The birth of the work of this presentation began when I received as a present a beautiful and fascinating book entitled “Growing Up Global (Raising Children to be at home in the World)”, at the same time that I was encouraged to work at and conduct an in-depth study on this project that Homa Sabet Tavangar, in her book, has unfolded in a highly creative and playful way. I have begun to investigate, think about and reflect on this theme, while adding new and valuable sources of inspiration and study. Among these sources I would also highlight the valuable material created by the Arigatou Foundation and its Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) which is entitled “Learning to live together”. From these sources and from my own personal and professional experience, as well as my identity as a psychoanalyst, I have continued to build thoughts and reflections that I will be sharing with you. I would therefore like to begin my presentation with a few words from Federico Mayor Zaragoza from the year 1999 that, in my opinion, are very timely and relevant. These words are from the prologue to the book, “The Family Virtues Guide” which is an excellent and valuable educational tool sponsored by UNESCO.
In this historical transition at the end of both the century and the millennium it is vital by important that we protect the universal values that can transform this fantastic diversity, which is our treasure, and to turn it into union, which is our strength and sustains our hope. The influence of the education system, the media and the other social institutions are important agents in this task. Nevertheless, the decisive role in the preservation and transmission of the essential principles that lay the foundations of social cohesion belongs to the family. There is no any other authority, regardless of how perfect it might be, that can substitute for parents, grandparents and uncles in the task of training and giving a comprehensive education to a child in the first phases of his or her existence because there is not a pedagogy more efficient than the love and the example that we can receive at home¹.
Following these words from Federico Mayor Zaragoza, I would also like to cite others from Linda Kavelin, Dan Popov and John Kavelin, authors of “The Family Virtues Guide”:
To teach children well is to bring out the best in them (…) What´s best for them has everything to do with what is best in them. As one six-year-old girl said when asked what she thought virtues were, “Virtues are what´s good about us”. The virtues are gems in the mine of the true self. A parent is meant to mine a child´s gem and bring them to light. (…) We also need to avoid trying to impose on our children the things we value about ourselves. We leave our legacy, and they leave theirs. Our values are helpful in giving them a place to stand, but they may well climb a higher mountain. Certainly they will climb a different one².
From my point of view, identity as a citizen of the world is based on love for the universal combined with love and enthusiasm for the different and the diverse. I believe that this is the established pillar of everything, which as parents or authority figures, we can transmit to our children, real or symbolic, so that they may not only wish to become authentic citizens of the world but, as Homa Sabet Tavangar states in her book, they may begin to feel that “the world is their home”, and/or that their home is also the world – as I would also add.
Thinking about this project of educating citizens of and for the world as a journey of discovering and meeting with the Other, as a representation of that which is different, I asked myself who would have been one of the first, if not the first, to speak explicitly about this subject. Through my own personal journey in History, I have uncovered the figure of Herodotus, the first historian and globalist, and the discoverer of something very important for our present, past and future foundational history. His most important discovery was that there are many worlds and each is different, unique and important. And that, one must learn about them, because these other worlds, these other cultures are mirrors in which we see ourselves better – for we cannot define our own identity until having confronted that of others, as comparison (Kapuscinski, 2004).
Taking into account that “all real life is a about encounters” – as Martin Buber affirms, it is the encounter with others that is the source of inspiration from which emanates the discovery of ourselves. Our own identity is based and originated from our first relationships and encounters with the Others, beginning with our parents.
In the words of the Spanish poet Juan Gil-Albert:
There also exists the invisible.
One never knows who inhabits
Within our survival
From this perspective, the Others (parents, relatives, educators, mentors and friends) not only enable the formation and construction of our self-identity, but are also a part of our own identity. This is possible because of all significant experiences with these Others within our own history that we carry within ourselves, and which become a part of our interior. The way in which we integrate all these experiences with those significant people who are part of our own history is part of the foundational structure that supports our most authentic identity as people and citizens of the world.
If we continue the journey of travelling back in time with Herodotus, we learn that it was in his own particular history that he found the fundamental basis to think about the history of humanity. Herodotus was a native of Halicarnaso, a very beautiful place where the Western border of Asia met with the Mediterranean. Halicarnaso was a Greek colony that was situated in a region that was inhabited by non-Greeks, the Carios, who depended on the Persians. Herodotus was therefore a Greek from the border and also of mixed race. His world view consisted of such notions such as: borderline country, distance, otherness, and diversity; and it appears that it was his father, a merchant, who contributed a great deal to Herodotus´ awakening interest in the world. Herodotus, that traveller full of questions with a capacity of surprise and curiosity about the world, open minded, quiet and tolerant, was the first to discover the multicultural nature of the world. He was also the first to argue that each culture requires acceptance and understanding, and that to understand it, one has to first come to know it (Kapuscinski 2004).
Herodotus, the first globalist and historian, taught us that in order to be able to understand and love someone or something, the first step is to uncover and discover that person or object. One can only love a person or object that is known. It is precisely an authentic love and esteem, which is never exclusive, of one´s own origins and culture, the pillar on which is seated the recognition and love for all which is new, different and even surprising.
With these pillars that Herodotus transmitted to us by his love of history, I believe that Homa Sabet Tavangar has continued his project twenty-six centuries later; capturing its essence in her splendid and fascinating book entitled “Growing Up Global”. In this same way, Homa Sabet is also heiress and successor of the same motivating principles that impelled the father of History. For this reason, she begins her book by demonstrating and emphasizing her belief in the principal drive to represent humanity as a whole, a unit that houses in its interior the richness of its immense diversity. As a result, Homa Sabet believes that by exposing children to this richness that inhabits cultural diversity; we put this belief in humanity´s oneness to the test. She, as Herodotus, also comes from a multicultural environment. Like him, Homa Sabet is also a passionate traveler who possesses the ability to be surprised and who is left infused and moved by the beauty that emanates from the world and from human beings. Her experience of leaving the United States with her family for Africa helped her to shape her spirit and to encourage other families to educate their children and prepare them to be “future citizens of the world”. Homa relates that while her youngest daughter of 3 years old adapted very well to her new surroundings, the eagerness and openness, with which their African neighbors accepted and welcomed them, deeply affected her whole family. Her daughter Sofia of 3 years, had few preconceived notions, and took the best of the situation. Moreover, her experience with authentic friends molded her character in ways that still have to be discovered. Sofia felt at home in the New World that Africa represented for her, and she flourished and became enriched with her new experiences. As a mother who held her 3 year old daughter who had already begun to look at the world with the eyes of a poet, Homa Sabet also held within herself the awesome question of “how can we help our children feel at home in the world and give them the skills to think about complex issues on their own?”
