holding his hand. In the end the man dies. Cicillo leaves, but is looking for a name to give to that man: «And the sweet name that she had called him during five days came to her again from the bottom of her heart: Goodbye poor daddy». Thus, Cicillo reveals one of the secrets of human existence to us: we start by loving a mother and a father and a few siblings, and end by discovering that every man and woman is our "brother, sister, mother and father".

Cicillo is also a splendid image, because she is a girl, of the nuns, of the nurses, of both yesterday and today. Although they did not know our name, they treated us like their own dad, and continue to do so. This is the profound nature of health care, a wonderful world of strangers who look after and hold the hands of strangers who, however, look a lot, even too much, like the people back home. If we look closely, Cicillo continues to hold someone’s hand and chase away the flies every day in our hospitals, thanks to that very secular and religious pietas that keeps the world on its feet. And how can we not hear an echo of the "Behold your mother" which Jesus says to John, in that «Behold your father» that the nurse says to Cicillo? The most difficult thing is to learn to find life within death, to see the Gospel where it should not be, to touch God where there is no God.

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Roots of the future/7 – What is truly difficult is to find life and God where life and God do not exist

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  16/10/2022

My child, for you I would have given all the gardens of my kingdom if I had been queen, down to the last rose, down to the last feather. The whole kingdom for you. Instead, I leave you shacks and thorns... We are just confused, believe me. But, we hear. Let us hear again. We are still capable of loving something. We still feel pity. There is splendour in everything. I have seen it. I see it clearer now. There is splendour. Do not be afraid.
Mariangela Gualtieri

The book Cuore/Heart is a book that, in some pages, still speaks to us. It reminds us of what school (and health care) are really all about. An exercise that is necessary to understand which virtues of yesterday are to be preserved even today.

Each generation must decide which virtues of yesterday it wants to keep and which ones it wants to forget. Very few virtues are virtues anytime and anywhere; all the others are virtues here and now, and some virtues turn into vices (and vice versa) over time. Military virtues were great virtues in past civilizations. They were transmitted within families, in religions, in schools, narrated by fairy tales and novels. Those warrior and patriotic tales are still sometimes able to move us. However, we decide not to indulge in them and look away. Because the history of wars teaches us that the tree of democracy is born, grows, and bears good fruit when other virtues are cultivated as well: meekness, dialogue, reciprocity, compassion, tolerance, non-violence. Therefore, words like "the enemy" eventually left the territory of virtues to enter that of the words to be placed in yesterday's cupboard.

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The other name of the father

The other name of the father

Roots of the future/7 – What is truly difficult is to find life and God where life and God do not exist By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  16/10/2022 My child, for you I would have given all the gardens of my kingdom if I had been queen, down to the last rose, down to the last feather. The w...
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Roots of the future/4 - Sometimes you meet a second Good Samaritan. And it becomes decisive

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  24/09/2022

The meeting between Jean Valjean and Petit-Gervais in "Les Misérables" is a reflection on how resurrections take place in life and the role that children play in this. Sometimes what feels like a relapse into your old life is just the first step into a new one.

For true and lasting conversions, understanding only with your mind is not enough: rationality and intelligence are too fragile. Such events depend very little on our intentions. They just happen.

There was a long period of time during which children and young people did not grow up inside their homes. Misery generated many little vagabonds. Some fled from orphanages, others without a family wandered in search of seasonal jobs, some created small street shows to scrape together some money. All exposed to the violence, both by permanent residents and travellers. In the nineteenth century, you could still find many of them in Europe. Too many can still be found today in cities all around the world. In Brazil, they call them meninos de rua, in other countries they have no name, they live in the streets, without a home and without a family, exposed in the squares and spaces of deprivation.

[fulltext] =>

Jean Valjean ran into one of these vagrant boys. Petit-Gervais would turn into his second Good Samaritan. He had just been "redeemed" by Bishop Myriel, who in response to his theft of silverware had given him a second extraordinary gift of candlesticks and freedom. Now he is wandering in the fields, confused and prey to a thousand thoughts: «He felt a kind of anger; he did not know against whom» (Les Misérables, I, 13). Encountering Myriel's agape after twenty years of imprisonment was for him an event that was both wonderful and terrifying: «In coming out of that deformed and black thing called prison, the bishop had hurt his soul like a too bright light would have hurt his eyes when he came out of the darkness». That excessive gift from Myriel after his theft made Jean Valjean see how he had suffered a theft of his own existence with new clarity: «Like an owl that suddenly sees the sun rise, the convict was dazzled and as if blinded by virtue». Thus, «he contemplated his life and it seemed horrible to him».

Anyone who has been reached by a great and gratuitous source of love while in a condition of error and sin knows that the encounter with that agape light hurts the soul: «It seemed to him that he was seeing Satan under the light of heaven». We see more, we understand more, and we suffer more: the light makes us see our darkness in all its tremendous grandeur, this new vision of the past frightens us, and that fear can turn into anguish. This is why sometimes, many times, the encounter with an authentic form of gratuitous love is not enough to truly start a new life: that great light is not able to free us from our past, which, paradoxically, weighs upon us even more because we can see all its gravity.

