Narrative Capitals/3 - Great collective ideals germinate in seismic areas

by Luigino Bruni

published in Avvenire on 26/11/2017

171125 Capitali narrativi 3 rid«Ci sono le voci.
Ci accompagnano.
Ci mordono.
Ci sussurrano brevissime consolazioni…
Ci comandano
ci sgridano
quasi mai ci lodano
gridano nelle notti insonni.
Le voci…
Di chi sono queste voci?»

Chandra Livia Candiani, Fatti vivo

The more we loved the great narratives we see vanishing, the more severe the famines of narrative capital are. When we had laid all our hearts, souls and minds in that good news, burned all our impossible desires, and it had become the dominant thought that did not let us sleep at night because we wanted to daydream our only true dream.

Those who were more captured and enchanted by that promise that seemed boundless and infinite yesterday are more baffled and crushed today because the most beautiful story has stopped talking. As with earthquakes, those who are closer to the epicentre suffer more damage than those who lived on the edge of the crater. The crises of narrative capitals generate many 'victims', precisely among those who, by vocation and destiny, are closer and more intimate to that first great story. They often die and leave us, not because they didn’t love it enough but because they loved it too much. ‘The king is mute' is neither a denunciation nor a betrayal, it's just a song-cry of love, even when it's the last song.

But unlike the real earthquakes, in the symbolic ones that affect the narrative capitals of the ideal-driven organisations (IDO), measuring the real distances from the epicentre is far from easy, because they are different from the obvious ones and almost always invisible. In these different measurements the status and the organization chart does not help in any way. We have such a lot of difficulty in estimating the real damage and even more in starting good reconstruction processes, because, confusing those who are really close to the founding core of the IDO with the false neighbours, we often ask questions to the wrong people, who even in good faith only talk to us about some cracks on the walls; this way we don’t understand the true extent of the things that happened and the damage that was made, and we entrust the design of the new city to unskilful hands. Because, for example, those who regularly work in an IDO are not always 'closer' and 'more intimate' than the volunteers, the sisters of a religious order are not all closer than all the lay friends of the community, and even some of those responsible can be very 'far away'. People with the same formal distance from the centre of the charisma/ideal have very different real distances. And so, sitting in the same offices, in the same CDA, in the same choir of the abbey, there are people who suffer greatly from the crisis of narrative capital, others who suffer much less and some who do not suffer at all, and others who rejoice for the collapse of the 'house'.

In a scenario where everything is very fluid (and still very little studied and analysed) and where certainties are not present, we have a quasi-certainty anyway: the first instrument for recognizing people who are closer to the narrative capital is counting the damage. Those who had established their dwelling in the vicinity of the centre must be among those who have lost and suffered the most. And from here a second message can be derived: many of those who had a most intimate relationship and were in love with the first ideal narrative are to be searched buried under the rubble of their most beautiful story. Then, if the earthquake is very strong, some of them may ‘die’, leaving the IDO or the community. They ‘die’ for the sole ‘crime’ of having built their own house in the place closest to the ideals and the stories thereof. They had simply stayed at home, faithful in their lookout place, they had not gone on holiday.

There is also another message, which concerns those who have not been harmed because they were sufficiently distant. These inhabitants of the suburbs are of two kinds, and only the first is good. The first type includes those inhabitants who were visibly and objectively distant from the centre. The second, however, has the false neighbours, those who were formally close but fundamentally distant. The first are those people around the community and the IDO who had not invested many desires and expectations in that ideal story, and who therefore do not suffer too much when its most intimate and deep part is blurred (because, in a certain sense, they had never got to know it, if not in very small doses).

However, these real inhabitants of the less affected areas can play a very important role. They can open their houses and welcome those who have suffered serious damage. They can warm them up, tuck them in blankets, turn on the fireplace, cook chestnuts on the flame, party with the best wine. Pray together. And in some evenings that are more clear and full of stars, they can start to share the great stories of the beginning with their guests, to remember the first love, to listen to them as if it were the first time. With the same enchantment, with the same trust, with the same ardour. Nicodemus finally returns to his mother's breast, and he is truly reborn. At other times this miracle does not happen, but those months spent as guests in houses that only suffered a few cracks and had so much fraternity in them are always a gift and refreshment for the heart, they are the piece of bread and the glass of water so as not to die and continue walking in the desert. Many people who were exhausted and oppressed by the arrival of the famine of narrative capital could have started a new story and perhaps experience a real resurrection if they had only found a friend in the suburbs to open his door for them generously. And, sometimes, this 'far away' person that saves us from the great famine is that dreamy brother whom we had chased away and sold to merchants heading to Egypt many years before, but who had never ceased to love us, recognized us, and gave us bread.