As the author of “Growing Up Global” states, the world is also hostile, frantic, confusing, corrupt and fanatic…how then does one entrust the necessary life skills to children while living in a world that is difficult, uncertain and ever changing?” – Homa Sabet asks herself. Nevertheless, she believes that faith and confidence are the principal tools with which we can count on in order to overcome fear and anxiety. Faith and confidence –I think- in ourselves and in our own good internal figures that we can encounter and reencounter along our life path. These are ideals that, as Homa Sabet explains in her book, permit us to see the world: “from the lens of hope, love and desire.”
Homa Sabet begins from the premise of the importance of incorporating from childhood an international consciousness and that parents can transmit the idea of a global citizenship as a family value. These therefore can be the propelling forces that educate future adults to succeed in a global world. In the words of the author:
This is not about creating one amalgam of the world´s cultures. Embracing the consciousness of world citizenship implies a more complex process of knowing one´s self while appreciating others. (…) As you open your minds and your lives to other ways of doing things, you´ll probably get to know yourselves and where you come from better; and possibly deepen the bonds within your own families along the way. Raising children to have a global mind-set could be the biggest step you and your family take toward building a more peaceful world, and it all starts at home.
It is not a coincidence that Homa Sabet´s book “Growing Up Global” is organized around the metaphor of making a new friend. The authentic world citizen is one who is open to friendship and meeting the other, the foreigner, by receiving and accepting his or her identity without trying to transform the other in one´s own way. In order to be an authentic world citizen, certain universal qualities overflow and transcend language. Qualities such as: empathy, respect, tolerance, humility, confidence, curiosity, honesty, patience and generosity are the qualities that Homa Sabet highlights and are those that form and constitute the foundation of a genuine communication in any situation. These are also the virtues that a real friend and world citizen possesses.
Finding the points of unity together with what makes us unique and special, is one of the golden rules that is interwoven in “Growing Up Global” and which is an inherent concept of citizenship. Growing up with an open, broad and global mindset is a project and perspective that implies a whole lifetime and has no pre-established path. As the Spanish poet A. Machado writes:
Traveler, there is no road,
You make your path as you walk³
On the path that the traveler forges out, Homa Sabet provides for us a “guide for travelers”: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. For Homa Sabet, this golden rule helps to create a bridge between differences and to internalize a deep sense of empathy and unity with the rest of the world.
Homa Sabet teaches us that if the children learn how to respect their adults, their peers and themselves, they can do anything. Everything starts there.
Following the same principles and values from the source of common inspiration of Homa Sabet´s book, the Foundation Arigatou and its Global Network of Religions for Children (GNRC) has developed wonderful resource materials that promote ethical education for children from an intercultural and interreligious point of view, human rights and a quality of education where ethics and values are nurtured in order to offer the necessary tools to help build a better world. This excellent material which is entitled “Learning to live together” has been developed with the collaboration and support from UNESCO and UNICEF and has been created by the contribution and experience of educators and experts from different religions, spiritual and secular traditions, international organizations, NGOs, educational institutions and from children, adolescents and youth who have participated in the program. “Learning to live together” has been conceived with the final goal to promote the advancement of ethics and human values and can be developed in diverse religious and secular contexts. Consequently, “Learning to live together”, is one of the four pillars of Learning: the treasure within, the Report from UNESCO Task Force on Education for the 21st century as presented by Jacques Delors (Learning: the Treasure Within, 1998).
As the authors of the book state:
The object has been to develop a resource that is relevant on a global level and yet flexible enough to be interpreted within different cultural and social contexts.
The group of people who created this material was inspired by the same principle as Homa Sabet states:
The conception of diversity is defined as the essence that enriches us, and which permits us to not only learn about others but about ourselves as well.
The Convention on the Rights of the Child relates:
The child should be fully prepared to live an individual life in society, and be brought up in (…) the spirit of peace, dignity, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity. [And further affirms]: Due account should be taken of the importance of the traditions and cultural values of each people for the protection and harmonious development of the child.
“Learning to Live Together” teaches us that the key to all learning is “experience”, our best teacher. In a world of complex realities, contrasting values, so-called truths that are conflicting, and disconcerting alternatives that compete for loyalty, there is an imperative concern for resources that enrich children, equipping them to make the proper decisions for their needs. From this prospective, ethics are essential in helping us discern and respond to the connectedness of all life, and are useful in fostering human values, and in building and fostering a sense of community.
Most of the traditional religions in Africa have a saying: “A person is a person only in relation to other persons”. Precisely, given this connectedness, the authors of “Learning to live together” look for ethical values that help children develop a sense of community, not only with those in their immediate surroundings, but also across ethnic, national, racial, cultural and religious barriers.
In 2005, UNESCO identified some universal values of personal development that enable the child to transcend cultural boundaries. These values, linked with personal growth, would aid during the childhood years in relating with others and with the world around them in a creative way. From these values there can be found: the nurturing of the child´s self esteem, encouraging his /her capacity to make decisions and to assume responsibility of them; developing the capacity to make fair decisions; the readiness to respect others and their points of view and the willingness to make commitments and keep them.
