An Educational Model For The Present
How To Overcome Mental And Creative Blocks
There is currently a great deal of concern on the part of numerous countries regarding the “educational crisis” in which they find themselves. Normally, this expression refers to the younger generations’ lack of knowledge. More seriously, to my mind, is the state of emergency or collapse surrounding the way people think.
I. State of Confusion
If, when given a philosophy exam, a student does not know that both Max Scheler and Nicolai Hartmann wrote treatises on ethics, he lacks the necessary knowledge. If he thinks that freedom and rules are always opposed to each other, he does not know how to think with the necessary precision. This mistake is not merely an academic one. Rather, it affects the student’s life on a personal level: it confuses him and leads to him becoming blocked.
• A young man from Central Europe wrote to the renowned theologian Karl Rahner in the following inconsolable terms: “My friends and I threw ourselves into a feverish pursuit of happiness, and now we find that we have become nothing more than hospital fodder. Could you tell me what this happiness business is all about?” Rahner told him only that he should not set his sights on too great a happiness, that he would do well to seek contentment in the simple happiness for which his parents and grandparents longed . His attempt to unblock the poor boy was not successful.
• A seventeen-year-old boy confessed the following on a television program: “Until recently, I was completely happy—I loved my mother (who I live with), I adored my girlfriend, I was really enjoying my university studies. But one unlucky day, I gave myself over to betting and I got hooked, I
became a gambling addict. Now I don’t care about my mother, my girlfriend, or my studies. I´m only interested in one thing: more gambling. And what makes me the angriest of all is that I did it freely. And now I´ve become a slave.” Although he explained this situation with deep sadness in his voice, the program director did not offer him a single word of advice—he refused to be a guide.
The existence of large number of similar testimonies makes it possible to conclude that confusion has riddled the minds of many these days and that there is an absence of leaders who might use a carefully-chosen word to enlighten and orientate them. A sense of discouragement is growing among teachers day by day, often leading them to confess that they “don’t know what to do with these young people.” Is it possible to overcome this sort of destructive pessimism? Long years of study and of attending workshops and conferences have led me to the conviction that it is indeed possible, although not through mere syllabus changes but rather by using an appropriate method. For my own part, and after a great deal of time spent observing its effectiveness, I now suggest the following.
II. Method of Discovery
It would be appropiate to begin with one of the basic experiences: the need to grow. Growing is an essential part of life. If I am to grow, it is not enough for me to exercise my powers: moving about, walking, speaking, handling objects, etc. I need to take in possibilities from my surroundings—to which I am intimately connected—in order to act effectively and meaningfully. Meaning is acquired through play. Playing—understood in a very precise, philosophical sense—means taking in possibilities and using them to create something new and valuable: moves, as in board games or sports, where the goal is to dominate the adversary’s field; forms, as in art, in order to give birth to beauty,” as Plato instructed; and scenes, as in theater, designed to reveal characters’ “intrahistory” .
The Shift from Level 1 to Level 2. One of the games that we can play, for example, is chess. In order to play, I need a board. I find a square board. It belongs to me, so I can do whatever I like with it. We shall call this level of my life in which I have objects and I use them for myself Level 1. This command of objects does not satisfy me, for in order to grow as a person, I need to act creatively. Creativity begins when I actively take on possibilities in order to give form to something that is new and has some value.
In order to act creatively, I paint several black and white squares on the board, thus transforming it into a game board. I have transformed the board, and now I must transform my behavior vis-à-vis the game board. Rather than possessing or dominating it, I must submit to it, inasmuch as it constitutes the parameters of the game I am going to play in accordance with a set of rules. At the very moment I renounce my first freedom—the freedom to maneouvre—I gain a higher sort of freedom, the freedom to create a form of play. When I find myself using this creative freedom to move between different open realities—which, like the game board, offer me the chance to grow—I am at Level 2. To advance from Level 1 to Level 2 is a decisive step in human life.
The Experience of the Poem. Within Level 2, I can elevate myself to an even higher plane than that of a chess game. Somebody gives me a gift: a piece of paper with a poem written on it. I can do whatever I please with the paper itself. Such is not the case with the poem. I must actively take on the possibilities it presents to me and give it life by reciting it aloud. My recital is given freely, but the freedom in this case is creative freedom—it is linked to the conditions of the poem. The poem inspires, guides, and incites me; I give it shape. I feel transported by it, but it is I who gives sonorous form to it. We each collaborate in equal measure. It may consequently be deduced that if we wish to grow, we must, to a certain degree, renounce our freedom to maneouvre—that is, the ability to act in accordance with our own preferences—and acquire a measure of creative or inner freedom that allows us to act creatively at exactly the same time as we submit ourselves to the valuable realities that provide us with possibilities.
Reversible Experiences. We have just happened upon a higher form of experience: bidirectional or reversible experiences. Our personal growth depends on these types of experiences, for it is through them that we learn to be creative, that is, to be simultaneously receptive and active. Thanks to this dual state, we are able to give life to literary and musical works and to merge with them in a higher form of union than the more superficial ones that characterize Level 1. Once again, we are able to observe that it is only by submitting to something valuable that we grow as people. We begin to glimpse the secret of our personal lives, which we could call “the logic of creative life”: we submit to that which perfects us, and in so doing we are not coerced but rather moved by the need to grow and perfect ourselves.
