"Educating young people about love and friendship through the classics." The title of the study day held last Friday, November 23, at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross (Rome), itself unveils the purpose of the seminar, which was aimed at educators, teachers, and writers: to reflect – with the help of great storytelling professionals – on how some works of particular depth can grow young people’s virtues regarding romantic relationships and friendships.
There are universal stories, which we could define as being "timeless": stories so humanly value laden that stand the test of time, or rather, that can live in every age, because they speak to people of any age in every culture.
These stories are the so-called "classics": literary works that speak to all humanity and can especially help those who are entering into adulthood.
This premise was the basis of the initiative, organized by our research group, Family and Media, under the Chair endowed by Elina Gianoli Gainza.
What do young people read and watch?
Professor Norberto González Gaitano, professor of Public Opinion in the Faculty of Communication at the Santa Croce, and director of our website, began the workshop illustrating the project "Educating for love and friendship through stories": an ongoing international work of research. This project has investigated young people’s preferences of books, movies, and television series and then will create focus groups to talk about love and friendship with them, using the most read or watched works as tools of debate.
To present the data on the first part of the project which recently concluded, was Dr. David Iglesias Pérez, expert on communication and political research methodology at GAD3 pollster (Madrid).
In a clear and thorough way, he explained the methodology of the survey: the sample of 3,700 young people between 18 and 28 years belonging to nine countries (Argentina, Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Mexico, Spain and United States) was chosen with the quota system, statistically representing the population of that range of age. Each partial sample has been weighted according to population as to strengthen the reliability of results. The error sample is estimated in around 4% for each country and 1.5% for the whole sample. Then, some characteristics of the questionnaires were also explained and, lastly, the so much awaited results presented.
The results he offered (of which we give you only a foretaste, hoping to intrigue you and encourage you to read the final report of all the research once it is finished), can in some respects comfort us. If it is true that 50 Shades of Gray, the book by the English writer E.L. James, in which passion becomes slavery and love turns into abuse of power, has been widely read among young people (ranked sixth) - probably thanks to constant bombardment by advertising – it still does not exceed works of great educational value such as The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry or The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien, where respect, humility, and solidarity are highlighted.
If there is no lack of appreciation for films like Me Before You, by the English director Thea Sharrock, in which the individualistic search for happiness is exalted, there are even more beloved films in which the protagonists heroically give their lives to others (Titanic, by James Cameron, Spiderman by Sam Raimi, The Chronicles of Narnia by Andrew Adamon).
What can this tell us?
Young people need "heroes," but also to rediscover the value of simple things
An answer has been given by the internationally renowned high school teacher and writer, Alessandro d'Avenia, who presented his book Every story is a love story, warming the hearts of the participants with his aphorisms and their particular depth: "Young people need heroes - he said - they need to see the scars of those who did it before them, for they were fragile as well ."
The boys want to get out of mediocrity, they look formeaningful answers, they look for completeness in the stories: "That's why the classics never get old: they talk about heroes who fought and won, they give us a sense of completeness."
But how can we be complete, how can we be heroes, if we do not find ourselves in extraordinary situations like those that Spiderman faces?
For example, betting on the fact that "love saves": giving life every day, in the most ordinary and prosaic occupations of everyday life, learning to appreciate the essentials, which is often found in the simplest things, in bread on the table or in a well-tended flowerbed at a gas station...
The professor of Semiotics and Cinema Armando Fumagalli spoke about the joy that is born and grows in the simplest things, presenting on the work Anna Karenina, a timeless novel by the Russian writer Lev Tolstoy.
The professor has been able to bring to light, with great skill, the differences that emerge in the novel between a purely carnal and therefore destructive love – that between Anna and Vronsky – and a love marked by tenderness and planning, warmed and protected in the hearth of home-life – the one between Levin and Kitty – destined to mature over time and bear fruit.
" It is in the small and large family commitments that true love grows between a man and a woman": this is the main message conveyed strongly in his speech.
If to be lovable, you must first be loved…
Heroism is also going beyond appearances, digging deep, accepting the “pace” of the other.
It may seem easy and logical to love those who are already lovable, but what if true love requires a change of paradigm: to love in order to be lovable?
This is the thesis supported by the bright Spanish writer Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera: receiving love betters us. This great mystery, he explained, is contained in beloved fairy tales like that ofBeauty and the Beast or in timeless novels like Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.
Everyone seeks happiness and speaks of love, but few know that the true "Charming Princes " need grace, delicacy, and a woman's trust to become such. The protagonist of Pride and Prejudice, Darcy, is an honest, loyal, courageous man, but he needed Elizabeth to show it to him so that he could recognize himself in those virtues and not rest on his pride.
Another novel that invites one to go beyond appearances and to bet on a "patient love" is The Painted Veil, by William Sumerset Maugham, about which Antonio Malo, professor of Philosophical Anthropology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross, spoke. "Not all instincts are good for the simple fact of having manifested themselves," said the philosopher and, if the instinct awakes in us passion, it is reason that then helps us to know and discern between different desires, to understand which are good and which are bad.
Being lovers is easy, immediate. Loving one another requires the ability to "get used to” the other and to forgive. It is more difficult, but leads to a fuller and happier life. This is what the protagonists of the film, adapted from the novel, experience: in the romantic escape, devoid of planning, Kitty is lost. While, in patching up the relationship with her husband, in the commitment to know him deeply and to be with him until his death, he is a woman’s winning challenge, and will give her the strength to live her life of widowhood with dignity.
Humility and service: two forms of heroism
Another form of heroism, especially in a narcissistic society, is humility. And serving others, instead of looking for servants is perhaps the greatest revolutionary act we can accomplish in life.
To talk about this, expanding on the themes contained in The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien, was the essayist Andrea Monda, engaging and with a strong sense of humor, who showed us how Frodo’s real helpers in his journey are not the great and powerful, but the little ones, the Hobbits, otherwise recognized as "the half men," despised and snubbed for their littleness. And yet their strength lies precisely in their smallness.
"We have seen where the Super Man of Nietzsche brought us: we have seen what the 20th century was,” said the essayist, “We do not need super men, but half men, humble people, who are incomplete and willing to be completed by the other. On the other hand, true friendship can exist only if we admit that we ourselves are not enough."
The passion of the speakers and the positive response of the public
To all of our speakers, we extend our most heartfelt "Thank you," not only for accepting the invitation, but also for taking care to present your best work, for having exposed these works with clarity and passion, for having shown our same educational concern.
And if anyone dares to say that "beauty will save the world," you, our reader, seizing it and offering it to others, you are undoubtedly part of this mission.
Furthermore, the large turnout and the positive response of the public reveal to us how much we need beauty and feel the desire to talk seriously about love and friendship. Yes, although we often feel driven towards coldness and cynicism, these themes interest and challenge us still.