Deciphering what we are as humans, joyfully embrace ourselves, the way of being, our acts and attitudes, friendship and love; care is everything.
We live in dramatic times under the attack of the coronavirus, a kind of war against an invisible enemy, against which the entire destructive arsenal of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons manufactured by the militaristic powers are totally useless and even ridiculous. The Micro (virus) is defeating the Macro (us).
We have to take personal care of others, and ourselves so that we can save ourselves together. Here the values of the culture of capital are not valid, not competition but cooperation, not profit but life, not wealth of the few and poverty of the great majority, not devastation of nature but its care. We are in the same boat and we feel that we are beings that depend on each other. Here we are all the same and with the same happy or tragic destiny.
What are we as humans?
In these moments of forced social isolation, we have the opportunity of thinking about who we really are and ourselves. Do we know who we are? What is our place in the set of beings? What do we exist for? Why can we be infected with the coronavirus and even die? Where are we going? Reflecting on these urgent questions, it is worth remembering Blaise Pascal (+1662). Nobody better than him, mathematician, philosopher, and mystic, to express the complex being that we are:
“What is the human being in nature? A nothing in front of infinity and a whole in front of nothing, a medium between nothing and the whole, but incapable of seeing the nothingness from where it comes and the infinity towards where it goes ”( Pensées § 72). In it, the four infinities intersect: the infinitely small, the infinitely large, the infinitely complex (Teilhard de Chardin) and the infinitely deep.
We really do not know who we are. Better, we mistrust something as we live and accumulate experiences. In one, we are many. In addition to what we are, there is in us what we can be: an inexhaustible bunch of virtualities hidden within us. Our potential is the safest in us. Hence our difficulty in building a satisfactory representation of who we are. But this does not exempt us from elaborating some reading keys that, in some way, guide us in the search for what we want and can be.
In this search, self-care plays a decisive role. Especially in this dramatic moment when we are exposed to an invisible enemy that can kill us or through us cause illness or death to others. In the first place, it is not a narcissistic view of the self, which generally leads to not knowing oneself but to identifying with a projected image of oneself and, therefore, alienated and alienating.
It was the philosopher Michel Foucault, with his exhaustive investigation called Hermeneutic of the subject (1984), who tried to rescue the western tradition of the care of the subject, especially in the sages of the 2nd / 3rd centuries, such as Seneca, Marco Aurelio, Epictetus and others. The great motto was the famous “gnôti seautón”: “know yourself”. This knowledge was not understood in an abstract but concrete way: recognize yourself in what you are, try to delve into yourself to discover your potentialities; try to realize who you really are.
It is important to affirm in the first place that the human being is a subject and not a thing. It is not a substance constituted once and for all (Foucault, Hermeneutics of the Subject, 2004), but an ever-active knot of relationships that, through the game of relationships, is continually being built. We are never ready we are always forming.
All beings in the universe, according to the new cosmology, have a certain subjectivity because they are always relating and exchanging information. So they have history and a certain level of knowledge inscribed in their DNA. This is a universal cosmological principle. But the human being carries out his own modality of this relational principle, which is the fact of being a conscious and reflective subject. He knows that he knows and he knows that he does not know and, to be complete, he does not know that he does not know, as Miguel de Unamuno said ironically.
This knot of relationships is articulated from a center, around which it organizes feelings, ideas, dreams and projections. This center is a self, unique and unrepeatable. It represents, in the language of the most subtle of all medieval philosophers, the Franciscan Duns Scotus (+1203), the last solitudo entis, the last solitude of being.
This loneliness means that the self is irreplaceable and inalienable. But let us remember: it must be understood in the context of the relationship knot within the global process of interdependencies, so that loneliness is not the disconnection from others. It means the uniqueness and unmistakable specificity of each. Therefore, this loneliness is for communion, it is being alone in your identity in order to be with the other different and to be one-for-the-other and with-the-other. The self is never alone.
Taking care of yourself: welcoming yourself joyfully
Taking care of yourself implies, in the first place, welcoming yourself as you are, with the capacities and limitations that always accompany us. Not with bitterness like someone who cannot avoid or modify their existential situation, but with joviality. To welcome height, face, hair, legs, feet, breasts, the appearance and way of being in the world, in short, to welcome our body.
The more we accept ourselves as we are, the fewer plastic surgery clinics we will need. With the physical characteristics that we have, we must elaborate our way of being and our mise-en-scène in the world.
We can question the artificial construction of a manufactured beauty that is not in keeping with an inner beauty. There is the risk of losing the luminosity and replacing it with an empty appearance of brightness.
More important is to embrace the gifts, abilities, power, IQ, emotional capacity, the type of will and determination with which each one is endowed. And at the same time, without negative resignation, the limits of the body, intelligence, abilities, social class and the family and national history in which one is inserted.
