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Leaving the House to Attain Wealth

The Voices of the Days/4 - Once out of the "houses", taking up different angles, you can see and grow

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 20/03/2016

Acquasantiera S Anastasia VR 01 ridMaster, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest’.

(Matthew 13,27-30)

A friend of mine after returning from a holiday abroad exclaimed in surprise: »There, there are many more blind people than here«. I replied, »There aren't more blind: only they come out more from their house, because there are fewer barriers, more infrastructure dedicated to them and a culture that encourages the blind to have a public life.«”

This dialogue with Giulia, a colleague of mine in Sicily who is blind, made me think a lot. Allowing diversity, problems and poverty to emerge is a great and powerful indicator of the level of civilization of a people; it is a high form of the wealth of nations.

The most beautiful square in the world is the one where we can all meet, with all our different abilities and disabilities. The best class is the one inhabited by our wonderful sons and daughters together with those who are differently wonderful. The deaf, the blind, the lame, the depressed and the happy are all invited to the same banquet of conviviality of differences. There are some instances of poverty that - if they become public and therefore visible in the streets of all - make a people richer. In this sense it is still true that 'poverty is the wealth of nations'. And that the first poverty of a person, a people or a community is to hide their poverty.

Civilizations have always decided which wounds should be seen in public, and which ones should be hidden, concealed and denied. For thousands of years we kept much of our poverty and that of our children locked inside the house, keeping ourselves imprisoned together with them. They had to remain invisible, and many continue to be so. Sometimes we discovered them during a crisis, an emergency or when there was a bad smell coming through the front door. Crises are always a chance of emergence for invisible instances of poverty - just as we are seeing it nowadays. In our soul there are types of poverty that would become our own and everyone's wealth if only we were able to tell about them to someone who can accommodate them, if only they were allowed to "leave the house".

Some invisible instances of poverty of yesterday are becoming increasingly visible now, they start to emerge through a process of gradual liberation which is making our cities more beautiful and more civil. There are, however, some emerging new instances of invisible poverty, too. These are kept hidden intentionally, sometimes for the profit of those who hide them. The poor that get chained in the game halls of gamble are no longer seen. The more and more black glasses impede public viewing, and the neighbours of the "game" only see the enchanting machine, wrapped in a self-devouring loneliness and producing wicked private and public gains. Just as we do not see the children who sleep in special rooms, arranged to facilitate the day and night “game” of their mothers. The first step in the liberation of these post-modern slaves would be starting to see them, perhaps by brightening the windows of their prisons, sometimes entering inside, illuminating them with our eyes. In a country that does not have the strength to close these prisons, but keeps opening new ones, what remains for us citizens is only the possibility and the moral resistance to bring them inside the city, to place them in the spotlight of attention.

Then there are also instances of personal poverty that we have learned to turn into collective wealth for centuries, and that are gradually coming back into the realm of an invisible and lonely necessity.

Let's just think of prayer. Prayer comes first a necessity, an indigence - from the anthropological experience of being poor, incomplete, from the deep intuition that we are greater than the limits of our body and the universe. Faiths and religions have been able to turn this individual indigence into a community liturgy in churches, temples, pilgrimages, processions, all of which were (almost) always higher forms of common goods and the Common Good. When someone left their house, they would set out on the road with others to accompany them, and they identified themselves as - and admitted to being - needy and beggars. And so they would begin to pray, transforming those instances of poverty into wealth. We can (and should) pray even in the privacy of our own room, but we can also pray together, to recognize one another hungry for meaning and eternity, and so the indigence becomes a form of common public wealth for the whole city. Even those who do not believe (or no longer believe) that beyond the prayers there is a ‘You’ to embrace them know that the presence of communities that know how to pray together is a capability of the city, which increases its freedom. Today this anthropological poverty is still there, but we no longer find or recognize the places to celebrate together, neither the companions to share it with. We no longer go on pilgrimages, because we lack the goals and thus we lack the paths leading to them, and we just don't see the ones we have anymore. And so this poverty does not leave the house, it does not become wealth.

