If one essential aspect of the human is this sensitivity-openness-permeability, the other, inseparable from the first, is the affection or the fundamental effects of affecting. I speak of being affected, shaken, fundamentally wounded, and I believe that there are four interconnected ways: being affected by life itself, being affected by death, being affected by «thou», and being affected by the world.
To speak of four infinite wounds is not as easy and appealing as to emphasize only one and say, for example, that the human is the «being-for-death», since the shock of finitude is the greatest wound. I think we should resist the tendency to reduce everything to a single fundamental wound. The pre-Socratics sought the source element of all things, and now we might seek the defining element of human existence. What if it isn’t one thing that defines our existence? What if life, death, thou, and the world could be considered equally fundamental elements in the constitution of our nature?
Being affected by life is the enjoyment of things, play and playful exuberance, thinking; it is the pleasure, joy, clarity and warmth that accompany us.
Being affected by death is a shadow that settles over everything we experience; it situates us on the horizon of finitude, of time coming to an end; it causes us to celebrate things, to protect, to care, to survive; and it leads to the veneration of our dead, connecting us to their realm (subterranean or heavenly).
Being affected by thou is companionship, love, what we just said about our dead because the infinite wounds partly overlap; it is responsibility, care, passion, desire, family, love for one’s children; and it is concern for the community, for justice and rights.
Being affected by the world gives rise to contemplation, to theory, to study, to science and poetry, and also to work, to art, to the creation of a world upon the world.
The life of each one of us is a drama of these basic sensations (joy, fear, love, wonder) and the actions that accompany them.
If the most human of the human is the sensitivity-permeability of being affected, then the most inhumane lies in being closed, coldness or indifference.
The best definition of culture and education that I know is found in a story: The Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. In it, Marco Polo addresses the great Khan, Emperor of the Tatars. In a series of accounts, he describes the cities he has encountered on his expeditions through the Empire. This is the adventurer’s last reflection:
The hell of the living is not something that is coming; there is one, the one that already exists here, the hell that we live in every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to not suffer from it. One is quite easy for many: accept hell and become part of it to the extent that you no longer see it. The other is risky and requires constant attention and learning: look for and know how to recognize who and what, in the midst of hell, is not hell – make that last and give it space.
Culture and education consist in this: to make the good last and give it space, to let it grow, and at the same time to let hell recede or to delay the moment of inhumanity, which is the same thing. But what is the good and what is the infernal threat?
The degeneration of the good path and the good deed show up mainly as insensitivity. Therein lies what is most disturbing of all, as well as the most abundant source of evil. Insensitivity is an inertia that yields to nothing and feels compassion for no one. Perfect inhumanity resides not in irrationality, nor in lack of consciousness, nor in madness. Perfect inhumanity lies in coldness, in insensitivity.
The heart is the seat of cordiality, of kindness, of tenderness. And since to have a hard heart is the same as to have none at all, perfect inhumanity is the absence of heart. Therefore, the pinnacle of humanity is revealed in kind-hearted people. Unfortunately, there are also people who stand on the pedestals of perfect inhumanity because neither the disengagement nor the infinite wounding has opened them up, or because social circumstances have hardened or frozen their heart. Inhumanity is almost as old as humanity, since it is its consequent degeneration.
Educational altertopia is a different place. It makes sense in itself but also points to a place that is different – a place that already has its place yet can generate something far beyond its threshold. There is good diffusing from the place. Educational altertopia is the region from which pollen is carried on the four winds to germinate everywhere. Its main purpose is not – as should be emphasized again and again – that of mediation. And yet educational altertopia can serve as a bridge between topos and utopia. The classroom is an altertopia that already realizes the utopia.
However, this happens only as long as there is no hint of violence beyond the threshold. As Adorno says, there is no greater expression for the meaning of education than that of cultivating non-indifference. Education for emancipation coincides with education for sensitivity, against any kind of indifference and coldness.
We should understand the educational, the place of education, in a very broad sense, as the intention of fundamental renewal. It is a place where critical consciousness and sensitivity – two sides of the same coin – are sown and nurtured. Understanding the place of education in this way resembles the approach of the Hellenistic schools in terms of transcending the pedagogical enclave. Educational altertopia retains its meaning throughout life.
In effect, we can say that educational altertopia is the place of the care of the soul, that is, the place of philosophy. This means, of course, that philosophy is not limited to the theoretical study of a discipline, nor to a kind of psychologizing introspection, but is dedicated to the formation and cultivation of a way of being that is the best way to relate to others and the world.
Human more Human
Educational altertopia is the cultivation of responsibility in the true sense of the word. We, the human being, respond to what comes to us and pass it on. To respond means to take responsibility and make oneself responsible. Taking responsibility means nothing other than becoming more human – from the human to the even more human. Hence my motto: «human, more human». Since we respond thanks to our sensitivity, «more human» means more sensitivity and cordiality in the response. Therein lies precisely the greatest truth of which we are capable. In fact, we understand by what method we can tell when and why something we know is true or false. What makes a way of being true or false? What verifies a way of being? It is responsibility defined as follows: the attempt to live life as an appropriate response to the upheavals and challenges of our situation.
We often say someone leads a spiritual life if they live in a monastery, or have a reputation as a wise person, or radiate peace and goodness. But everyone, to a greater or lesser extent has – or can have – a spiritual life. I understand «spiritual life» as an expression that refers to how we respond, or better yet, to whether, instead of flight, banality or callousness, there is care taken with this response.
What is the difference between teachers and talkers? Teachers are involved in the manifestation of things. Talkers are more interested in concealment. In this category we find the charlatans, demagogues and totalitarian leaders: they are part of dissimulation, of deception. It is not easy to discern. One clue is that demagogy has no substance – it is all surface, pure banality. What does the text of Sophocles, The Nightingale’s Nest, call for? The recognition of depth or tenderness, and a kind of responsibility. What does fascist propaganda or consumerist advertising call for? Unthinkingly following an impersonal dynamic. Propaganda has no substance. It is decoration. The truth of manifestation requires a kind of responsibility. The one who responds to the beauty and the truth of the world is oneself.
What does a sunset ask for? To be looked at.
What does a good poem ask for? To be read again.
What does a mathematical theorem ask for? To be understood.
What does a populist speech ask for? To be thoughtlessly believed and exuberantly glorified.
May I seek to be awake rather than satiated.
The highest sensation is to be awake, to be attentive, to be mindful. Alertness is folded sensation. This is the incredible threshold of the human. Therefore, education must not be directed at accumulating theories but at remaining awake, attentive – to forge a mindful way of being.
Josep Maria Esquirol