A young man was leaving a nightclub in Rio de Janeiro in the early hours of the morning when he saw two workers sleeping on boards at the edge of a building under construction. Then,” he said, “I understood the phrase of a samba he had sung: only those who don’t know about things are capable of laughing…”.

We know very little about the things that go around the world. We remember the tourists who walk together, from monument to monument, following the same guide, as if to say: the same newspaper, the same radio, the same television, the same Internet. When the guide commands, everyone looks to the left or to the right. If someone moves away, the guide raises a little flag, so that everyone can see and hear him. In the end, everyone buys the same souvenirs and takes the same pictures. Because, after all, everyone has seen and heard the same thing; everyone has the same thought.

They say the world has become a global village. If we go to the United States or Chad, there are the infallible cokes, the infallible hamburgers, the eternal jeans, the same type of planes at the airport, the same brands of cars on the roads. And, above all, the same laws of the market. The same news spread by the agencies.

And since we are fine, we conclude that everyone is fine. But it is enough to leave the organised tour and open our eyes, to soon discover the enormous contrasts and start asking questions: after all, what is being globalised? Life or death? Universal progress or well-being for some, at the cost of discomfort for many?

About this soulless world, which we are forced to accept as the only possible one, Bartolomé Bennàssar wrote: “There are no peoples, there are markets; there are no citizens, there are consumers; there are no nations, there are companies; there are no cities, there are agglomerations; there are no human relations, there is competitiveness, pushing and shoving, fraud, corruption…”.

The brutal concentration of economic and media power makes citizens uncommunicative and passive. The dictatorship of the single word and the single image is as devastating as that of the single party: it produces docile consumers and passive spectators, in series, on a planetary scale, relegated to the corner of their well-being or their private affairs (which are generally: winning, enjoyment, promotion, power…).

But does it really have to be like this? Is there no other choice but to paste on the door of this Hell the terrible sentence: “Lose all hope, you who enter here”?

Not at all. I believe in the greatness of human beings: in their freedom, in their potential for dreaming and revolt. There will always be men and women willing to travel alone, without a programme and far from a guide, travelling free and unfrequented paths, discovering and doing new things. People able to avoid some temptations and to apply some remedies.

The first temptation is to look at the world from the balcony, or from a distance, with insensitivity or, even worse, from private interests. Bourgeois comfort can blind our eyes and our hearts and, as “in spite of everything, one has never lived so well”, lead us to the temptation to “be happy alone” and not to feel “the anguish of universal misery”, as Raoul Follereau used to say. Bartold Brecht censured those who thus whistled in the air: “They deported the blacks, but I didn’t care, because I wasn’t black; they deported the Jews, but I didn’t care either, because I’m not Jewish either; now they’re taking me, but it’s too late”. Indifference weakens availability.

The remedy is to let oneself be touched by reality with passion and compassion; to exercise the right to indignation and to get upset. At the beginning of actions and attempts to solve problems, there is always an “upset” look, pained by the pain of others, passionate. This suffering and this passion make us come out of our selfish and distant isolation, and launch us into an active, close and supportive commitment.

To change is to be indignant against the situation and then to try to change it. It is not enough to boil inside, we must do something to make the situation less unworthy and less unjust.

But we must also avoid the temptation to wear dark glasses, to take a defeatist and catastrophic view of reality. Making condemnatory speeches changes nothing. Confucius was right: “Better to light a lamp than to curse the darkness”.

Reality is certainly not rosy. Moreover, we should call a spade a spade and not mask it, as the media sometimes do:

“Don’t lie, editor, to the bosses / Don’t write that “he died”, / Say: “they killed him”. / “Don’t put ‘pneumonia’, / put: ‘crushed’. / Don’t say “he was old”,/ Say: “they aged him”. / He died “in the night”:/ “from helplessness”. / His house was not “humble”:/ it was water and mud. / Don’t lie, editor, to the bosses. / Don’t change the words/ in the dictionary. / He was your brother/ he was your brother” (H. L. Alonso).

However, it is one thing not to be naïve and another to see everything as black as a bottomless pit. It is important to look at the world and people with infinite sympathy, with overflowing love, with deep and sincere understanding, with the intention of redeeming and perfecting them.

Because the most dangerous temptation is called passivity, sterile resignation: “I can do nothing”.

This is not true. I can live with sobriety, simplicity and solidarity, to do something for the elderly and the homeless, the drug addicts and the unemployed, the immigrants and the excluded, the third and the fourth world. With my helpful and energetic presence, I can help those in need to recreate their vital dynamism: confidence, self-esteem, identity, courage? I can be part of social and participative networks. In short, I can do… a lot of things.

What I should not do is ask myself what others can do for me instead of asking myself what I can do for them.


Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf

(PHOTO: Josh Calabrese)


Start typing and press Enter to search