We know that the respect for oneself and one´s self esteem is fundamental; not only does selfrespect help us earn the respect of others, it also constitutes the basis of respect to others. From this perspective, “Growing Up Global” and “Learning to Live Together” highlight respect as an indispensable value that should cover and transcend all our relationships. The concept of mutual respect is important in the way that it affirms differences and does not confuse the difference with the logic that imposes dissymmetry and inequality, in terms of error or inferiority. From this prism, respect prevents the natural, legitimate and circumstantial differences from becoming splits or insurmountable divisions. “I am who I am and my circumstances” – J. Ortega y Gasset reminds us -. Mutual respect increases after obtaining a further understanding of others and of ourselves in relation to one´s individual and social history. In this way, respect is a virtue and a value because it contains in itself the possibility that we can establish relationships not only in spite of our differences, but beginning from them. Respect also permits us to “learn from the experience of meeting and linking with others” and to develop our critical sense, which guides our capacity to decide. This capacity, at the same time, requires courage and bravery to put “the courage to choose” into practice. The Spanish philosopher Fernando Savater, in his book, “The Courage to Choose” states:
If today we had to condense in only one word the political project that would deserve our greatest attention I would choose this “citizenship”, that is, the way of participating in social integration based on sharing the same rights instead of belonging to certain groups linked to blood ties, cultural tradition, economical status or hereditary hierarchy4.
This same philosopher Fernando Savater also relates to us in another of his books, “The Courage to Educate”:
Our common humanity is necessary to characterize what is truly unique and unrepeatable in our condition, whereas our cultural diversity is accidental. (…) This contagion of some cultures to others is precisely what can be called “civilization”, and that is what education must aspire to transmit5.
From this same perspective, the German historian Erik Kahler in his “Universal History of Man” affirms:
The development could only be achieved by a sequence of peoples and civilizations connected and intermingled, by the successive cooperation of different races, by a historical relay in which the baton is being passed from hand to hand. History offers proofs which show over and over again all the opposite of what the so called racist theory says: no decisive advance in human evolution has been obtained by mentally or physically pure races or by any cultural endogamy, but through a mixture, through a mutual impregnation of different races and cultures6.
From this perspective, in a globalized and pluralistic society, we require thinking and acting in terms of a world community. Both “Growing Up Global” and “Learning to Live Together” remind us that millions of people suffer because of poverty and deprivation, the abuse and exploitation of the planet´s resources, ecological crises, the rise of violence and military conflicts, and the culture of greed and accumulation. These exert over us a new type of pressure that obligates us to practice ethical values in our lives in the midst of a world community. For this reason, both us and our children, real or symbolic, need an ethical sensitivity that can help us to relate with other cultures and civilizations, while being able to save all that erects itself as a national, ethnic, religious or identity barrier. There are many who have begun to look for answers about how to confront the present and prepare for the future.
From these answers I would like to speak about the document that was developed for the 100th Parliament of World Religions, celebrated in Chicago in 1993, under the direction of Hans Küng. This document entitled Towards a Global Ethic, currently known and accepted around the world, represents a source of inspiration for a possible agreement between peoples from different perspectives on common values that should guide the human community as a whole. For this reason, I would like to highlight a few words from Hans Küng himself that form part of the Introduction of his book “Global Responsability”:
The events that have occurred during the last years have made us clearly see that the world in which we live will not keep possibilities for survival as long as spaces for diverse, opposed and antagonistic ethics continue to exist. A singular world needs a fundamental ethical mood; this singular world society certainly does not need a unitary religion or ideology but a sort of obligatory and obligating set of rules, values, ideals and goals. Survival is not possible without planetary ethics. World peace will not be possible without a religious peace, without a dialogue of religions7.
We know that one of the key aspects for the creation of a better future is to help to develop ethical values from childhood. In my opinion, ethics support and at the same time transcend individual or collective morals, in the way that moral is closer to the temporal or circumstantial. In fact, the word moral has its origin in the Latin word mores that means “habit”. Morals depend closely on a determined historical and social context and are based on determined norms of conduct. These norms of conduct can even be opposite to others depending on the contexts they come from. In the same way, ethics covers this immense distance that two extremely opposing moralities assume, and ethics are covered by a set of values: universal ideals and virtues that transcend our temporary and circumstantial traditions, and shape our attitude and way of relating with others, with nature and with life. It is through the ethical posture and conduct that emanates from this, and not by theories or guidelines of behavior, that we reach the understanding of our own identity, culture and tradition, as well as of those around us. Actually, it is ethics that is the wisdom that nurtures our spiritual dimension as human begins, a spiritual dimension that, although flowing through different religions, is neither necessarily synonymous with nor equivalent of religion.
As the authors of “Learning to Live Together” state:
Spirituality is a way to channel emotions, feelings, and compassion into engagement. Engagement, in turn, is the dynamic of liberation and empowerment.
Spirituality is a posture, a way of being, of placing oneself in the universe. It is something that draws us beyond what we are, beyond what we normally experience. (…) A spirituality of “moving beyond” is interested in the ultimate, not in the immediate. (…) A spirituality of moving beyond –trascendent spirituality- is not satisfied with answers alone. To go beyond is to question. (…) [Besides], a spirituality of moving beyond cannot be limited to boundaries. It is instead focused on possibilities. (…) [In fact], the call to love your neighbour as yourself is a challenge to go beyond, to try to live what seems a contradiction. Is it possible to love one´s enemy? In asking whether it is realistic, we open ourselves to the possibility itself. Spirituality is the call to move beyond where one is –from the immediate to the ultimate, from answers to questions, from boundaries to possibilities.
From the same sensitivity to the spiritual perspective of the human being, one can also encounter the beautiful thoughts that Homa Sabet passes down to us as a farewell in her book “Growing Up Global”. Recalling Albert Einstein and Martin Luther King, Homa Sabet states:
We are liberated when we rise above our limited selves, and reach a consciousness that embraces all humanity. Our task must be to free ourselves by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole nature in its beauty.
This would also be, for Homa Sabet, the best expression that embraces what it means to be an authentic world citizen and, seen as a whole, would describe what would universally be known as love: love to humanity and love to our own human condition.
