CASSIOPEIA | Philosophy Column – Today’s word: REPARATIONS

 Valeria Cantoni Mamiani

In his speech at the beginning of the year, President Mattarella stated, “2021 must be the year in which each of us is also called upon to make a commitment to reciprocate what we have received through free gestures, often from strangers. Now we must prepare the future,” he concluded, “we are not living in a parenthesis of history. This is a time for builders.” His words transported me to a post-war time that I never experienced myself, when everything had to be rebuilt because too much had been knocked down, razed to the ground.

Back then it was houses, factories, schools, but also democracy, and with it, a broken sense of community. Then there was a lot of enthusiasm for progress, which could only move forward like a speeding train. A train that the conductor had gotten off of and that never stopped. Until 21 February 2020. Not even the financial crisis in 2009 had stopped it. But we are not living through a war, but an illness that made everyone very fragile, as if society, and its habits, economies and diseconomies, had already been incubating something that then exploded. Therefore, we should not use the language of war, but the language of care, since it is health that has been undermined, if it is true that health is “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease” as the WHO says. 

In my work as a coach and trainer for years, I have been meeting people every day who are in conflict with themselves, others, the environment, work, their organisations, their bosses, their children, partners, and with parents, who use the language of war and have the perception that their malaise is related to others, that they constantly at war with everyone. It’s no wonder that the language of war is also being used now with Covid, even though this is actually a healing crisis. Where there are injuries, shock, traumas and radical changes – be they physical, spiritual, emotional, affective or financial – there must be healing, and rather than building, there must be repair.

We need repairmen and women, because so much, too much, has been built, going far beyond the planet’s maximum threshold. But what skills do these repairmen and women have? Like the masters of kintsugi, the Japanese art of repairing with gold, repairers know how to put the pieces back together and, with attention, care and a little creativity, transform a wreck into something that is beautiful in itself and not just useful; like the seamstresses of the past – masters of mending – who knew how to bring a rag back to life by stitching the edges together and reinforcing the material where it was torn, repairers know how to create the conditions for the fabric to no longer break, even when under stress; like bricoleurs, who are patient enough to allow the pieces to stick together and are not in a hurry, repairers know that everything needs time to be done well. While one can build in a hurry, one cannot repair if one is in a hurry, because the repair does not hold and reopens the wound. This is also true in relationships and language. Repairing them means giving oneself time to listen, using words that are pearls and not words that are stones. Repairers are caregivers of speech, those who pay attention to what they say and how they say it. The commitment Mattarella urges us to make, to reciprocate what has been received, is repair work, because it takes us into a dimension of mutuality and reciprocity to which we are not accustomed, it urges us to bring objects and relationships back to life. How satisfying it is when we fix something and don’t throw it away! It is the best use of our time. 

“Isn’t thinking about the world equivalent to merging, little by little, with the thought of the world?” wrote the poet Edmond Jabès, suggesting that the world should not be seen only as an object to be used, consumed and thrown away, but that it comprises a circular process of regeneration. We have to get on the world’s side, observe it with its own eyes, think with its mind, put ourselves in its shoes and then go back to observing it after having taken this tour, as Niccolò Fabi sings: “I am the other, what you see are just my clothes, now take a walk and then tell me.” It seems like the frenzy of living in an increasingly functional, performative, economically advantageous, fast, efficient world has neglected some of the fundamentals of existence itself.