Let's listen to the voice of youth!
Assumption France Forum, Lyon Valpré 31 March 2023
Like every year, our educational communities met in Lyon Valpré. 280 young people and adults came from the 15 establishments of the Assumption France network. The theme of the gathering, "Listening to the voice of young people", mobilized the entire team of Assumption France Formation Animation to offer a rich and dynamic program.
The evening was a great highlight: the first Assumption France Eloquence Competition, presided over by David Groison, Editor-in-Chief of Phosphore of the Bayard Group, with the quotation of Saint Marie-Eugénie, Foundress of the Religious of the Assumption: "There is good in every human being".
To listen to the voice of young people is to open up to a new idea of school, of relationships, of encounters. To listen to the voice of young people is to dare not to plan anything for them, but to let ourselves be surprised by what they bring to us, with audacity and humility. Listening to the voice of young people means playing on roles to see better, to stand back and act.
Let's give them the space...
"There is good in every human being" said Marie-Eugénie. In the age of Putin, I'm sure you don't believe it! What could have bitten Marie-Eugénie, you ask?
Was it her good-natured side, born into a well-to-do family, in an environment where everything seems good to her? Or because an avenue in the 16th arrondissement of Paris is named after her?
That's easy to say when you haven't known Hitler or Stalin, isn't it?
Or when you grew up with Eugenie Grandet and Alice in Wonderland! I too love Alice, I have what I love and I love what I have... But I'm not one to give lessons!
It's true that Marie-Eugénie only knew the 19th century, the century of the apprenticeship of democracy, the century when five different political regimes succeeded one another, each with a more romantic name than the other, such as the Restoration, the July Monarchy, or the Second Empire. It was a century when everything seemed good, when people let themselves be lulled by the steam locomotive to travel, when their energy bill should be zero because there was no risk of forgetting the light bulb.
In today's world, the smallest act of kindness surprises and amazes us, as if we refuse to recognise kindness as a natural human characteristic. We spend more time looking for a hidden motivation, an extraordinary explanation for good behaviour than we do for cruel behaviour!
Perhaps also, current events always tend to bring us back to the cruel realities of war, famine, and all the misfortunes caused by men on other men.
I have always heard that man is capable of the best and the worst.
However, several recent studies have shown that man is naturally altruistic from an early age.
To a question put to him by the Dijon Academy in 1764 on the origin of inequality among men, Jean-Jacques Rousseau replied that man is naturally good, that it is society that depraves and perverts.
For Marie-Eugénie, this goodness is innate, it is revealed by the way the teacher looks at his or her pupil, it develops through education, and it blossoms under the influence of benevolent messages and encouraging words.
Robert explains that to be good is to be inclined to do good, to be good to others.
To achieve this, Marie-Eugénie focused on the education of young people. She said that she wanted to "give them convictions, to plant roots that would sooner or later bear fruit". The role of the educator is to bring out the best in each young person.
When it bears fruit, the fruit is healthy. A little before picking, it can be infested by a worm that digs galleries in the flesh, right down to the seeds. The diseased fruit then falls to the ground and can no longer be eaten.
Marie-Eugénie has sown good things in all directions. The young people, her young people, would in turn preach good, communicate good, and then one day become adults, always with good in them.
They would eventually take the good side of everything and pass on the good to their offspring. By the way... isn't this what we call "joyful release"?
Marie-Eugénie wrote: "the only effective pedagogy is that of love and example".
If you are good and you share it with your child, what is good in him will be expressed in him. Sharing this light from within and passing it on to future generations is the mission of all of us gathered here.
Being good is a universal vocation, a race of endurance, as Marie-Eugénie was aware. Wasn't one of her last sentences very lucid? "I only have to be good", that's not an understatement!
Being good is the path of a lifetime. Who said that the worm that infests the fruit is a caterpillar that will become a moth as an adult? I’m telling you!
Good evening, I'm going to tell you a story: A child goes out of his house and sees in his garden a bird that has fallen from its nest. He has a sort of impulse and... crushes it between two stones!
I'll tell you a story. I'll tell you a story: A child comes out of his house and sees in his garden a bird that has fallen out of its nest.
He has a sort of impulse and...picks it up and quickly takes it to the bird protection league to be treated.
In fact, these are just stories. But what makes this child, this young girl, this adult, from here or elsewhere, choose this or that?
"There is good in every human being. How do we know? We know it when he does good around him. So what is good? The principle of life, care for others.
Then, if there is "good", there is not "only" good in every human being: what else is there?
The opposite? The will to destroy, contempt, rejection of the other. Evil, in fact. But isn't that a bit of a caricature?