During this inner battle of light and darkness, Jean Valjean sits down behind a bush: «He turned his head and saw a small twelve-year-old Savoyard who singing coming along the path, with the hurdy-gurdy [a small string instrument] hanging on one side and his packing on his back. One of those docile and cheerful boys who go from one village to the next, with their knees showing through the holes in their trousers». The boy did not know he was being watched as he was playing tossing his few coins up in the air and catching them on the back of his hand. Suddenly, a forty sous coin escapes him and «rolled towards the bush, up to Jean Valjean. Jean Valjean put his foot on it». The little one approaches him: «Sir - said the little Savoyard with the confidence that comes from being a child, that mixture of blissful ignorance and innocence - my money!» Jean Valjean asks him for his name: «Petit-Gervais, Sir». «Go away - said Jean Valjean». «My coin - cried the boy - my silver coin! My money! ... The boy was crying». At a certain point, «Hey, are you still here?, said Valjean, abruptly getting up on his feet, and with his shoe still resting on the silver coin, he added: Are you going to leave or not?». At that point, «the boy looked up at him frightened, he began to tremble from head to foot and after a few seconds of stunned silence, he fled, running with all his might».

Jean Valjean was still sitting down. It was getting dark. When bending down to pick up his stick all of a sudden he saw the money: «What is this»? «He began to look far ahead in the distance... and he began to shout with all his strength: Gervasino, Gervasino». By then the boy was far away, but Jean Valjean continued to shout: «Petit-Gervais, Petit-Gervais». He met a priest and asked him about the boy, but to no avail. He continued running, searching desperately for the boy: «Petit-Gervais, Petit-Gervais, Petit-Gervais, he shouted one last time». Then he fell to the ground, exhausted, and «with his head between his knees he cried out: What a wretch I am!» His heart burst: «It was the first time that he cried in nineteen years».

A second, powerful light had reached him, a different kind of light. This time it did not arrive from the bishop's agape, but from the «blissful ignorance and innocence» of a street urchin. The violation of that ignorant innocence now carried on the resurrection initiated by the gift from Myriel. That boy’s name - Petit-Gervais - repeated obsessively, over and over again, shouted, and cried out with desperation, is about to roll away the stone from the tomb.

For true and lasting conversions, understanding merely with your head is not enough: rationality and intelligence are much too fragile. Those few, very few events that really change us - sometimes just the one - are not the fruit of our will; they depend very little on our own intentions. They just happen: they await us behind a bush as we wander around in confusion without really looking for anything. Jean Valjean was already part of a process of conversion; his resurrection had already begun in Myriel's home. In order to conclude it, however, there was also a need for an encounter with the violated innocence of an innocent. If an adult had dropped that silver coin, the effect would not have been the same. Children have and safeguard a mystery of absolute gratuitousness and innocence. When an adult steals a penny from a boy, the theft is of a different nature: it is the theft of life. It is our condition as adults that teaches us to distinguish people from their things (without ever quite succeeding). The beautiful things that belong to children, on the other hand, are closely connected with their bodily being and flesh. This is why their things, or goods, even the few coins they possess, are never those of an adult: the matter (the res) is the same, but when things arrive in the hands of a child the "substance" of that matter changes even if the "incidents" do not. The hands of children operate "transubstantiations that are different but no less real than those performed by the hands of a priest. Violating their belongings is sacrilege. In the oikonomia of life, the value of coins handled by children is different, their path is different - they roll away differently. Thus, reminding us that coins, all coins, get their true value from the relationships in which they are used, abused, donated or stolen. Back in the day as well as today, in literature as in life.

Thanks to an authentic act of grace – Victor Hugo was really creating a treatise on the theology embodied in grace for us - Jean Valjean suddenly becomes aware of having committed a sacrilegious act, of having violated a sacred place, of having profaned a host. Because every child's heart is a tabernacle - every person's heart is. He could not have understood this sacrilege without first having experienced the bishop's gift of agape, but that extraordinary gift would not have generated its fruits of life, without the subsequent profanation of the mystery of that child’s coin. Jean Valjean's heart was able to feel horror and anguish over that stolen coin because he had already been touched and wounded by Myriel's gift. The experience of being loved with true agape-love begins with a cut in the soul that creates a crack where a new source of pain can enter, which we could not know about beforehand because our hearts were too hard. When resurrection begins, love and pain coexist, and being able to experience a new quality of moral pain is the first sign that the heart has really changed.

And within this very acute pain, Hugo makes Jean Valjean say one of his most beautiful phrases: «A voice whispered in his ear that he had crossed the solemn hour of his destiny, that there was no more middle ground for him, that if by now he did not become the best of men he would become the worst». We ​​are presented with choices whose outcome will make us a little better or a little worse during the most ordinary days of our lives. There are a few days that are different, however. The days of great judgment regarding our life, and we are the judges. During one of these days, you choose between heaven and hell: purgatory is no more. When we feel with infinite clarity, that either we try to become the best we can be or we will most certainly become the worst of men on earth. It was the day of Father Kolbe, the day of Christ on Golgotha, of Francis in front of his father and of the bishop of Assisi; it is also the day of so many of us, ordinary men and women, who, however, sometimes end up having an extraordinary day. The true meaning of the word "salvation" and of that other symmetrical expression, "getting lost", is closely connected to these kind of days. You can make a mistake and go on living an erroneous life because we are not able to see the evil we are doing: but if one day, by an act of grace, we finally see that evil and we do not choose not to do it again, yesterday's evil will become tomorrow's hell.

