Monday, June 21, 2010

Peace based on the paradigm of caring

Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at

by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)

The will to power of one country over another, the patriarchal culture that still marginalizes women and the exploitation of nature to get material benefits are factors of violence and impediments to peace. Patriarchy has weakened the feminine dimension, which makes us more sensitive to all, and lowered emotional intelligence, the niche of caring and ethical and spiritual experience.

This bias, denying the anima dimension (the feminine), has continued to strongly affect ethics. The core of classical morality inherited from the Greeks and perfected by Kant, Habermas and Rorty is unconsciously based on the experience of the animus (the masculine). Therefore it is founded on two basic pillars: justice, expressed in the rights and duties of men (leaving women invisible) and individual autonomy, the idea that only a free being can be an ethical being.

But this view is incomplete because it leaves out key dimensions, typical of but not exclusive to the feminine (anima), such as the relationships that exist within the family, with others, with nature and all that we feel related to. Without such relationships, society loses its human face. Here, the broader category, which is caring, is required more than justice. Caring is a paradigm that is opposed to domination. It is this relationship that is concerned about and takes responsibility for the other, that is involved with and lets itself be wrapped up in life in its many forms, that shows solidarity and compassion, heals past wounds and prevents future injuries.

The empirical basis is the experience so finely analyzed by the English psychoanalyst D. Winnicott "that we all need to be cared for, accepted, valued and loved, and that we want to care for, accept, value and love." Women are the privileged, but not exclusive, bearers of this experience. They are directly linked to life that needs caring, through maternity, nurturing, concern during illness, support for education. These features are characteristics of the female (anima) that are also found in men who fulfill them in their own way.

In the background of this ethic of caring is a more fruitful anthropology than the traditional one, based on the dominant ethic -- part of the relational character of the human being. He is essentially an affective being, the bearer of pathos, the ability to feel, to affect and be affected. In addition to intellectual reason (logos), he is endowed with emotional, perceptive and spiritual reason. It is a being-with-others and for-others in the world. He is not isolated in his splendid autonomy; he always lives within networks of specific relationships and is permanently attached. He does not need a social contract to be able to live together with others. His nature is to live communally.

No doubt, in order to have a lasting culture of peace we need just institutions, but the way they work can not be formal or bureaucratic but human, caring and sensitive to the contexts of people and their situations. More than anything, we must nurture a pervasive culture of caring for the earth and people, especially the most vulnerable, and of attentiveness to relationships between people to prevent war.

Win-win comes into play instead of win-lose. With this strategy the factors of tension and conflict are reduced. To achieve peace, the consciously assumed virtues are relevant such as openness, the willingness to dialogue and listen, the warm welcome of the other. President Lula emphasized it when addressing the issue of Iran under the threat of American and allied truculence because of enriching uranium for peaceful purposes (a pretext for controlling oil and gas).

But there is a subjective and spiritual dimension that reinforces the search for peace. It is the ability to forgive and forget old disputes and conflicts. Now that cultures are meeting, historical tensions that separate people are becoming apparent. We must always look forward in building a new relationship based on a partnership of caring among all.

Living this necessary kind of humanism is within the capabilities of our being. It is the condition for lasting peace, already considered by Kant to be the foundation of the world Republic.

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