Sustaining this love for humanity and the human condition one finds empathy as an heir of the receptive capacity of our parental figures, and identification as a permanent search and possibility of encounter with another human being.
In 1932, after the devastation and terrible effects of the First World War, Albert Einstein and Sigmund Freud maintained a legendary dialogue by correspondence. From this correspondence was born one of the most interesting ethical-political debate experiences in history. This dealt with one of the most complex and inextricable themes of our civilization: “Why War?” For Einstein, the fundamental question that he posed was, in his judgment, “the most important question that can be proposed to civilization.” He formulated it in this way: “Is there a way to liberate the human being from the fatality of war?”
From this debate between both gentlemen, I would like to remember the words of Freud, taken from his letter to Einstein, that I think is relevant for today.
It is not about totally eliminating the aggressive human tendencies. It is possible to divert them in such a way that they don’t need to find their expression in war. (…) Everything that can establish ties of affection between human beings raise this type of common feelings: the identifications. The structure of human society is based for the most part on them. (…) How long do we need to wait for others to become also pacifists? It is hard to say, but probably it is not a utopia to hope that the influence of these two factors – the cultural attitude and the well-founded fear towards the consequences of a future war – put an end to the armed conflicts within a limited time. It is not possible to guess which are the ways to arrive to that end. For now we can only say to ourselves: everything that propels cultural evolution works against war.
From this perspective, identification with others molds the basis of our identity and propels us to meeting and/or encountering with others. This makes our capacity to empathize possible. As the authors of “Learning to Live Together” say:
The call to empathize with the experience of others is perhaps one of the greatest values that we can pass on to our children.
We are conscious that empathy is the capacity to enter the experience of another and to understand and feel his/her joys and sorrows, elation and anguish. Empathy permits us to search and receive the other in a new way, accepting the individual and being enriched with his/her uniqueness, without projecting nor disguising the other, with all that our desires and fears can summon. If we recall Herodotus, our first teacher of coexistence with multiculturalism, he has already transmitted to us that myth blends with reality and legends with facts. He had shown us how decisions and the mindset of men depended on the spirits that accompanied them, and on their dreams, fears and wishes that they possessed inside. He knew that a vision that appeared in a dream to a king could decide the destiny of a country and of its millions of subjects. He also knew that a person is weak and helpless before a fear produced from one´s imagination. At the same time, Herodotus focused on one of his most ambitious objectives: to immortalize the history of the world. Accomplishing this, many centuries ago, he discovered something important: a characteristic of the memory: that people remember what they wish to remember and not what actually happened (Kapuscinski, 2004). This fact is asserted in Ryszard Kapuscinski´s book: “Travels with Herodotus” when he says:
Everyone colors events after his fashion, brews up his own mélange of reminiscences. There forgetting through to the past itself, the past as it really was, is impossible. What are available to us are only its various versions, more or less credible, one or another of them suiting us better at any given time. The past does not exist. There are only infinite renderings of it.
In the same way that history depends on our various versions of it, also, our path towards the encountering of the Other, one who is different, can be covered by: our own fears, desires, wishes, prejudices and, misunderstandings that can stain, blur, overshadow and even erase the other´s uniqueness. I think that the Greek Poet Constantino Cavafis taught this to us through his beautiful poem “Ithaca”:
When you set out on your journey to Ithaca
Pray that the road is long,
Full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
The angry Poseidon — do not fear them
You will never find such as these on your path,
If your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
Emotion touches your spirit and your body
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
The fierce Poseidon you will never encounter
If you do not carry them within your soul,
If your soul does not set them up before you
Authentic and profound empathy towards another also permits us to avert our projections, to face our fears and prejudices and also to confront unattainable illusions that the other person awakens in us. Empathy allows us to put ourselves in the other´s place, to understand them and understand their motivations without needing a justification for their actions. Empathy also allows us to relate to others and tolerate not only their differences, but also their opacity, leaving behind the omnipotent illusion of an unlimited communication with another. Facing the imbalance between the hoped for and the found in the other, a primary reaction may be one of violence and control. However, a reciprocal understanding of the other, is a means of reconciliation, which also implies the acceptance of the indescribable and inexpressible in all human relationships. This implies accepting – as Donald Meltzer would say- “the aesthetic conflict” inherent to all human relations. For the british psychoanalyst Donald Meltzer, accepting “the aesthetic conflict” implies, among other things, acknowledging that there is something in the complexity of the object of love, linked with the feeling of beauty and ambiguity at the same time, which belongs to the interior of our loved person which, in our eyes, is represented by us as mysterious, unknown and enigmatic. Accepting another implies accepting the other´s silence, emptiness, mystery and enigmas, including those that can be also represented as enigmas for the other person at the same time.
A mutual understanding implies gaining sensitivity and receptivity and assuming the experience of understanding diversity, as well as its similarities and differences in relation with the other. This occurs when there is an experience of integration in connection. Understanding allows the assimilation of misunderstandings without denial, nor minimalizing, while sustaining a loving inception. This also opens the door to reconciliation, not only as a practical action, but as a way of life. As the authors of “Learning to Live Together” emphasize:
Reconciliation is not only a practical action, but also an approach of life. In other words, reconciliation is not only a remedy; it is an orientation with which to manage the inevitable problems, sharp divergences and conflicts in community life. Reconciliation has come to the forefront as an ethical value because of the human tendency to resolve differences and disagreements through the use of violence. (…) The spirit of reconciliation needs to be underlined as an indispensable ethical value in our days.
From this perspective, the capacity to reconcile and to reconcile with ourselves and with others would constitute one of the best antidotes to the tendency towards violence and resentment. For all this “Learning to Live Together” brings out, in tune with what Homa Sabet also explained in her book “Growing Up Global”, four ethical values that would be part of the ethical education for childhood in a globalized and pluralistic society. These four values would be: respect, responsibility, reconciliation and empathy. These four values neither represent an exhaustive list nor exclude others, but they precisely summon and appeal to an ample set of ideals and virtues that are forged within the parent-child bond, and enable their continued development through ulterior bonds with the other meaningful figures of our life story.