Hence, there is one last message in this non-meeting between the ex-convict and the little Savoyard, for us and for the people we love. When a person who has been deeply loved begins a new life, there is often a phase that goes from Myriel's door to Petit-Gervais’ bush. Having had received an authentic act of grace, we see the coin roll away again and we think that that first gift and that hope were wasted; they were only illusions. Hugo is telling us: watch out! Perhaps you are observing Jean Valjean somewhere along the path between the door of the curia and the bush. That act of wickedness that he should not commit and yet he does, can be the first step in a new life. He is already a new man although still clothed in the pain of the man he was before: «In stealing that money from that child he had done something of which he was no longer capable».

Too many times, we misunderstand the situation and proceed to condemn it, because we do not give Jean Valjean time to cry out in despair: «Petit-Gervais!» He is already on the right path, but to be able to continue on a good path he also needs our trust. Jean Valjean was saved by Myriel and he was saved by Petit-Gervais, by both of them: by the innocence of the virtue of an old man and by the natural innocence of a poor child. This great piece of literature makes us go through the experience all the way to the end and then repeats to us: "Go, and do the same yourself".

Finally, it is a powerful experience - for the boys and girls of Fridays for the Future and the Economy of Francesco of today - to see the eyes of Petit-Gervais asking us for his stolen money. When will we be able to hear his cry again? When will we lift our heavy foot from the coin on the ground? When will we give him his childhood coin back?

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Roots of the future/4 - Sometimes you meet a second Good Samaritan. And it becomes decisive

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  24/09/2022

The meeting between Jean Valjean and Petit-Gervais in "Les Misérables" is a reflection on how resurrections take place in life and the role that children play in this. Sometimes what feels like a relapse into your old life is just the first step into a new one.

For true and lasting conversions, understanding only with your mind is not enough: rationality and intelligence are too fragile. Such events depend very little on our intentions. They just happen.

There was a long period of time during which children and young people did not grow up inside their homes. Misery generated many little vagabonds. Some fled from orphanages, others without a family wandered in search of seasonal jobs, some created small street shows to scrape together some money. All exposed to the violence, both by permanent residents and travellers. In the nineteenth century, you could still find many of them in Europe. Too many can still be found today in cities all around the world. In Brazil, they call them meninos de rua, in other countries they have no name, they live in the streets, without a home and without a family, exposed in the squares and spaces of deprivation.

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Returning that childhood coin

Returning that childhood coin

Roots of the future/4 - Sometimes you meet a second Good Samaritan. And it becomes decisive By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  24/09/2022 The meeting between Jean Valjean and Petit-Gervais in "Les Misérables" is a reflection on how resurrections take place in life and the role that children ...
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Roots of the future/3 - There are books that tell us everything about life and teach us what agape is

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  17/09/2022

Victor Hugo's Les Misérables also contain a great teaching on agape as a cure for misery. Starting with the meeting between Valjean and Bishop Myriel

God makes us innocent with our eyes, some writers with the pen of the soul. Art is the invisible path that lies between Golgotha ​​and the empty tomb

There are some books, and they are very few, which are able to say everything that needs to be said about justice, about moral pain, about life all on their own. Like everyone else, they are children of their time and place, yet they possess an almost divine privilege of eternity. Their characters are more contemporary than our colleagues are, they are friends and relatives: they are us, the truest part of our heart. As the pages of these books and poems go by, we reread our life, invisible or hidden corners are lit up, and those words manage to speak of unspeakable pain. We read the stories of the characters and those stories read us and reveal the soul within the soul.

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Les Misérables by Victor Hugo is one such book. Its main protagonist is Jean Valjean. However, the novel opens with a bishop, Monsignor Myriel, to whom some of the most beautiful and intense pages in the history of literature are dedicated. Pages that touch us, move us, convert us.

We find ourselves in the year 1815 - the same year as the beginning of the story of that other French masterpiece: The Count of Monte Cristo. We meet a bishop, now elderly, who in his youth was the son of an aristocrat. The Revolution marked his economic and social ruin. He had to migrate to Italy with his young wife, who died during that exile. This failure of the projects of youth brought about a turning point: priesthood. The bishop is presented to us as an icon of a lived Gospel. As soon as he is appointed, he donates his large episcopal residence to the hospital in Digne, then we are given a description of his personal finances, all spent on the poor. Furthermore, we see him traveling on a donkey's back, never in a carriage.

One winter evening, the tramp Jean Valjean, just released from prison, comes knocking on the door of this bishop. He has just been released after nineteen years in prison. He wound up locked up there because he was out of work (he was a pruner): desperate due to the hunger of his widowed sister and her seven children, he ended up stealing a loaf of bread from a baker: «He went in gloomy, he came out in despair». Hugo explains the reasons for this desperation. In prison, «a natural light was lit within him», and «misfortune, which had his light», had increased it. In that unfortunate light Jean Valjean became a «court to himself», and «recognized that he was not an innocent man unjustly punished». He had really stolen that bread, he had not been able to bear the hunger, he had not been able to wait - he pondered while he was in chains. However, then he also began to think, «Was he the only one who had acted in a wrongful way in his fateful story?» and he thought no. He realized that society was responsible as well, of making him lose his job first, then starving him and his nephews and nieces, and finally of keeping him in prison for nineteen years for stealing a loaf of bread. Hence, «he judged society and condemned it: condemned it to its hatred». He declared to himself «that there was no balance between the damage he caused and the damage caused to him». Thus «Jean Valjean felt indignant».

