At the time of writing, Pope Francis has been making the news for his visit to Egypt, a 90% Muslim country, and the message of peace he has made with Islamic leaders. But he has also just given a secular TED talk which is very worthy of our reflection.
His first message is about solidarity (which not only means unity, but in the register of Catholicism, also connotes the social aspect of morality as a whole):
“How wonderful would it be if solidarity, this beautiful and, at times, inconvenient word, were not simply reduced to social work, and became, instead, the default attitude in political, economic and scientific choices, as well as in the relationships among individuals, peoples and countries.”
So as Francis said elsewhere this week, we need to resist our cultural dichotomy that gives efficiency free reign over the economy and consigns solidarity to our social lives. But I love how he phrases this in this talk, bringing to my mind the idea of transposing what social work strives to do into all other contexts of human life. That is, the idea of the attention and care given to people in social work becoming the paradigm for how we relate to other persons generally. And as I’ve said before I think almost everyone should be involved in some kind of social work whether it’s with children, the elderly, or the disabled etc. (See related posts here.) But the important part is the spirit in which you connect with others, not whether you work with helping people directly. Francis continues by linking this to what have become the core messages of his papacy:
“Only by educating people to a true solidarity will we be able to overcome the ‘culture of waste,’ which doesn’t concern only food and goods but, first and foremost, the people who are cast aside by our techno-economic systems which, without even realising it, are now putting products at their core, instead of people.”
The challenges of our time, including but not limited to the environmental crisis, demand that we equip people with the skills and mindset to tackle them. Education –life-long education– must promote a ‘culture of care’ for all people, and prioritise the value of connecting with others on a personal level, as subjects rather than as objects. (See an article where I discuss this in more detail.) Fostering such a culture allows associations comprised of mutual assistance to evolve into fraternal communities comprised of ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’.
Building on this theme, the Pope speaks about the need for a “revolution of tenderness”, not a political revolution, but a revolution in how we relate to one another. Tenderness he says, is giving attention to the other in a heartfelt way, but not only engaging and listening with one’s heart but through the senses, often including touch.
What tenderness means is “to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need” – including nature. Tenderness is “being on the same level as the other”, co-creating a shared space of communication, a space of relationship for souls to be touched.
Francis adds humility to tenderness as another ingredient we need for our works of solidarity to be a service to others, rather than power which we impose on them. Elsewhere he has said that solidarity with the poor and with our endangered environment requires the courage to live what, by comparison to worldly expectations, are lives of simplicity. To do this is the gift of humility.
Francis says that “the future does have a name, and its name is Hope.” Hopefulness is the virtue of focusing, not on the past -or even the present- but on a positive future. With this essential role, “hope is the humble, hidden seed of life” and it is a final ingredient for a solidarity that can secure a just future for all:
“Does hope begin when we have an ‘us?’ No. Hope began with one ‘you.’ [But] when there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution.” Therefore “the future of humankind isn’t exclusively in the hands of politicians, of great leaders, of big companies. Yes, they do hold enormous responsibility, but the future is most of all in the hands of those people who recognise the other as ‘you’ and themselves as part of an ‘us’. We all need each other.”
Watch the full talk here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=36zrJfAFcuc