Let me take up my story again: A child comes out of his house and sees in his garden a bird that has fallen out of its nest.
Poor little bird! He picks it up full of dirt, gives it a hot bath, feeds it by force with a pipette... the next day the bird is dead.
So can one be good and do evil while wanting to do good? What should we consider?
The results of your actions or just your intentions?
Welcome to this complex and ambiguous world where we are perpetually put to the test.
So, in these times of massacres, attacks, wars and tragic events, it is difficult to convince oneself that, as Marie Eugénie says, there is good in every human being...
But in the face of the world's suffering, good wills rise up! NGOs, MSF, Doctors of the World, and so many others, who come to stem the misdeeds of men who do not have only good.
Thank you to all these researchers, doctors, nurses, all these little hands that come day after day to the bedside of our sick, our elderly. Yes, there is always good in these people.
And then I think more broadly of the benefactors of humanity: St Vincent de Paul who devoted his life to caring for the poorest. Parmentier who, by introducing the potato to Europe, saved entire populations from starvation. And Mother Teresa, and Abbé Pierre...
Well, I'm not going to go on, the list is long... and then we can say that they are exceptional beings.
But we, you, me, them, all around the world?
My brother, my sister, my friend, an attentive look, a new glint in your eyes, a tear of compassion that runs down your cheek, a friendly tap on my shoulder when I am in pain and I will be saved!
If we are each bearers of these notions of Good, universal love, solidarity and brotherhood, we have an ambitious daily programme to maintain this sacred fire, to blow on these precious embers in the face of the demons that invade us. We are all responsible for this obligation if we want to save our planet.
If there is good in everyone, I see it as a seed that bears fruit or not depending on whether it receives water, air, sunlight, attention, love... It is the principle of life. It is up to us to make it grow! How can we do this?
By stepping out of ourselves, by looking at the other, whoever he or she may be - human being, animal or plant - with benevolence, by trying to act to preserve the beauty of the world.
So shhh... I'll come back to my story:
After having crushed the bird between two stones, the child fled in tears into the forest.
On the highest branch of an oak tree, a bird was singing...
Is there good in every human being?
The definition of what makes a person good varies according to cultures, values and social contexts. Being "good" is often associated with traits such as benevolence, generosity, compassion, empathy, sincerity, loyalty or altruism. People who are considered 'good' are often those who have a strong sense of morality and who do their best to do good around them by helping others and showing respect and consideration.
Is there 'good' in every human being? This is a question that has agitated many philosophers for centuries.
Machiavelli in the fifteenth century wrote that men are by nature evil and in order for them to show goodness they must be compelled to do so by force, laws or social pressure.
Hobbes, the seventeenth century English philosopher, said as much. Humans live from birth in the "State of Nature" where each individual coerces the other and lives in a state of war with him. Man is a wolf to man. And it is the State, a human creation, which is destined to put an end to this natural barbarism. Thus, for Hobbes, Man is not naturally "good" but society forces him to be so.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, a century later, said exactly the opposite. In his "Discourse on the Origin of Inequalities among Men", he states that man before civilisation is born "good". He is the "good savage". Civilisation, contrary to what Hobbes advocates, corrupts Man and the notion of property generates inequalities and competition. Thus society robs Man of his innocence and from being "good" makes him "bad".
In 1963, Hannah Arendt, recounting the trial in Jerusalem of Adolf Eichmann, one of the worst Nazi murderers, proposed the philosophical concept of the "banality of evil". Thus, this criminal would have given up his "power of thought" to obey only the orders of his superiors, denying this "characteristic human quality" which consists in distinguishing good from evil.
I strongly disagree with this theory. He was, in my opinion, perfectly aware of doing evil and had voluntarily, for the sake of a deadly ideology, relegated what little "good" he may have had to the back of his mind. However, I was interested in Professor Milgram's edifying psychology experiment, at the same time in the USA. It tends to show how ordinary people are capable, without remorse, of torturing their fellow human beings to death under the simple pressure of a well-orchestrated moral and scientific authority. This experiment supports Arendt's concept of the "banality of evil".
So who is right, who is wrong? Is there any 'good' in man?
When I look at the world I was born into and my contemporaries, I see only violence, wars, massacres, genocide, corruption and greed. Clearly the 'good' is not natural. And I am happy to live in the country of Voltaire where the philosophers of the Enlightenment, fighting against obscurantism, ignorance, arbitrariness and fanaticism, have allowed the emergence of a democratic society where the best, the "good" of Man can flourish.
But I want to believe, thanks to the optimism of my youth, that somewhere in the depths of our reptilian brain, inherited from the first pre-civilisation times of mankind, there is a zone where the 'good' is lurking.
We just have to wake it up.