Les Misérables is also a great reflection on the innocence of human beings. Even though Jean Valjean acknowledges his faults, we feel he is innocent. Because the innocence that counts is not the absence of guilt or harmlessness, (we will come back to this shortly) if this were the case, no person would be innocent. The innocence of this novel, deeply biblical and evangelical, instead is about the purity of the heart, our sincerity, about honesty towards oneself and towards others. Jean Valjean «was not a bad-natured man. He was still a good man when he ended up in jail». And the writer asks himself: «Can a man who was created good by God become bad by the acts of man?» Can the wickedness within ourselves and others «erase that word which the finger of God writes on the forehead of every man: Hope"? Hugo's answer is a clear: "no". Justice is not able to see this profound innocence, nor can we see it in others or in ourselves. It is the innocence of the prodigal son, that of Job. An innocence that is able to see God, which must at least be able to see God. The image of God, the vocation to love and form relationships, remain alive and operating deep in our marrow despite Cain’s gesture. The writer's gaze, while reaching the victims of his story, touches them with the pen of the soul and by doing so, he makes them innocent. Art is the invisible path that leads the victims from Golgotha ​​to the empty tomb. The Bible tells us that God, while looking at us and touching us in our misery, makes us innocent with his gaze, from our first breath to our last, when in the arms of the angel of death we will feel the same innocence with which we came into the world.

Jean Valjean had come to Digne with all this hatred and indignation. In the city, he is recognized as an ex-convict and therefore expelled from the inns. Until, resigned to sleeping hungry and out in the open, he ends up at Myriel's door. The bishop welcomes him, sets the table with silver cutlery, and when he addresses Jean Valjean with the word "sir", Hugo gives us one of his most beautiful phrases: «Ignominy thirsts for consideration».

After this fraternal dinner of agape, night falls and the ghosts of hatred, anger and indignation return to Jean Valjean's mind: «Those six pieces of silver cutlery haunted him». He gets up, goes to the closet, then «he stuffed the silverware into his backpack, crossed the garden, jumped the wall like a tiger, and fled».

The next morning, the maid discovers the theft and alerts the bishop and this exchange follows: «Was that silverware ours? It belonged to the poor. Who was that man? Evidently a poor man». There is a knock on the door: «Three men held a fourth by the collar. The first three were gendarmes, the other one was Jean Valjean». Thus, here comes the unexpected: «Ah there you are, I am happy to see you. What happened? I also gave you the silver candlesticks: why did you not take them with you along with the cutlery?» Our breath skips a beat.

Being hospitable is a vulnerable gesture. The guest may be an angel (Hebrews 13,2), but whoever arrives could also be Ishmael who killed Gedaliah, who welcomed him and was murdered while «they were eating together» in his home (Jeremiah 41,1). There have always been, still are and will be guests who are "killed" by those they host. When we welcome someone in our home, we cannot know what will happen during the night, especially when the person who enters is a wounded, humiliated, angry and indignant man. Myriel was imprudent: he was not virtuous; the ethics of agape are not the ethics of virtue. We disapprove of Jean Valjean's action, but the empathic exercise that Hugo makes us carry out does not end with the recommendation: "do not welcome future Jean Valjeans in your home"; instead it ends by increasing the imprudent desire in us to open one more door - at least the one to our home. We have stopped reading the Bible and Les Misérables, we have closed the doors and ports to our travellers, and we have become the new miserables.

Myriel teaches us what agape is. A stranger arrives, perhaps a doomed one. He becomes one of us and we bring out the most beautiful cutlery for him. Experts, as we are in humanity, we are very well aware of the fact that that glimmering sight could become an invincible temptation for that poor man, after all his pain and misfortune. The honour to be shown to our guest, however, overcomes the fear of that temptation - we must not curse every cloud laden with water for the memory of a murderous storm.

This special (beautiful and essential) form of gift begins with a transgression: instead of letting the disquieting guest sleep in a hospice, he offers him a comfortable bed in his home; he does not send him to the soup kitchen, he invites him sit at his family table. To honour his guest he offers him silver cutlery and calls him "sir". Beauty is the first cure for all misery. Then he goes to bed knowing that he is risking his possessions and even his life (the ingenuity of agape is not synonymous with stupidity), but knowing that those goods, and even his life, are not private property, they are already a gift and therefore can-must be donated. Next, the experience of betrayal arrives, and while we are disappointed, we do not feel cheated. Then, the guest returns: and where we would expect condemnation and various insults, instead we find forgiveness. That is, instead of the stolen gifts, he finds another gift: the icing on the cake, the banquet.

