Some days ago, flipping through the newspaper, I happened to lay eyes on an article with the title: “I left the parents’ group chat, and I became a happy man again”. It was a letter by a father with a son in elementary school: “ Everything depends on how [the technology] is used, they say. False, chat is harmful in every case.” The article presented two reasons sustaining this thesis: chat amplifies petty things and generates a contest geared toward being the perfect parent. “Everyone wants to appear to be present and attentive, as they write messages about about organic snacks, feast on Sundays, passing an afternoon with friends. In the end, in front of all the thoughtfulness of the others, we all end up feeling inadequate. There always an exception, the “super-mom” of every class, but the fact is, usually, she is just acting it.”
Fake relationships and distortion of reality. These are the two experiences, if they may be so called, that I see most often in my students, who are used to passing a good deal of time in front of their cellphone. We regularly talk about this topic with them. In order to live our relationships in a true way, we propose gestures that involve the totality of the person, and we accompany them to encounter reality in its beauty.
In mid-January, we went to a “study weekend” (ndt: in Italian “convivenza studio”), with some students of the 8th grade. We proposed that they hand in their cellphones (they would be able to use them for 30 minutes after lunch and after supper to call home), promising them: “In a while, you will all see that you will not feel the need for them”. We studied together, set the tables at mealtime, contemplated magnificent sunsets, played hide-and-go-seek in the abandoned streets of a small medieval town: a plunge, headfirst, into reality. As time went on, they stopped asking us for their cellphones, even after lunch and dinner.
At the end of the “three days”, we had a moment of “sieve”: it is a moment where we all gather together at the end of these events, with the aim of extracting the most precious thing that happened during the time spent together. Everyone prepares in silence, for around 10 to 30 minutes, writing down in a notebook what he or she wants to share with others. “You know that talking with others is not easy”, I told them. “We are used to talking in an instinctive manner, blurting out the first thing that passes through our head. Let’s try, this time, to prepare ourselves in silence, concentrating our thought on the thing that most struck us, asking ourselves why. You will see that the moment will be more beautiful”. The assembly begins and to my great surprise, everyone speaks, sharing simple facts that had happened and describing what it had generated and provoked in them. Once in a while, I had to remind them by saying: “Guys, we are not on WhatsApp. Here, we listen to one another. What each person has to share is precious, like a nugget of gold.”
“All of this beauty filled my heart with hope”, Victor said, who was new to our companionship. It is a word – hope – that is rarely used by my students. Where did it come from? I try to put myself in Victor’s shoes, who is timid and self-conscious. He must have lived the encounter with the reality that always opens positive horizons. And the fear of what could be awaiting us is swept away by millions of nuggets of gold that the present offers us as a gift. We only need to help one another to see them.
In the picture, Father Luca Speziale, assistant pastor of the Santa Maria in Domnica Parish in Rome, with a group of middle school students.