The Discovery of Encounters and the Ideal of Life. When I enter into the ambit of these reversible experiences, I quickly discover the highest form of all: encounter, the intimate union between two individuals who wish to create a state of mutual enrichment. Experience tells me that here, too, I must submit if I wish to grow. Indeed, an encounter requires as a precondition for its existence that I be generous, truthful, faithful, cordial, communicative, participative, and more. If I fulfill these conditions and am lucky enough to have the other person adopt the same attitude, an encounter takes place. And it is fruitful—it gives us inner energy; light for knowledge; contentment; enthusiasm; a sense of fulfillment; happiness. When I realize that even when times are terrible, I need only experience a true encounter with myself in order to feel contentment, to be happy, then I conclude that the greatest source of value in my life—that is, the richest source of possibilities for growth—are encounters. I have just discovered my life’s ideal, which is the ideal of unity—of authentic love—which is inextricably linked to the ideals of goodness, truth, justice, and beauty. I find myself in the decisive moment of my personal development, for my entire existence depends upon this ideal.
The Amazing Transformative Capacity of the Ideal of Unity. This ideal is not merely an idea; it is a driving force, a catalyzing idea. If the choices we make are always in accordance with the ideal of unity—rather than our own inclinations—then this ideal gives direction to our actions and pushes us nearer to personal fulfillment. This fulfillment becomes manifest when a person is able to declare, with all the seriousness befitting firm decisions, that “one must always do good, never evil”; “always that which is just, never that which is unjust”; and so forth. Once we transform this ideal of unity—understood in its broadest sense—into an inner, guiding principle for action, we find ourselves in Level 3, which is the pinnacle of ethical life. At this point, we undergo several transfigurations, which change our way of thinking and acting, and which lend us a measure of excellence:
• “Freedom to maneuver” is transformed into “creative” or “inner freedom”.
• A formerly uninspiring life is now brimming with meaning.
• A once passive life becomes creative.
• A previously closed life opens up, creates relationships.
• Language goes from being a mere means of communication to being a living vehicle for encounters.
• A rash life—a life given over to vertigo—grows prudent as a result of being inspired by the ideal of unity.
• Surrender to fits of passion is replaced by personal love.
III. The Effectiveness of this Method
This multifaceted transfiguration we experience when we discover and choose to pursue the ideal leaves us poised to carry out two decisive tasks: 1) to neutralize the factors that block the process of personal development; and 2) to overcome misunderstandings brought on by a lack of rigorous thinking. If its effectiveness can be proved, it would be clear that the method employed to achieve this is the correct one for our current situation.
1. Overcoming mistakes
• We overcome the qualitative state of emergency when, upon learning of the existence of reversible experiences, encounters, and the ideal of unity, we discover the logic inherent in Levels 1, 2, and 3 and learn to adjust our thinking to these different forms of reality. When we think with precision, we are able to overcome countless prejudices and misunderstandings, as well as to neutralize the destructive power of manipulation and different pathological addictions .
• In this way, we prepare ourselves to “wage the battle of ideas”—understood in the most positive and effective sense of the expression. We know that all confrontations that take place in enemy territory are already half lost. For the purposes of my educational model, the adversary to be vanquished is the confusion of ideas, the twisting of language, the manipulation of reasoning. For this reason, my method cultivates, above all, the art of thinking and expressing oneself with the utmost possible precision. It is the only surefire way of overcoming the state of emergency triggered by a design to dominate minds at any cost.
• We avoid “reductionism”, for as we advance from one level to the next, we can feel how our lives—and their concepts, their creative capacity, their sense— are enriched; we do not seek only the pleasure of the senses, but rather the joy of the soul; we are not satisfied with mere proximity, but aim instead for encounter; we do not aspire exclusively to our own well-being, rather we affect the happiness of others. We discover, through our own experience, that encounter is the supreme value because it represents a state of mutual enrichment, and the awe-inspiring grandeur of the unity present in human life begins to dawn on us. If we delve into present-day science, we find ourselves amazed at the importance of unity—which is intimately connected to the category of relationship—in the universe at large. We can now see that, on advancing from one level to the next, we are elevated to the best versions of ourselves, our most demanding and most gratifying selves. How could we possibly wish to reduce that which leads us to fulfillment? We inoculate ourselves against reductionism and open ourselves, anxiously and trustingly, to the enormous possibilities that life offers us.
• We neutralize the tendency toward relativistic subjectivism, because as we develop through the exercise of reversible experiences, we discover that balance comes from thinking in a relational manner. When we think in this fashion, we link subject and object in a reversible experience—the subject, seen as a reality that is open to everything that surrounds it; and the object, which is a reality that the subject can transform into an open reality when it takes it on in the context of a personal project and discovers it as a source of possibilities. In aesthetic life, for example, I take on the possibilities that an artistic reality (which is something more than a mere object) grants me, and I offer it my ability to shape it, bringing it to life by giving sonorous form to it. In order for this to occur, what is important is not the subject alone or the object alone, but the union of the two, enriching each other mutually. What is important is not only you, what is important is not only me; what truly matters is that which takes place between you and me—this is the inspired maxim of the best dialogical philosophy .