Why the candlesticks too, however? Was the good "lie" about the gift of the cutlery not enough? (Note: abstract rules, such as "never tell a lie ", are almost always wrong). Perhaps because the betrayal of those who make mistakes is cured by looking to the future, generating hope with a new gift. It is the free surplus offered to us by the party after our error, which makes us capable of doing what is necessary. Only a new gift can heal the theft of the first gift. Eros is not enough for a vulnerable welcome. Friendship (philia) can offer dinner and a comfortable bed and go as far as the three gendarmes, but there it will stop with an "ungrateful rascal" aimed at the guest. Only agape reaches all the way to the candlesticks. It would be difficult of course, impossible even today, to build an entire social and penal system on agape alone. Nevertheless, by building it without agape, our societies and prisons will end up looking too much like those of Polyphemus and the Benjamites of Gabaa (Judges 19-21).

However, it is in the ordinary life of the bishop where the decisive aspect of the grammar of agape can really be found. Myriel reacted in that way to the betrayal of the gift - his gift of agape includes from the very beginning a concrete possibility of betrayal - because its whole existence was fuelled by agape. What may appear as an emotional response is instead the fruit of a lifetime worth of daily exercise in agape. Like when I see someone drowning in a stormy sea: if I instinctively throw myself into the whirlwind of the waves, I will almost certainly drown with him; if professional swimmer dives instead, the probable rescue will the result of a lifetime worth of training. Agape is not improvisation: it is a conquered habitus, a hard-earned discipline: "When you think of the lightness of a dancer, look at her feet" (Carla Fracci). Not everyone can experience agape hospitality every day: however, someone must do it: at least one person, at least me, at least once. A single agape gesture can redeem a life, hence, it can save the world - we will see this next Sunday, while we continue to follow Jean Valjean. For now, however, let us allow our heart to rest on the beauty of agape.

Dedicated to the prisoners, innocent like Jean Valjean, who in the light of their misfortune have been able to safeguard true innocence.

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Roots of the future/3 - There are books that tell us everything about life and teach us what agape is

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  17/09/2022

Victor Hugo's Les Misérables also contain a great teaching on agape as a cure for misery. Starting with the meeting between Valjean and Bishop Myriel

God makes us innocent with our eyes, some writers with the pen of the soul. Art is the invisible path that lies between Golgotha ​​and the empty tomb

There are some books, and they are very few, which are able to say everything that needs to be said about justice, about moral pain, about life all on their own. Like everyone else, they are children of their time and place, yet they possess an almost divine privilege of eternity. Their characters are more contemporary than our colleagues are, they are friends and relatives: they are us, the truest part of our heart. As the pages of these books and poems go by, we reread our life, invisible or hidden corners are lit up, and those words manage to speak of unspeakable pain. We read the stories of the characters and those stories read us and reveal the soul within the soul.

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The grammar of (for)giveness

The grammar of (for)giveness

Roots of the future/3 - There are books that tell us everything about life and teach us what agape is By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  17/09/2022 Victor Hugo's Les Misérables also contain a great teaching on agape as a cure for misery. Starting with the meeting between Valjean and Bishop M...
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Roots of the future/2 - Consumerism also betrays the meridian civilization of goods

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  10/09/2022

Giovanni Verga's short story “Property” (“La roba”) offers us insights into the economic system of our time and its sad ending, if we are not able to reverse its course.

The accumulation of things and goods takes place "in the eyes of others" and makes those who pursue it grow in societies where the envy of young people is realized.

«Who does this belong to? - he heard himself being answered: - Di Mazzarò. - And passing by a farm the size of a village: - And this? - Di Mazzarò... Then he saw an olive grove as if it were a forest. They were the olive trees of Mazzarò. All property belonging to Mazzarò». Property (La roba) is one of the most beautiful short stories by Giovanni Verga and in Italian literature. Written in 1880 while he was finishing his masterpiece, I Malavoglia. Capitalism did not exist yet, especially in the Sicilian countryside, perhaps some very first faint flashes of it could be seen; but from the high tower of his poetry, during a very clear morning, Verga managed to glimpse our coming days.

[fulltext] =>

His critique of that proto-capitalism is still alive today because it is anthropological. It is a radical reflection on the effects that the search for wealth produces on people enchanted and chained by the totem of things. In this irresistible and almost religious fascination there is something similar to the «commodity fetishism» of which Marx had spoken a few years earlier; but the Sicilian writer's gaze is poetic, dramatic, crossed by a great pietas for the victims of his stories, for the vanquished who are left behind along the stream of progress. Hence, he reveals the fundamental and general dimensions of the meridian, Mediterranean and Catholic spirit of that new concept that would soon be called capitalism. A spirit different from that found in Northern Europe, but also different from the spirit of the first medieval merchants.

Verga sensed that the winds of modernity were bringing something new under the Alps as well. Mazzarò, in fact, is no longer the aristocratic landowner («with his brilliant mind, he had accumulated all those objects»), but he is not the modern captain of industry. He is not even attracted to money in itself like the misers of all time: «Besides, he did not care about money; he said money was not property, and as soon as he put together a certain sum, he immediately bought a piece of land». Mazzarò does not accumulate money, he accumulates things. In the Southern Catholic civilization of shame, different from the Protestant civilizations of guilt, wealth is valid only if it is seen by others. The eye of the "traveller" who opens the story and asks «Who does this belong to?» is a necessary presence throughout the cycle of the vanquished. Because if no one sees it, wealth is worthless and useless. Things become wealth when seen by others. This visibility is pride, it is social redemption: «Everyone remembered having aimed blows at him behind his back, the same ones who now called him excellent». Or rather: it is an illusion of redemption.