Such realities shape the concrete human condition and present themselves as challenges to be faced with balance and with the determination to exploit as much as we can the positive potentialities and to know how to bear, without bitterness, the negative ones.
Self-care requires knowing how to combine skills with motivations. Let me explain: it is not enough to have an aptitude for music if we are not motivated to develop this capacity. In the same way, we are not helped by the motivations to be a musician if we do not have aptitudes for that, either in the ear or in the domain of the instrument. There is no point in wanting to paint like van Gogh if you can only paint landscapes, flowers and birds that are hardly exposed on the square at the Sunday fair. We waste energy and collect frustrations. Mediocrity does not magnify anyone.
Another component of caring for oneself is knowing and learning to live with the paradox that runs through our existence: we have upward impulses, such as kindness, solidarity, compassion and love. And simultaneously we have downward tendencies in us, such as selfishness, exclusion, antipathy and even hatred. In the recent history of our country, such contradictory dimensions have even appeared virulently, poisoning social coexistence.
We are made with these contradictions, which are given to us by existence. Anthropologically it is said that we are at the same time sapiens and demens, people of intelligence and lucidity and next to this, people of rudeness and violence. We are the convergence of oppositions.
Taking care of yourself requires knowing how to give up, go against certain tendencies in us, and even put yourself to the test. It asks to elaborate a life project that gives centrality to these positive dimensions and keeps under control (without repressing them because they are persistent and can return uncontrollably) the dark dimensions that make our existence agonizing, that is, always in combat against ourselves.
Taking care of yourself is loving, welcoming, acknowledging our vulnerability, knowing how to forgive and developing resilience, which is the ability to turn the page and learn from mistakes and contradictions.
Take care of oneself: worrying about the way of being
Because we are exposed to contradictory forces that coexist tensely in us, we need to live caring as concern for our own destiny. Life can lead us down paths that can mean happiness or misfortune: these forces can take over us and we can fill ourselves with resentments and bitterness that incite us to violence. We have to learn to control ourselves. Especially in these times of social confinement. It can be an opportunity to develop creative initiatives, to exercise imaginative fantasy that takes us away from dangers and opens space for a life of decency.
Today we live under the culture of capital that continually demands that we be consumers of material goods, entertainment and other stratagems, more focused on taking away our money than satisfying our deepest desires. Taking care of oneself is trying not falling into that trap. It is leaving a footprint of your footstep on the ground, not stepping on the footprint made by another.
Taking care of oneself as concern about the meaning of your own life means: being critical, putting many things under suspicion so as not to be reduced to a number, a mere consumer, a member of an anonymous mass, an echo of the voice of another.
Taking care of oneself is caring about one’s place in the world, in the family, in the community, in society, in the universe and in God’s design. Taking care of oneself is recognizing that, at the culmination of history, God will give you a name that is only yours, that defines you and that only God and you will know.
In the society that massifies us, it is decisive that each one can say his/her self, have his/her own vision of things, not just be a mere repeater of what is communicated to us by the many means of communication available to us.
Caring involves cultivating and watching over our dreams. The value of a life is measured by the greatness of its dreams and determination through thick and thin to materialize them. Nothing resists tenacious and persevering hope. Life is always generous; to those who insist and persist life will end up giving them the opportunity to make their dreams come true. Then the feeling of fulfillment breaks in, which is more than momentary and fleeting happiness. Realization is the fruit of a life, of perseverance, of a never abandoned struggle of those who lived the wisdom preached by Don Quixote: one must not accept defeat before fighting all the battles. The way of being that results from this care with self-realization is an existence of balance that generates serenity in the environment and the sentiment in others of feeling good in the company of such a person. Life radiates, because therein lies its meaning: not in living simply because one does not die, but in radiating and enjoying the joy of existing.
Care as a precaution with our acts and attitudes
Care as a concern for ourselves opens us to care as a precaution in these times of the coronavirus. Be careful not to expose ourselves to catching the overwhelming virus or transmitting it to others. Here care is everything, particularly before the most vulnerable, people over 65, our grandparents, and older relatives.
Let us lengthen the perspective. From an ecological perspective, there are attitudes and acts of carelessness that can be seriously destructive, such as the practice of intensively using agricultural pesticides, deforesting a wide region to give way to livestock or agribusiness, destroying the riverside vegetation of rivers. The consequences are not going to be immediate, but in the medium and long term, they can be disastrous, such as the decrease of river flow, contamination of water table, and changes in climate, regimes of rains, and low water.
Here, a careful precaution is imposed so that human health of an entire community is not affected, as is happening at this moment throughout the world.
With the introduction of new technologies, such as biotechnology and nanotechnology, robotics, and artificial intelligence, through which ultimate elements of matter and life are manipulated, irreversible damage or toxic elements can be caused, new bacteria and series of viruses, such as the current one, the coronavirus, that compromise the future of life (cf. T. Goldborn, The Stolen Future, LPM 1977).