When understanding sustains empathy and is accomplished, it inherits in adulthood the function related with the parental capacity of gathering and simultaneously balancing the initiatives of the child. If these essential ties with parental figures or its substitutes fail, it can give way to a dysfunction within the parent-child relationship in which there is only one of the parts of the relationship prevails and is recognized. This dysfunction with the tie between parents and children can culminate into a difficulty or a certain degree of incapacity to understand oneself and others.
From this perspective, our parents and other authority figures are our models of identification in our future way of empathizing and relating ourselves with others and with the world.
As the psychoanalyst, Melanie Klein (1937) states:
In the depths of the mind, the urge to make people happy is linked up with a strong feeling of responsibility and concern for them, which manifests itself in genuine sympathy with other people and in the ability to understand them, as they are and as they feel. To be genuinely considerate implies that we can put ourselves in the place of other people: we ‘identify’ ourselves with them. Now this capacity for identification with another person is a most important element in human relationships in general, and is also a condition for real and strong feelings of love. We are only able to disregard or to some extent sacrifice our own feelings and desires, and thus for a time to put the other person´s interests and emotions first, if we have the capacity to identify ourselves with the loved person. Since in being identified with other people we share, as it were, the help or satisfaction afforded to them by ourselves, we regain in one way what we have sacrificed in another.
In relation with this, I recall that on November 20th, I had the opportunity to be invited to celebrate the International Day for Children, organized by the GNRC. I remember that, among the activities and functions that were a part of the program of this wonderful celebration, was the lovely representation of the story “A violet in the garden” by the children who attended the conference.
This tale told the story of a gardener that used to take care of a beautiful garden full with flowers of all types, shapes, colours and sizes. The gardener, who was a pretty old person and very kind, paid especial attention to each flower so that it would grow and manifest its maximum beauty, making each of them feel special and unique. There was a new flower that entered the garden: it was a violet flower that, since it arrived, was rejected by the rest of flowers which started to swagger with an arrogant attitude. Suddenly, the gardener arrived accompanied by a dark-skinned beautiful woman who seemed to like flowers very much. He would touch and point proudly to various flowers and would explain to her the origin and the qualities that each had, and invited his guest to smell a flower that had a particular fragrance. When the turn came for the violet, the gardener told his guest that he had acquired it in a gorgeous garden in Israel and that it was an African violet that was very sensitive and needed lots of love and care. Then the gardener said: “If the people in the world were able to understand that they also make part of a beautiful garden there would be less prejudices, less starvation and less wars. We could live with peace and gladness”. From that moment on, the rest of the flowers understood and appreciated the qualities and the singularity of their new companion, the violet, and, after a short time, they were comparing the petals and the colours among themselves. Those words from the gardener allowed them to discover that they were more beautiful and they felt better when they were close to flowers of a different colour, size and shape in a garden where the scent was more pleasant than any perfume and where the ensemble of flowers were happy together.
This lovely childhood story helps to teach and transmit to children, and also to us who are adults, what the authors of “Learning to Live Together” have emphasized: that if the religiously and culturally plural reality is conveyed in an open, warm, loving, harmonious setting, where the figures of authority arouse respect and affection rather than fear, there is no threat to one´s own tradition. For this same reason, it is important that the entire educational environment be imbued with the notion of acceptance and mutual knowledge as well as the idea of equality in terms of legitimacy, which means that it is necessary to give to all cultural traditions, beliefs or practices their value without any of them trying to assume an arrogant superiority over the rest. As the authors of “Learning to Live Together” have underlined:
Amid diversity, what is common to all –our humanity, needs to be stressed. The image is not that of a melting pot, where everything is mixed together, but of a mosaic where each cultural identity has its own significance and recognition, affirming the richness in diversity.
And stimulated by the richness and the depth with which a story like “A violet in the garden” can speak directly to the heart of children, and also to the child who abides inside of us adults, I would like to emphasise the importance that both Homa Sabet and the authors of “Learning to Live Together” grant to the reading and telling of stories in the education of future world citizens. The stories that run through different cultures and religious traditions, as well as the myths, the tales and stories of fiction expressed both in literature as well as in the art of films, are very important in the education of children and teenagers. As Hannah Arendt used to say: “Story telling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it”. From another perspective, the Nigerian poet and novelist Ben Okri also used to say: “Stories can conquer fear, you know. They can make the heart bigger”. Also in the Jewish tradition it is said that the human being is not the only one who appreciates the telling of stories. When you ask the question: “Why did God create man?, the answer is: “Because God loves to listen to a good story.”
I find especially beautiful and eloquent the way the authors of “Learning to Live Together” describe the place where the narration and the reception of stories occurs, and that brought to my mind the concept of “transitional space” developed by the psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott. The “transitional space” is situated on the threshold of transition between the inner reality and the outer reality. Winnicott placed in this transitional space: the child’s play, arts, creativity and the mystic and religious experiences. In that sense I think that the authors of “Learning to Live Together” are describing this same “transitional space” in relation with the place where the story occurs when they state:
Story-telling takes place in the real world but the story itself is not the real world. It is a different kind of world, which has much to do with twilight. Two kinds of light meet: the light of day meets the light of evening and one is unable to say where one light begins and the other ends. One is at the threshold, when one is neither outside nor inside. It is only at the threshold that we are able to grasp that two kinds of contradictory truths do not rule out each other but can be kept together as a creative tension to bring us further and deeper into our own being.