The economic and social miracles of the Italian and meridian twentieth century were also and above all the result of the action of many Mazzarò - of those who remained in agriculture and of the many who emigrated from working the land to small and then larger family-run industries. Wealth invested in farms and factories also to be seen by others, and therefore to be admired, praised, envied. A great industriousness: «He had not let a minute of his life go by that had not been spent doing things». An ethic of saving and almost a mystical of non-waste: «Do you see what I eat? He answered, - bread and onion! And yes, my warehouses are full, and I am the owner of all this stuff».

Those early meridian entrepreneurs were not hedonists, they sought neither pleasure nor entertainment through money. They did not like the consumption that reduces goods, but the investment that increases them and increases the number of people looking on. They developed an almost marital relationship with their goods. It was no coincidence that la roba (i.e. property) was also the name given to a brides' dowry: «He had never born a woman on his shoulders other than his mother». In reality, this relationship of Mazzarò's is more incestuous than spousal, like that of a father who wants his beautiful daughter to be admired and envied, but never actually married away to anyone.

Verga knows that property cannot keep the promises that it makes. He also knows the liberal economic theories of his time, which after Ferdinando Galiani and Adam Smith, trusted in the «invisible hand» of the positive indirect effects of the deception-illusion of an individual pursuit of wealth. He knows of them, but does not believe in them, because he looks at the discards, the vanquished and is interested in «the weak who are left behind along the road, the feeble who allow themselves to be overtaken by the wave» (Preface to I Malavoglia). The main woodworm of the civilization of property is intrinsic to the property itself. If capitalism can become the reign of quantity and extensiveness, only res extensa, without encountering any limit or restraint: it will soon become unlimited and unrestrained: «Mazzarò wanted to have as much land as the king had». If blessing cannot be found, as the Calvinists thought, through work and vocation ( beruf) but in things, particularly in things that others can see and envy, then the race to outdo one another in quantity and extent will never end: «The vanquished who raise their arms in despair, and bend their heads under the brutal foot of the survivors, the winners of today, who will be overtaken tomorrow, also hurry up, they too are eager to arrive» (Preface). A first surprise, the "spirit" of "winning" (or defeated?) Capitalism in the 21st century is not in which the Calvinist believe of work/beruf; it is, unexpectedly, the meridian spirit of property or things. However, things only meant for consumption, and no longer for the purpose of being invested and accumulated. Consumption, not work, is the protagonist of today's global economy which, not surprisingly, is growing and will grow especially in the community cultures of shame (Asia, Africa), close to the spirit of Mazzarò.

The stroke of genius of Verga's story, however, is found in its splendid and "desperate" conclusion, where the key to reading is found. Mazzarò's defeat is introduced to us through some of the details of the last part of the story: «He had neither children, nor grandchildren, nor relatives; he had nothing but his things». His is an economy of objects with no children and no future. The meridian capitalism of things worked (in part) and generated some civil values ​​and virtues as well, as long as it remained a family capitalism, where the factory was above all the rope that bound generations and classes to each other: the goods were also/above all accumulated for ones’ children. This is why Mazzarò’s economy is also a betrayal of the very meridian spirit of things, which was born as something deeply familiar, communal and intergenerational.

The great illusion-delusion of this (dis) economy is clearly revealed only at the very end of the race. We find it in the final and decisive narrative twist of the novel: «Only one thing hurt him, that he was starting to get old and that he was going to have to leave his land where it was. This is an injustice of God, after having spent your life buying things, when you get them and would like more, you have to leave them!». In this epilogue, there is furthermore a second tremendous and astounding detail: «And if a half-naked boy passed in front of him, bent under the weight he was carrying like a tired donkey, he would throw his stick in between his legs, out of pure envy». This childless economy of things is envious of young people and children. In a culture of life, young people are paradise; in a culture of death, they are hell. This is the tremendous note of Mazzarò's civilization. Tremendous and prophetic, because what Verga, thanks to his artistic genius, glimpsed is now becoming more and more evident. Nevertheless, a nasty envy of young people is neither theorized nor admitted by the protagonists of our development system, which is becoming increasingly similar to Mazzarò's economy. However, there is a place where Mazzarò's envy is now too evident to be denied: land management. Only an economy of death that envies young people, that is, looks at them with crooked eyes, can leave a devastated planet to them, a land wounded by the neurotic, unlimited and unbridled search for things.

This angry envy explodes in all its desperate beauty in the last lines of the novel, which are his masterpiece: «So when they told him it was time to leave his things, to think about the soul, he went out into the courtyard like a madman, staggering, and went about killing his ducks and turkeys with his stick, screaming: "My things, come with me!"». A capitalism of things, childless and without a heaven will kill the last chicken on its last day of life, consume the last cubic meter of oxygen for its last bout on the respirator. The demographic crisis of today is telling us that we have already become Mazzarò's future-less capitalism. Mazzarò's capitalism takes its forests, its seas, its rivers and its glaciers down into the grave with it, because it sees nothing of value to bequeath to the young people it envies and does not love. The objects thus become the land, the earth, used and beaten to death. Mazzarò would become Mastro Don Gesualdo a few years later: «Then, desperate at having to die, [Don Gesualdo] started beating ducks and turkeys, tearing up gems and seeds. He would have liked to destroy all the goods of God that he had accumulated little by little all at once. He wanted his stuff to go with him, desperate just like him».

