Leonardo Boff's weekly columns are available in Spanish from Servicios Koinonia. Some of his older columns are available in English at LeonardoBoff.com.
by Leonardo Boff (English translation by Rebel Girl)
There are two main ways of being present in the world: through work and through caring. Since, unlike animals, we are beings without any specialized organs, we must work to survive, i.e., we must draw from nature all we need. To do this, we use practical reason, creativity and technology. Here we need to be objective and effective, because otherwise we succumb to necessity. In human history, at least in the West, the dictatorship of work has been established. This is no longer a craft but has been transformed into a means of production and sold in the form of wages, which implies competition and terrible devastation of nature and evil social injustice. The main, though not exclusive, representatives of the work way of being are men.
The second way is caring. It has life and interpersonal and social relationships at its core. We are all sons and daughters of caring, because if our mothers had not taken infinite care with us when we were born, we would have died some hours later and would not be here to write about these things. Caring has more to do with subjects that interact with each other than with objects to be managed. Caring is a loving gesture towards reality.
Caring is not in opposition to work. It gives it its own characteristic which is being done in such a way as to respect things and allow them to be redone. Caring means being close to things, protecting them, and not over them, dominating them. They are never mere means. They represent values and symbols that evoke feelings of beauty, complexity and strength. Obviously there is resistance and perplexity, but they are outweighed by persevering patience. Women tend to put loving coexistence in the place of aggression. Instead of domination, caring companionship. Cooperation replaces competition. Women are the privileged, but not exclusive, bearers of caring.
Since ancient times, we have been witnessing a tragedy of dire consequences: the rupture between work and caring. From the Neolithic era, work has been a frantic search for efficiency and wealth. This mode of being subjects women, kills caring, liquidates tenderness and makes human relationships tense. It is the rule of androcentrism, the dominance of man over nature and woman. Now we have reached a fundamental impasse, either we impose limits on productivist greed and rescue caring, or the Earth will not take it anymore.
We feel the urgency to feminize relationships, i.e., to reintroduce caring in all areas, especially those of the most massacred people (two thirds of humanity), devastated nature and the world of politics. The gateway to the universe of caring is cordial and sensible reason that allows us to feel the wounds of nature and people, allowing ourselves to be surrounded and mobilizing ourselves to humanize relations between all, without neglecting the vital collaboration of instrumental-analytic reason that allows us to be effective.
This is where I see the providential importance of being able to have a woman like Dilma Rousseff as head of the government of Brazil. She will be able to join the two dimensions: that of work that seeks rationality and efficiency (the masculine dimension), and that of caring that welcomes the poorest and most suffering ones and plans inclusive policies for the recovery of dignity (the feminine dimension). Dilma has the character of a great and efficient manager (her masculine/work side) and at the same time the capacity to carry out with tenderness and compassion Lula's project of caring for the poor and oppressed (her feminine/caring side). She can achieve the ideal of Gandhi: "Policy is a loving gesture for the people."
In this dramatic moment in the history of Brazil and the world, it is important that a woman exercises power as caring and service. Dilma, imbued with this consciousness, will be able to impose limits on devastating work and could make the long-awaited development happen with nature, not against it, with a sense of social justice, solidarity from below, and from an open fraternity that includes all peoples and the whole community of life.