While I meditated on the deep reflexions that the authors of “Learning to Live Together” provide for us, I recalled one of my favourite books from my childhood: “One Thousand and One Nights” where princess Sherezade escapes from a sure death by making the sultan (whose plan was to kill her at the break of day) fall in love with her by telling a series of stories that develop themselves throughout one thousand and one nights. And it is not by chance, I thought, that the stories in Arabic start by saying: Ken ye me ken, which can be translated as: “It was and it was not”, that is the moment when everybody knows that a story is about to be told. In the same way, when some people tell a story in Iran, they begin by saying: Yeki bud, yeki nabud, “there was one, there was no one”, and then all sit down to listen and they get ready to enter into the universe where everything is possible. As the authors of “Learning to Live Together” emphasize:
Stories happen in a dimension where there is one and there is no one, or where something happens and, at the same time, does not happen.
As Homa Sabet also shows to us throughout her book “Growing Up Global”:
Stories open up for us windows to the world and bring us important prescriptions and resources to live as well as metaphors that help us to represent the differences and to accept and to enrich ourselves with difference and diversity (…) One of the best windows to the world and to education about the world is through the variety of art that has flourished in each culture of the Earth.
In this frame of encounter with others by means of art and, therefore by means of reading and fiction, I would like to remember some words from Mario Vargas Llosa’s speech when he received his Nobel Prize on December 7th 2010 which title was: “Praise to literature and fiction”:
I learned to read at the age of five, in Brother Justiniano’s class at the De la Salle Academy in Cochabamba, Bolivia. It is the most important thing that has ever happened to me. Almost seventy years later I remember clearly how the magic of translating the words in books into images enriched my life, breaking the barriers of time and space (…). Reading changed dreams into life and life into dreams and placed the universe of literature within reach of the boy I once was. (…) Thanks to literature, to the consciousness it shapes, the desires and longings it inspires, and our disenchantment with reality when we return from the journey to a beautiful fantasy, civilization is now less cruel than when storytellers began to humanize life with their fables. We would be worse than we are without the good books we have read, more conformist, not as restless, more submissive, and the critical spirit, the engine of progress, would not even exist. Like writing, reading is a protest against the insufficiencies of life.(…) Good literature erects bridges between different peoples, and by having us enjoy, suffer, or feel surprise, unites us beneath the languages, beliefs, habits, customs, and prejudices that separate us. (…) Literature creates a fraternity within human diversity and eclipses the frontiers erected among men and women by ignorance, ideologies, religions, languages, and stupidity.
If Literature, as Mario Vargas Llosa says, is an example of the ability of all true art to create fraternities and build bridges between different people, then it is children´s play that is the foundation of all cultural productions, all art and all literature.
“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation”. This is Plato’s beautiful quote that heads one of the chapters that Homa Sabet devotes exclusively to playing in her book. She reminds us that, throughout our recent history, playing together has not only united people but it also overcomes barriers and divisions among human beings.
Certainly a child’s play is the activity created per excellence, it is the fruit of spontaneity and originality, it is the driving force of creativity and learning, and of the encounter with ourselves and with others. The act of playing transcends language in itself and what is essential to it is not the finished creation but the activity of creating. Playing or the game also carries out an essential function in the management of aggression when it is expressed and elaborated symbolically, and it helps to integrate ambivalent feelings towards people and things. It is by means of the game, more than any other activity, that children acquire dominion of the outer world. Here they learn about social relationships, they elaborate and integrate their experiences, emotions, anxieties and fantasies, and they can develop important qualities such as: curiosity, creativity, perseverance and patience. It is because of this very reason that, psychoanalyst B. Bettelheim said:
Only when parents show not only respect and tolerance but also personal interest for playing, the child will receive in his experience of playing a solid basis upon which he will be able to develop his relationship with his parents and with the world.
Along the lines of this interest and appreciation of the game, Homa Sabet proposes to us, parents, that just by playing new or unusual games, or by including new modalities when it comes to playing the same game in different countries, our children can begin to understand the idea of unity within diversity. Because it is through the introduction of a variety of games and new ways of playing that parents can instill in their children the appreciation for diversity and democracy; just by playing with them. And, from this perspective, games can be considered as a way to travel around the world in the sense that we will be able not only to transmit to them our idea and knowledge of a certain country or culture, or through the same games we will be able to learn about geography, culture and languages but, essentially from and through these we can internalize everything that allows us to begin “to feel that the world is our home”, such as Homa Sabet shows to us in her book “Growing Up Global”. In this way, Homa Sabet explains:
It doesn´t take an arsenal of toys to play globally, children who are left alone to play long enough and often enough to use their imaginations are playing more like their peers abroad, and thus may connect best with them.
From this perspective, the game constitutes the basis upon which all quality education will rest. For, as J. Ortega y Gasset said, “quality education is always one that generates curiosity” and, therefore, also interest for other cultures and ways of life. It is upon the basis of this infantile curiosity that our own curiosity for the human being and for the world will be built. And it is in the course of our development that it will give us a dose of pleasure which will allow us to fulfil ourselves through the discovery of the human condition. Nevertheless, distorting and darkening the realization of this project of knowing the world and the people who draw us closer to the most authentic meaning of happiness, there is a powerful threat that hovers over us: fundamentalism or fanaticism as the endemic evil that lies in wait for us.
When in February of last year, I had the joy and the privilege to listen to an excellent conference given by the writer and thinker Bahiyyih Nakjavani on the subject of fundamentalism and entitled: “A challenge to fundamentalism”, I understood that recognizing and facing fundamentalism is one of the greatest challenges for the human being, as well as one of the most important prerequisites for us to build a better world. Of the manifold wisdom that her presentation distilled, I would like to stress some aspects that she related on this subject in particular. Bahiyyih Nakjavani showed us that fundamentalism is not something inherent to a certain culture, ideology, religion or nation but it is something that adheres to all of those things. Besides, fundamentalism is something that can become a part of us all, as a potential inside of us, because it is closely linked with our deepest and ancestral fears of change and transformation. She also showed us that fundamentalism expresses through many voices but, in the final analysis, it has only one voice: the voice that incarnates the arrogance and the feeling of superiority over other people. Bahiyyih Nakjavani taught us that fundamentalism tries to oppose itself to the passing of time which implies all change, by thus freezing it, so that the fanatic does not face the pain that involves all true growth. She also taught us that the fanatic tries to set up a kingdom: the kingdom of dogmatic ideas which annihilates all vitality in one´s thinking. In this way, the dogmatic idea sets itself up as the IDEA per excellence, as the only true idea which not only darkens but annihilates the rest of ideas by cutting itself off from them and by breaking its articulation with them. In this way, the fanatic takes ideas out of their original context in order to enthrone them and to deify them, thus making a use of them that is not only simplified, darkening and reductionist, but also stupid by making their statements hyper concrete.