For several years now, we have been beating ducks and turkeys, and we continue to tear up seeds that should feed the children that we do not have or do not love. Verga knew that this economy is a desperate economy - we just haven’t noticed it yet. We will only be saved by an economy that is able to raise ducks and turkeys, as well as guard and plant seeds, while Mazzarò continues to strike - are we still in time?

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Roots of the future/2 - Consumerism also betrays the meridian civilization of goods

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  10/09/2022

Giovanni Verga's short story “Property” (“La roba”) offers us insights into the economic system of our time and its sad ending, if we are not able to reverse its course.

The accumulation of things and goods takes place "in the eyes of others" and makes those who pursue it grow in societies where the envy of young people is realized.

«Who does this belong to? - he heard himself being answered: - Di Mazzarò. - And passing by a farm the size of a village: - And this? - Di Mazzarò... Then he saw an olive grove as if it were a forest. They were the olive trees of Mazzarò. All property belonging to Mazzarò». Property (La roba) is one of the most beautiful short stories by Giovanni Verga and in Italian literature. Written in 1880 while he was finishing his masterpiece, I Malavoglia. Capitalism did not exist yet, especially in the Sicilian countryside, perhaps some very first faint flashes of it could be seen; but from the high tower of his poetry, during a very clear morning, Verga managed to glimpse our coming days.

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Wealth without children or a future

Wealth without children or a future

Roots of the future/2 - Consumerism also betrays the meridian civilization of goods By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  10/09/2022 Giovanni Verga's short story “Property” (“La roba”) offers us insights into the economic system of our time and its sad ending, if we are not able to reverse its ...
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Roots of the future/1 - Kierkegaard's "Aut Aut" and other great ideas for this time of crisis

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  03/09/2022

As merchants, companies look for impressionable consumers, as producers they look for loyal workers. That is, the same people. The conflict is incipient but already serious. Environmental and energy crises have definitively unmasked the bluff: time is up. Repentance is needed: not a slow transition but a strong, decisive conversion.

«Imagine a captain on his ship when he has to do battle; perhaps he will be able to say "we must do this or that"; but the ship, while he has not yet decided, keeps advancing. The same is also true for man, in the end there comes a time when he no longer has the freedom to choose, not because he has chosen, but because he hasn't».

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This page taken from Aut Aut by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, a book from 1843, a masterpiece of modern philosophy, immediately places us in front of a decisive crossroad: «Aut-Aut: living aesthetically or living ethically». Aesthetics «is that for which man spontaneously is what he is; ethics is why he becomes what he becomes». Those who live aesthetically say: "We must enjoy life". The icon of ethical life is the spouse, the one who has made a choice and lives his life in fidelity to a commitment and a pact. The image of an aesthetic life is that of a seducer, the Don Giovanni who flies from flower to flower, who collects all the fruits he encounters along his way. It feeds on emotions; it is all about taking and losing in the present without any need to match today's choices to any of yesterday's constraints. An aesthete, as Kierkegaard defines him (every great author reinvents the words that he uses), leads his life lost in the multiplicity, in a perennial «state of indifference», because «the aesthetic choice is not a choice», it is a flow. An aesthete does not give himself any kind of task, no commitment other than what emerges moment by moment. Never satiated, always hungry for new emotions to be consumed, in a spasmodic search for happiness that never arrives because it is devoured by pleasure.

It is not difficult to identify the perfect realization of an aesthetic life described by Kierkegaard in our consumer society. A citizen inhabiting this global capitalist city is increasingly perfect the more he flies from flower to flower sucking the opportunities that lie before him. Infidelity and betrayal are necessary qualities of homo consumens, because any form of conditioning that a past choice exerts on his present choices is an inefficient bond from which to free himself. The ideal consumer is one who is reborn every day, without past or future, entirely immersed in the present where he satisfies his taste to the maximum. Agreements, promises, loyalty, are real frictions of the system, because what makes capitalism fluid and efficient is precisely the speed in the reaction of consumers in the face of the slightest variation in quality and price.

For their part, companies present themselves to consumers as agencies offering infinite objects of pleasure. Since the dawn of time, in any market, the essence of a merchant is being a seducer, and the patrons are the seduced ones, conquered and bewitched by the goods on offer. Goods are the tools with which great seduction is exercised. Insatiable consumers - non-satiety is an axiom of the economic theory of consumption - continually sought out, pursued and seduced by commodities. In the past, this seduction was also entrusted to gestures, the winks, the tone of voice and words of the sellers; its space was above all the fairs and markets in the city squares. There has always been an analogy between eros and commerce, between amorous and mercantile seduction, but in the mestizo markets of past generations, philia and agape also appeared alongside eros, freeing eros from its cage of eternity. Today, seduction is created in the research and marketing centres of large multinational corporations, and is above all carried out in the media and online, therefore body-less. The seductive trend of the economy has however increased; day by day the market is increasingly becoming a great mechanism of anonymous mass seduction, a huge system of courtship. However, it is the seduction of an eros without a body - it should therefore be no surprise to us that in an increasingly seductive and "erotic" world, centred on the pursuit of bodily well-being and health, the desire for real bodies is diminishing, addicted as we are to imagined and untouched bodies.