• As we perfect our lives, we fill them with meaning and overcome the temptation of nihilism. When we make choices in accordance with the ideal of unity and are at all times able to perceive its richness, we feel that our truth as people lies in this ideal, and we have no other purpose than to live in, from, and for it. The more valuable interactions we create, the more we notice how our lives take on an unbreakable denseness that allows us to better face the moments of intellectual and spiritual bewilderment that arise from poor thinking. Our inner confidence grows the moment we gain the ability to form valuable relationships, which lead to high-ranking ontological realities.
• We form an unbreakable bond between reason and faith, inasmuch as relational thinking uncovers the fact that our capacity for knowledge increases as we transfigure our attitudes. Thus, we delve deeper and deeper into the realities Gabriel Marcel calls “mysterious,” realities we can only come to know when they reveal themselves to us and we actively accept that revelation. In modern philosophy, this type of valuable reversible knowledge is termed “knowledge by faith.” It is knowledge acquired through encounter, something that is increasingly valued in anthropology and aesthetics. Human faith, when understood and experienced deeply, prepares us to experience supernatural faith, to explain it, up to a point, and to value it highly. We are at the very zenith of Level 4.
The careful reader will have noticed that it is precisely these above-mentioned mistakes that have—according to Benedict XVI—prompted the cultural breakdown of our times.
2. Unblocking Minds and Creative Capacity
When we overcome these radical mistakes, we are able to unblock minds and to open them to all manner and sort of creativity. Experience confirms this:
• If somebody says to me that freedom and rules are in opposition to one another, I respond to him as outlined above: “In Level 1, yes; in Level 2, the exact opposite is true: they complement and enrich one another.” In this way, we open ourselves to the world of creativity, characteristic of Level 2, as well as to the world of values, which are given fullest form in Level 3.
• In order to defend a piece of pro-abortion legislation, a minister for justice wrote: “Women have bodies and must be given freedom to dispose of all that takes place in them”. In order to refute this declaration, one need only point out that the minister is confusing Levels 1 and 2. What he says is true in Level 1, but false in Level 2. According to the most qualified opinions in contemporary philosophical anthropology, women and men do not have bodies—we are corporeal. The verb to have can only be used in Level 1; the human being—body, psyche, and spirit—combines Levels 1 and 2. That is why we cannot speak of freedom in general, because it is clear that several different forms of freedom exist. The minister was referring to the freedom to maneuver, which, belonging to Level 1, is the most basic freedom. And he unfairly left out creative freedom, which appears in Level 2.
• A television news program broadcast the following: “Janis Joplin died of an overdose; she was a completely free young woman.” A young person who has followed the method of discovery will not allow himself to be seduced by the type of manipulation that underlies the manner in which this piece of news was presented. He knows that addiction to drugs—just like an addiction to gambling, alcohol, or high speeds—is an example of vertigo, something that seduces and fascinates us and in which we are therefore caught up until we find ourselves stripped of our creative freedom. To consider that one who gives himself over to a process that promises everything up front, requires nothing, and ends up taking everything is “completely free” goes against all reason.
• In his Intimate Diary, Unamuno makes the following confession: “I am a terribly selfish man. I will never again enjoy happiness. I foresee it. The only lot now left to me as long as I live is sadness .” A carefully educated young person knows that selfishness causes us to submit to a process of vertigo, whose third stage is sadness . This allows him to discover the relationship between selfishness and sadness, and to explain a thousand other experiences in his daily life.
As the space available here for laying out multiple cases that would demonstrate the effectiveness of this proposed model is limited, I will simply highlight a golden rule that may be gleaned from it: before teaching children and young people what ethics, aesthetics, and religion are, we must ensure that they first rise at least to Level 2, which is where we learn to accomplish the transformations from which ethical, aesthetic, and religious experiences derive all their worth. If children and young people are at Level 1, they cannot understand what is told to them about such areas of knowledge, for what goes on at higher levels of reality cannot be conceived of from any level below.
This method allows a person to discover the presence of sly tactics of manipulation and to retain his inner freedom when confronted with a manipulative society. A far-reaching, pedagogic exposition of this intriguing topic and of the method of discovery more broadly may be found in the three online courses given by the Escuela de Pensamiento y Creatividad (School of Thought and Creativity), upon completion of which the title of “Bachelor’s Degree in Creativity and Values” is granted. Further information is available at the website www.epc-online.org
Despite its extreme brevity, this exposition makes it possible to infer that this proposed method is, quite simply, analytical—not dogmatic, in the sense of being authoritarian—and also clear, precise, and firm. Its strength derives not from a desire to impose itself but from the internal logic that is a result of its faithfulness to reality—which qualities generate a surprising degree of richness.