As never before in history, the future of life and ecological conditions of our subsistence are under our responsibility. This responsibility cannot and should not be delegated to companies with their scientists in their laboratories so that they decide on the future of all without consulting society. Here planetary citizenship prevails. Each citizen is called to collectively inform, follow and decide what new and most promising paths must be opened for humanity and for the rest of the community of life and not only for the market and companies.
Our relationships also deserve special caution-care. They should always be open and bridge builders. Such a purpose involves overcoming strangeness and prejudice. Here it is important to be vigilant and fight a strong fight against established cultural habits and ourselves. Albert Einstein, aware of the difficulties inherent in this effort, considered not without reason that it is easier to disintegrate an atom than to remove prejudice from a person’s head.
Every time we meet someone, we are before a new manifestation, offered by the universe or by God, a message that only that person can pronounce and that can mean a light on our way.
We only once pass through this planet. If I can do someone else good, I should not put it off or neglect it, as I will hardly find him/her again on the same path. This is valid as a background provision of our life project.
It is important that we concern ourselves with our language. We are the only beings capable of speaking. Through speech, as Maturana and Wittgenstein taught us, we organize our experiences, put things in order, and create the architecture of knowledge. The members of the Basic Ecclesial Communities of Brazil sing well: The word was not made to divide anyone / the word is a bridge where love comes and goes.
By the word, we build or destroy, console or desolate, we create senses of life or death. The words before defining an object or addressing someone, define us ourselves. They say who we are and reveal in which world we live in.
Caring for our main relationship: friendship and love
There is special care that we must cultivate about two fundamental realities in our life: friendship and love. Much has been written about them. Here we will restrict ourselves to the minimum. Friendship is that relationship that is born of an unknown affinity, of a totally inexplicable sympathy, of an affectionate proximity towards another person. Something like a destination community is created between friends. Friendship lives on selflessness, trust and loyalty. Friendship has such deep roots that, even if many years pass, when friends meet again, times are canceled and ties are resumed and even the memory of the last conversation held.
Caring for friends is to worry about life, sorrows, and joys of our friend. It is offering him/her a shoulder when vulnerability visits and grief steals his/her guiding stars. It is in suffering and in existential, professional, or loving failure that true friends are found. They are like a very strong tower that defends the castle of our pilgrim lives.
The deepest relationship and the one that brings the most important achievements of happiness or the most painful frustrations is the experience of love. Nothing is more precious and appreciated than love. It is born from the encounter between two people who one day crossed their eyes, felt a mutual attraction, and responded to their hearts. They resolved to merge their lives, to unite their destinies, to share the frailties and wants of life.
All of these values, being the most precious, are the most fragile because they are the most exposed to the contradictions of human existence. Each one is the bearer of light and shadows, of different family and personal stories, whose roots reach ancient archetypes, marked also by happy or tragic experiences that left a mark on the genetic memory of each one.
Love is an ars combinatorial of all these factors, made with subtlety, which demands capacity for understanding, renunciation, patience and forgiveness, and at the same time for common enjoyment of loving encounter, sexual intimacy, trusting self-giving from one to another, an experience that serves as a basis for understanding the nature of God, since He is unconditional and essential love.
The more capable of total surrender one is, the greater and stronger love is. Such commitment supposes extreme courage, an experience of death because nothing is retained and one totally plunges into the other.
Man has special difficulties for this extreme gesture, perhaps due to the inheritance of machismo, patriarchy, and rationalism of centuries that he carries within himself and that limits his capacity for this extreme trust.
Woman is more radical: she goes to the extreme of surrender in love, without leaving something out and without reservation. That is why her love is fuller and more fulfilling, and when she becomes frustrated, life reveals contours of tragedy and an abysmal existential void.
The biggest secret of caring for love lies in this: simply cultivate tenderness. Tenderness lives on gentleness, on small gestures that reveal affection, on small signs, such as picking up a shell on the beach and taking it to the loved one and telling him/her that at that moment s/he remembered her/him with much affection.
Such “banalities” have a greater weight than the most precious jewel. Just as a star does not shine without an atmosphere around it, in the same way love does not live and survive without an aura of affection, tenderness and care.
Care is an art. As it belongs to the essence of what is human, it is always available. And as everything that lives, it needs sustenance, it also needs to be fed. Caring is fueled by a vigilant concern for our future and that of the other.
Sometimes, this is done by reserving moments for reflection on oneself, making silence around us, concentrating on some reading that nourishes the spirit and, not least, giving oneself to meditation and openness to the One who has the sense of our lives and knows all our secrets.
Conclusion: care is everything
Care is everything, because without it, none of us would exist. Who cares loves, who loves cares. Let us take care of each other, particularly in these dramatic moments of our lives, because they are in danger and can affect the future of life and humanity on this small planet that is the only Common House we have.
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