Capitalism is an immense garden of delights, infinite numbers of seducers and seduced plunged into a fleeting moment, new forgetful lotophages of the past and even more of the future. The twentieth century experienced enormous and unexpected success in the civilization of aesthetics. In a world that still lived in generalized scarcity, the exponential growth of consumption has allowed an extraordinary widespread well-being, especially in the North and West. This well-being of goods seduced us, first our bodies and then our souls. In the twilight of the gods, new-ancient idols glittering with gold and silver began to emerge. This is how capitalism became the new religion, all about aesthetics, and without a hell, a new eternal life: nothing but a timeless paradise. The concept of temptation has been completely cancelled and ridiculed as it is incompatible with an aesthetic civilization, which only sees it as an undue limitation of the opportunities that are present here and now. A daily and instant cult, whose ephemeral aspect guarantees an astonishing success, if its paradise can only be enjoyed at the very moment of its consumption, the only way to not get out of this bliss is to not stop buying, preferably in debt, on credit, because the new finance has perverted the economic sense of time. In the past, credit allowed the present to become the future, now consumer credit transforms the future into the present. Even the ethics of virtues know the value of the present, but its present is the place where past and future meet and prevent the present from sinking into nothingness.

A first powerful sign of the crisis of aesthetic capitalism began to emerge from the business world itself. As vendors, companies need aesthetic consumers but as producers, they need workers capable of ethics, faithfulness and loyalty. These consumers and workers, however, are the same people; the only thing that changes is the masks that they were on stage. Thus an internal conflict is born within capitalism, still incipient, but already rather severe: in order to sell and grow, companies encourage the aesthetic culture of consumers, but when they pass the gates of these companies they are increasingly deprived of that ethical capital of which companies have a vital need. There are many factors behind the recent movement of "great resignations" in the world of labour, but there is also a society that is eroding its civil assets on the altar of consumption, and finds itself with young "aesthetes" unable to cope with the impact of work, which thus remains a place of sacrifice, of resistance, of fatigue. Capitalism wants us to be adolescents in consumption and adults in work, and it is "adolescentizing" the adult world.

However, the environment has definitively exposed the bluff of aesthetic capitalism. The ecological crisis, of which the energy crisis is also a direct expression, brings Kierkegaard's great question back to the centre of the economic and political scene: Aut-Aut. A fundamental option that today has an unprecedented collective and global value, because for the first time it concerns each inhabitant of the planet. Time is up; it is no longer possible to continue living in the indifference of aesthetic life.

In Aut Aut, Kierkegaard tells us that the obligatory intermediate step one must take in order to move from ethics to aesthetics is called despair. We do not go from ethics to aesthetics through the means of a slow ecological transition. Despair is a moment, a change of perspective: it is not asceticism, but metanoia, that is, radical conversion. «The condition of your despair is beautiful. Hence, choose despair». Despair arises from repentance: «The true salvation of man is to despair». Kierkegaard compares despair with doubt: «Despair is a condition of the person as a whole; doubt is only in his or her thoughts». Doubt involves reason; desperation involves our whole of existence. Thinking about a crisis is not enough, very often it is just yet another illusion. For decades, we have been basking in doubts about sustainability: conferences, commissions, endless debates, appeals, discussions... The age of doubt must give way to that of a collective repentance and therefore despair, which is a prelude to a new ethical choice: «Despair and the world will become beautiful and full of joy for you again, even if you will see it with different eyes than before». It is necessary to despair with all our hearts, with all our minds, with all our strength, but together: a just collective despair is salvation.

We need powerful and collective symbolic acts of repentance; we must apologize to our present and our future, immediately, and then, feel the despair, because despair is the midwife of a non-vain hope after the age of illusion. Only a repentant and desperate economy can become an ethical economy. In this vital and necessary collective process of repentance-despair-ethics, we primarily need true teachers. We cannot do it alone. We need words that are different from our own. We have found many in these years in the Bible, and we will use them. In this new series of reflections, Roots of the future, we beg for greater words from writers, philosophers, poets, root-people who have felt the desperation of their time and tried to see a different one "through different eyes". Have a good journey.

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Roots of the future/1 - Kierkegaard's "Aut Aut" and other great ideas for this time of crisis

By Luigino Bruni

Published in Avvenire  03/09/2022

As merchants, companies look for impressionable consumers, as producers they look for loyal workers. That is, the same people. The conflict is incipient but already serious. Environmental and energy crises have definitively unmasked the bluff: time is up. Repentance is needed: not a slow transition but a strong, decisive conversion.

«Imagine a captain on his ship when he has to do battle; perhaps he will be able to say "we must do this or that"; but the ship, while he has not yet decided, keeps advancing. The same is also true for man, in the end there comes a time when he no longer has the freedom to choose, not because he has chosen, but because he hasn't».

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Beyond aesthetic capitalism

Beyond aesthetic capitalism

Roots of the future/1 - Kierkegaard's "Aut Aut" and other great ideas for this time of crisis By Luigino Bruni Published in Avvenire  03/09/2022 As merchants, companies look for impressionable consumers, as producers they look for loyal workers. That is, the same people. The conflict is incipient...