Last year, my nephew’s friend, a beautiful, radiant girl from a close-knit family, took her father’s pistol and killed herself, leaving behind no more than a few words. Empty, meaningless days.
News increasingly reports stories of teen self-destruction, as if an invisible tide had swept away their energy to live. Besides news, which can be falsified by sensationalism, anyone who deals with children knows that the awful lot of so many young people today is despair.
A muffled, resigned despair that leads to a disordered self-destructive life, if not a pathological apathy. It’s becoming more common for young people to decide, from one day to the next, to quit school without any real reason, closing themselves in their rooms to live a purely virtual life: a syndrome that has spread throughout Japan in the last decade. There are even youth today who are in a constant state of dizziness, be it for excessive alcohol consumption or for a prolonged use of drugs. The feeling you get is that of riding a wave that keeps you on the surface of reality. The possibility of intervention becomes more and more difficult to imagine when confronted with the eruption of the digital world, the subsequent dematerialization of real senses, the dominance of chatter, the crumbling of what were 30 years ago educational realities (e.g. school, church, family) and the imposition of a world that has been dramatically feminized, i.e. a world deprived of any principle of authority that helps lift one’s gaze beyond the horizons of a hushed sentimentalism.
Yet we must begin somewhere. The suffering that these teens experience, as a product of their incapacity to channel that magnificent energy proper to their age, is becoming unbearable. First of all, given that we are not monads without doors or windows, but we come rather from a social context (in which one day we will be called to actively participate), let us ask ourselves what our society offers to those who come into the world. The first social environment in which children are introduced is the park- often times dirty, shabby, and covered in writing. Then there is school. The majority of school buildings are in absolutely degrading conditions. And we are not talking about the need to have electronic whiteboards; just simple walls, desks, and toilets. And this deterioration unfortunately applies not only to the exterior environment, but also to the quality of teaching. Underpaid teachers, subject to the tyranny of continual insecurity and reduced to educational impotency through parents’ constant interference, are dejected in their desire to be a fundamental part of the educational process necessary for the person and society.
My niece transferred from her Italian high school to study abroad in a German school. The first thing she said to me was, “Auntie, it’s incredible. Here, they respect you. They push you to give the best of yourself. Students actually compete to be the best. But then when I return to Italy and see my old friends, they compete to be the worst. The one who lands the worst grade is made the hero among his friends.” A vital step to initiate a true change would be to stop considering school simply as a place for electoral and trade union negotiations. We must then set as our primary goal the reconstruction of an educative social fabric based on intergenerational respect, and renewed buildings, restoring authority to teachers and severely limiting the continuous and damaging intrusions of families in the schools. Encouraging each person to give his/her best is the only foundation upon which a civil society, worthy of such a name, can be built. Trash parks and schools help us to produce that which we have right in front of our eyes every day: a society that increasingly goes down the path of incivility, cynicism, ignorance, and outright arrogance. Sure there are the media who exaggerate everything, and there are time periods that undergo drastic change, but underneath all of this, there is always the human being. And the human being, despite the constant attempts of manipulation we see, possesses a specific nature. Then if we really want to try to change something, it is precisely upon his nature that we must act.
“But do you really still believe in the existence of good and evil?”, a journalist asked me about fifteen years ago. The question shocked me because up until that moment, I had always considered the existence of those two polar ends to be an evident foundation of reality. Then unexpectedly, I discovered that it wasn’t. That which I believed to be foundational wasn’t more than a mere residue of an archaic belief. In a world exalted by the media, good and evil don’t have much reason to exist; “I like it” and “I don’t like it” have become the world’s ethical boundary. Does the human being find his fulfillment in “I like it” and “I don’t like it”? Or are we dealing rather with a pious anesthesia to prevent people from lifting their gazes and taking the risk to ask the bigger questions?
Erasing the line between good and evil transforms an indispensable choice into something overwhelmingly relative. This reality has swept young generations into this state of deterioration deprived of horizons. The human person, in order to truly become such, needs challenges. And the first challenge is knowing what is right and what is wrong, in order to then choose what side to be on.
The other axis of the Cartesian reference is that of time. Without the awareness that living, before anything else, is faced with an end (i.e. with the darkness that awaits us all), it is impossible to build a real path of growth. To grow old means to grow in wisdom, and it is in this growth that the meaning of life ought to be contained. If time is marked only by subjection to impulses and the pursuit of consumption, there is no hope in getting children out of this indifferent circularity that society imposes upon us.
Since the beginning of the world, the meaning of human beings’ lives has always been understood to be within these two coordinates. The time that has been given to me is the challenge to choose between good and evil. Otherwise, you’ll end up wandering about aimlessly. And aimless wandering generates deep anguish within the human person. That is why, in order to get them out of this sadly destructive opacity that engulfs them, youth need adults who are capable of challenging them in this area, pulling them out of the “I like it” swamp. They need to pulled aside and spoken of their conscious, the place where this discernment takes place. They need to hear about good and evil; not relative, but absolute good and evil, for which the first universal commandment is “Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you”. They need, above all, a state and a political system that truly believes in their future and then works for it, starting first in the simplest arenas, like their parks.
Note: published by authorization of the author.