The hidden and segregated instances of poverty are therefore always considered as individual and community ills, but we are not always aware of this. When, for example, in a community the instances of poverty and problems are not seen, we must always ask ourselves whether we are becoming richer through this or poverty can no longer leave the house because of our civil and moral barriers. Many attempts at reducing poverty are actually only the expression of a community level crisis and poverty.

This paradox is general, but it is decisive when we are dealing with spiritual or ideal-driven communities.Acquasantiera S Anastasia VR 02 ridHere, in the best and most vital moments, people feel free to donate goods and wealth along with their 'ills' and poverty. When, however, communities and their spirit fade away, the goods donated together in response to requests for help diminish, too, even if we often do not notice or think that reducing poverty is actually the result of the increase of goods and wealth. A community is reborn when its members begin to give (share) goods together with their many instances of poverty and pain.

Furthermore, there is a particular kind of poverty and community problem that turn into wealth if they manage to leave the house. An ideal-driven / charismatic community can remain alive after its founding, it can get over the period of crisis caused by the change from the first to succeeding generations - but only if it can bring out disagreements, criticism, the diversity of interpretations and visions, the different readings of the "charisma" of the founders. However, all these are generally seen as forms of poverty and problems, and therefore they are just not let out. The moral health of those communities is in fact measured by the plurality of voices that manage to express themselves and sing together, including those that appear to be out of tune, and are actually just different and new voices.

The Church is still alive after two thousand years because, especially in the early centuries, she was nourished and purified by many theological and spiritual charismas, each very different from the others, sometimes mutually dissonant, but together they managed to prevent the creation of a single, monolithic thought. The church was nourished even by the heresies, because to defend herself against them she had to refine and purify her kerygma, she has been forced to develop new antibodies that have protected her from the virus of the ideology of her own faith. In any living community that grows and lasts through generations, the arrival - whether from inside or outside - of people with innovative and creative instances is necessary and indispensable for survival, but these in turn necessarily present themselves as problems for the ones governing. Not all of these instances are good for the community, not all problems are wealth. Some are born from narcissism and if cultivated would lead simply to the disintegration of the community-movement-organization. The crucial element, however, lies in the inability to recognize the innovative nature of the instance in its emersion phase, when it is born and when it begins to get expressed. The only way to distinguish between these "secondary" charismas is to make them grow, to give everyone a chance to flourish. "Good" charismas can cure the "bad" ones.

The original charisma has its own intrinsic strength, and if it develops properly it naturally produces its own antibodies. But if innovative people are blocked because they are perceived as a threat and poverty, or, worse, if the government of the community directs and pilots the emergence of instances artificially defined as "good", communities fall ill and often die.

It takes ten "false" prophets to have a good one, and if a community wants to have the certainty of generating only good prophets it ends up producing only bad ones. If there is only good wheat in the field of the spirit it does not prove fruitful. The more a community is spiritually alive the broader its spectrum of criticism, objections and protests is, which is, far from being poverty, only and entirely wealth. Sometimes, in fact, people who appear more problematic and dangerous at the beginning prove invaluable resources as they grow and mature; and others who seemed docile in the early stages (because they were adulators), in time become the real tumours of the body, that, having followed them finds itself sterile and unable to attract new members. Especially in the later stages the first foundation, it is not the leaders of the community-movement who are the best suited to discern the good reformers from schismatics and heretics; when they do that they cannot identify the people who do not belong there, because they are too similar to the selectors. Unlike businesses, in ideal-driven organisations, if the selection of the future elite is done by the "ownership" of today it makes the emergence of genuine reformers very difficult, albeit they are the only hope to keep the spirit of the original ideal alive. These essential reformers arrive by vocation, following a direct inner call: and sometimes to a Paul of Tarsus, the ancient persecutor. But even here there are "architectural barriers" that prevent diversity from leaving the house. They have almost always been built in the past to create fast roads and large buildings when the city and its culture were different. To save others and to be saved it takes the courage and strength to break down barriers, change routes, traffic lights and sidewalks. It is the open air of the square and the gardens that cure and save us.

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