The distanced ones of the second type, however, are profoundly different. They are found at all levels of an IDO, even at the highest levels. They have the status of neighbours even though they are far away from the core of the original ideal experience - it is in this invisible contrast that their danger nests. Among them there is a wide range of humanity, starting from those who quickly reached the commanding posts because of their relational talents or flattery, hurrying through stages without having achieved real maturation in the values of the mission of the IDO, to those who do not have sufficient spiritual depth to understand the ‘charisma’ but have learned the profession well, and to those who find themselves in an institution or community without ever having really chosen it, and try to float on the surface. Many are in good faith, some are even good themselves, others are simply superficial, few are generous, no one is a prophet. Since they have not suffered any damage, they apply to begin the reconstruction work. While the closest real neighbours try to work through the phase of mourning and need time and resources to heal some deep and real wounds, these others have many psychological and physical energies to invest. And so we find them in the front row, as the candidates for writing the new narrative capital.

Finally, there are those, too, who had rejoiced for the collapse. A sad joy it is, sometimes desperate, a despair opposite to that of the real neighbours. Its reasons are many and rather varied. Sometimes it is a conscious lack of vocation which is not accompanied by sufficient strength and freedom to leave the community, and which over time has become resentment and hatred. So much pain, always. At other times their ‘joy’ comes from the hope of taking some advantage from the sad situation, and perhaps they move their residence in search of tax benefits. Here there is no love for the first narrative capital or for the possible new stories, even when some of these people - who are always mixed with those who are closer and closest - can be found in the group of scribes chosen for writing the new stories after the great crisis.

We should not be surprised, then, if the historical evidence shows us that the great crises of narrative capital almost never lead to a real rebirth, because it happens all too often that the direction of the works ends up being in the hands of fake neighbours and, sometimes, those who have rejoiced over the collapse. The new city will somehow be built, but it will not be the resurrection of the first.

The rare possibility of a good future will depend decisively on the quality and quantity of the survivors who survived the collapse and without too much serious damage (because they are younger, more cautious or because they were at dinner with friends), and on the generosity of the ‘real distant ones' in their hospitality. But above all, the beauty and the prophecy of the new city will depend on how many of the survivors - who have seen and heard the house collapse over their bodies - and their children and parents decide to stay, to start again, to try to rise again. The fear of aftershocks is too great. And it happens very often that even the surviving neighbours descend downstream, towards the sea on the safer coasts, giving up forever the colour of the flowers and the irresistible scent of the air where everything has begun. Only a new vocation, another voice, a whisper of a second call can make us reconstruct a new house near the graves of our parents and children, accepting to live with vulnerability throughout our lives. To rebuild new and different houses, that this time will be lighter and more carefully designed. No more palaces or fancy mansions, to finally learn to live in the humble tent of the Aramean.

The greatest charismas and collective ideals are born and grown in seismic areas, because they are found in the border spaces between the strata of civilizations, religions and epochs. We never live comfortably and quietly in the cities generated by our greatest ideals. They are born on the wounds of the earth. They should not be there, but they are, thanks to the agapic imprudence of their founders. They followed the flight of a beautiful bird in a holy spring, and simply laid the first stone where that crazy flight ended. They did not plan the foundation, they did not choose the most suitable location for their city. The place has chosen them, because we don't choose the most important things, we find them inside as destiny and task. And there they started to build house after house, and finally gave us a city to inherit, fragile and beautiful, along with their stories, even more fragile, even more beautiful. And with them they have left us breathtaking ridges, horizons of paradise, endless spaces. On highlands that are rich in rare and colourful flowers, with high peaks crowned with light.

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