Fanaticism is not therefore an idea in itself but the use that we make of it, said Bahiyyih Nakhjavani. Fanaticism would therefore be the use that can firmly and tenaciously adhere to any statement and that bears the seal of immediateness. Fanaticism, as it is born out of insecurity and intolerance for uncertainty, imposes a wall to one´s thinking by fervently protecting it from the plurality of senses and meaning that are inherent to reasoning: the vital reasoning in its essence, such as J. Ortega y Gasset taught us, and also inherent to life itself. The fanatic annihilates the problem by turning dilemmatic something that is problematic and by removing the mystery from the mind. In this way, he erects a sole idea that cannot live with other ideas. That is why, in my opinion, the fanatic can say: “You must be either with me or against me”.
Fanaticism is always excessive in presence and hates absence, doubt, change and emotional experience as the driving force for thinking. In this way, the fundamentalist perverts the search for truth as a compass of thinking in the sense that he forgets that the truth is not an end but a direction. In his stubborn assertion, he ignores the fact that there is not a sole truth but various singular truths which are the fruit of the deep process that is involved in all authentic knowledge of oneself, of others and of the world. In this context, Bahiyyih Nakhjavani showed us, through the model of her creative and deep thinking, that true thinking is always genuine, open, tolerant, encouraging and open to surprise, allowing you to be enriched by newness and difference; all of these qualities are the best antidote to fanaticism and falsehood.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!
With these beautiful and deep verses, Shakespeare encourages us in his work “Hamlet” to follow our own way and not to be slaves of the fanaticism that all idealization implies.
It is precisely in relation to this subject of the reductionism that implies all fanatic nuclei that the thinker and philosopher Edgar Morin states, in one of the chapters of his book “A Luminous Mind” entitled “The reform of thinking,” the following:
A thought that isolates and separates must be replaced by another thought that distinguishes and unites. A disjunctive and reducing thought must be replaced by a more complex thought in the sense of the original term “complexus”: what is interwoven. (…) The understanding that is always intersubjective needs openness and generosity. (…) The dialogic principle allows us to rationally assume the inseparability of some notions that can be contradictory in order to conceive the same phenomenon. (…) The thought must assume dialogically the two terms that tend to exclude mutually. (…) This tells us that a way of thinking that is able to unite and to show solidarity towards separate notions is also able to extend itself in the ethics of interrelation and solidarity among human beings8.
Again we come across ethics as the guarantee and the driving force for the happy coexistence and solidarity among humans, and with responsibility as the ethical dimension that leads us into the assumption of the ideal of concern and respect for others and for their differences, along with the search for our common humanity.
But all this way of responsibility and respect towards the other is not necessarily a way of sacrifice, renunciation and obligation. As the philosopher Fernando Savater tells us in his book “Ethics for Amador” (a precious book that he wrote for his son Amador): Ethics is a way towards happiness. In the same manner, the way that leads to becoming a true world citizen has to be a happy, pleasant and even a playful way, just as Homa Sabet has been telling us throughout all her book. It is a pathway forged out of curiosity, love and enthusiasm for that which is different, new and surprising; and it is above all a way of mutual enrichment that is going to make the parent enjoy, even have fun, while helping their children to grow in and for a global world. For that purpose, Homa Sabet encourages us to draw the world nearer to our home from the very beginning. Of all the recommendations that she makes to us parents of future world citizens we find:
– For our children to have at hand world maps where they can situate themselves.
– That we can surf with them through appropriate Internet pages that can open the windows of the world for children.
– That we can show them the beauty of art from different cultures through factual or virtual visits to museums.
– That we enrich the musical, literary, and film repertory of our children with music, books and films from different cultures that can also open new windows to different lifestyles.
– That we awaken in our children love and interest for foreign languages, something strongly linked to the desire to understand and to be understood.
– That we enjoy and take delight in the culinary arts by tasting and cooking food from around the world with our children.
– That we also share with the joy of attending shows and celebrations from different cultures.
– That we learn and become enriched with different stories that tell about diverse religious traditions and that bring to us beautiful and deep metaphors which can help to understand and reflect about life and the human condition, opening up for us as well the way to the spiritual dimension of the human being.
– That we awaken and stimulate in our children the sense of service, solidarity and generosity with others and with the world.
All of this is something that according to Homa Sabet we can instill in our children as a precious legacy. Toward that end she develops a plan of action that she illustrates throughout her book, for which she presents a broad variety and diversity of possibilities, resources, actions, tools and ways in her book “Growing Up Global”. However, describing them would be beyond the limits of this presentation. In order to find and to enrich yourselves with all these resources, I invite and encourage you to not only read Homa Sabet’s book but also to visit her web page which is full of multiple practical tips, tools and resources to “educate and to build ourselves as future world citizens.”
In parallel with all of this, also the group of authors of “Learning to Live Together” has developed and gathered a very valuable ensemble of methodologies, techniques and resources to implement and to develop the wonderful and fascinating project of “Learning to Live Together”, which would also be impossible to describe in this presentation (since each of these techniques and methodologies would deserve being the subject of a specific workshop). Nevertheless, I would like to describe an example of the positive impact the implementation of this program can have. During a GNRC program carried out in Israel, this material was used during a six-day trip made by a group of young Jewish, Christian and Muslim people to the holy places of Israel and Palestine (all of them carrying a great deal of symbolic importance for the conflict that goes on in the region). The youngsters took advantage of each stop to talk about their values and about their different views of the history of the land common to them all. Given that one of the main tasks of a parent is “to generate hope”, I also would like to generate hope by sharing the summary of these youngsters’ testimony which proves that it is possible, through projects such as this one, to start to sow seeds of peace in the world and then reap beautiful fruits.
We engaged in a deep learning experience together –getting to know more about one another´s history, culture and beliefs while strengthening our own identities and forming stronger and more grounded understanding. We dealt with difficult and challenging issues without fracturing the relationships within the group and without resorting to hurtful arguments and breakdowns. It may have been just a small step in breaking down the deeply entrenched walls of isolation between the different national and religious groups in our country, but it was an important and successful one. In the current climate of despair, small steps such as these are both rare and precious, and we should all feel proud and privileged to have taken part.
And building on the shared testimony of these young people, I would like to discuss the opportunity to facilitate new encounters with other people during a specific, privileged period of human development: adolescence.
As Freud showed us:
In the individual that grows, his weaning from parental authority is one of the most necessary and also painful operations in his development. A weaning that creates opposition which is so important for the progress of culture, between the new generation and the old generation.
The time of adolescence is, therefore, the time of consolidation of the exogamy that implies the encounter with all those who are different, and out of the family context. From this perspective, when the prevalence and the intensity of all that is known and familiar is excessive, then everything that is new, original and different can be felt as something that comes against some loyalties: the closest family or social environment. From this point of view, the difficulty to build a new space of common encounter with someone different can derive not so much from conscious convictions but rather from the difficulty to distance themselves or, as Freud said, to be weaned from parental authority and, therefore, to be weaned from a strong tie to their own parents. It is then when the adolescent becomes stuck without being able to continue on his own way of encounter with the other, the different, without being able to carry out – as psychoanalyst Teresa Olmos says – a filiation work, that psychic elaboration that allows the weaning from the parent, thus continuing his work.
As the same psychoanalyst points out:
In the becoming of each singular story, adolescence is a determining moment in the possibility of reorganizing the psychic structuring; of the symbolization processes and of the identification processes (Olmos, 1998).
Adolescence begins with puberty and it represents a deep psychological commotion which obligates the psychic apparatus to face the new representations of a body that changes and a new manner of manifesting its drives. It is a moment when the adolescent’s infantile sexual experiences take another meaning, having the adolescent to carry out a work of symbolization in which an essential key will be to be able to represent oneself as a stranger, resting on his corporeal estrangement (Olmos, 1996).
From this perspective, I think that the adolescent stage would be a privileged time to be able to encounter and to reencounter the strange, the foreigner that we carry inside of us and that represents for us our own unconscious. In this way, at the moment of puberty, we could also associate this “foreigner” who inhabits inside us and is a part of us, with the typical corporal strangeness of the adolescent face to a body that changes and is no longer the body of a wonderful child from that idealized time of childhood. At this moment, if the adolescent has a safe and firm foundation that allows him to recognize himself and to continue to feel that he is the same one compared with the changes, or if he can count on professional help so necessary when he cannot do this very thing on his own, then he will be able to feel that the encounter with the other, the foreigner, as representative of all that is different and “foreign” within himself can be enriching. This not only can enrich the adolescent but can even help him or her to make contact and to dialogue in a better way with “that foreigner that he also carries inside” and that we all definitely harbour inside of ourselves throughout the entirety of our lives.
But in this state of emotional turbulence that starts in puberty and that develops itself in adolescence, we also find some positive aspects that open up the adolescent the world and to others; such as love for truth, interest for knowledge, the idealization of friendship, the ability to stand in awe of meaningful figures and to feel understood (Olmos, 1996).
In this privileged moment of adolescence where the ideals about oneself are restructured and when the adolescent opens up to encounter the different and foreigner inside him, I believe that the contribution of some universal ideals is particularly relevant for his becoming “a future world citizen”. The encounter and/or reencounter with universal ideals and values, passed on through meaningful figures who append themselves to the ample horizon to the task began by parents, will give the adolescent several solid anchorage points that would allow him to travel in his vital trajectory and to enrich himself or herself with the personal and cultural differences that the world offers to him or her.
In this sense, I would like to emphasize the importance of exchanges and friendships with people belonging to other nationalities, cultures and religions different to mine for my life. I experienced many of these encounters in my adolescence, a very special period of my life when I began to discover myself and others in a way that was different from the way I had been up to that time, a time during which I also discovered with great pleasure: history, philosophy, cinema, literature, arts and psychoanalysis.
Fortunately, all these important encounters with others different from me have given me the stimulus to apply for various scholarships that had allowed me to finish and to validate the specialization of my degree in Psychology in an English University. During the time I spent in the university, I met, again, people of diverse nationalities and cultures who broadened and enriched my vision of the world, people with whom even to the present I keep important ties of friendship. The experience of coexisting with all of them during an ample period of time brought me many valuable life experiences, many unforgettable moments, and enriched my life immensely. These experiences also furthered my desire to be able to convey to other people the value of these types of experiences where a person can discover our common humanity and where we can enjoy “Learning to Live Together”.
The poet Gabriel Celaya has said that “poetry is a weapon loaded with future”. And I would like to finish this presentation with one of my favourite poems which I believe conveys to us the task of educating, a task in which we will always have the company of the child and the adolescent that we carry inside. Education is also a weapon loaded with the hope of a future against violence, suffering and disillusionment.
(By Gabriel Celaya)
To educate is the same as
to put an engine to a boat.
You have to measure, to weight, to balance…
But for that
You need to bear in the soul
A little bit of a sailor,
A little bit of a pirate,
A little bit of a poet
And a couple of pounds
Of concentrated patience.
But it is encouraging to dream
That as you keep working
That boat, that child,
Will get very far on the waters.
To dream that that boat
Will carry our load of words
To distant harbours,
To remote islands.
To dream that one day,
When our own boat is sleeping
Our flag will remain
Hoisted on new boats.
Fdo: © Mercedes Puchol Martínez – Madrid, February 2012.
1-8 The translation is mine