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José Benigno Freire, School of Education and Psychology of the University of Navarra.


Fri, 13 Nov 2020 10:30:00 +0000 Published in Today Extremadura, Diario de Navarra and La Rioja

It happened in Seville a few weeks before the confinement when I was climbing the steps of a church. There, leaning between the steps, with indolent manners, a homeless man was begging for alms. I flashed a smile to politely refuse his request, and continued up the stairs. Seconds later I heard him shouting behind me. He was approaching me shouting more or less like this: "Sir, thank you very much, thank you very much! He looked at me and smiled. He looked at me like a person... People come up and they don't even look at me, they look the other way, as if I were nothing. I felt like someone... Now I smiled openly, and I entered the church. But the incident surprised and shocked me: I appreciated a kind look more than alms! Thoughtfully, I decided to reflect on the matter.

And then confinement was decreed. And with the confinement, here and there, flashes of tenderness and humanity awoke: the affection between grandparents and grandchildren, the nostalgia for loved ones, the tricks to connect the sick with their relatives, rediscovering friendship, empathy with those struck by adversity, the hunger lines, the elderly... And also those situations that wounded the heart also awakened tenderness, with sad tones: deaths and burials in solitude, morgues and field hospitals, the suffering of the sick and their families, the atrocious fatigue of exhausted professionals?

With this torrent of tremendously emotional events, and some reading, I deduced a diagnosis I hope accurate: today's society suffers from a structural deficit of tenderness; which represents an acute and bitter scourge. But first let us specify the concept of tenderness, since it is susceptible of being analyzed at a double level of human experience.

The first level is superficial, without penetrating into the rational texture: a simple bodily dynamism as a response to a stimulus (internal or external); in the manner of anger, pity, rage, antipathy... It arises reactively, spontaneously; they are mere movements of the sensibility. We prove this sensitive character if we compare them with some animal behaviors; for example: the image of tenderness of a female licking her calf. Or with another very graphic example: those people who cry spontaneously, by mere sensitivity, before a sweet scene or the emotional end of a movie. For this subject of maudlin, whiny tenderness, today's society is overflowing with it.

At deeper levels of the personality, we observe a tenderness that emerges from rationality, especially as an expression of love. sample Love, affection, is also expressed through caresses, glances, hugs, tears... At this level, what is substantial is the intensity of the affection that activates the gesture, and not so much the gesture itself.

I will try to prove it. Let us imagine a pleasant caress from grandfather that refreshes our spirits. Shortly afterwards, sitting on a terrace, a kindly stranger caresses us like a grandfather: this behavior frightens us, annoys us and we angrily reject it... In conclusion, it is in intimacy that the tenderness that transcends the gesture, that expresses the marrow of what is human, is gestated. Let us remember that a person who feigns cordiality or flattery is considered a flatterer (flatterer is synonymous with flatterer!).

This deep tenderness is lacking in the framework of today's society, even though it is brimming with sentimental tenderness; a gap that attacks the humanistic factor of society. I will focus on a couple of situations that cement the social architecture.

No one doubts the importance of family stability for social cohesion; however, today, unions based (almost) exclusively on mutual well-being and on feeling affectionately good with the other prevail; and because of this sensitive nature of the relationship, they are born with an expiration date. On the contrary, when love is the driving force and tenderness is the consequence, the relationship is consolidated around a common project that makes it easier to overcome the inevitable turbulences of life. Does this mean renouncing well-being? No, on the contrary: it consists of converting the happiness of the other into my happiness, and the well-being of the other into my enjoyment. For with this proliferation of emotional unions we have turned the normal into the exception, and the exception into the habitual.

Parenting is also often tinged with sentimentality. Children's happiness is centered on kind satisfaction: tenderness at attention (sometimes cloying), indulging their tastes, fulfilling their spontaneous desires, surprising them with gifts and excessive trips, avoiding difficulties like hothouse flowers... Nothing can be criticized, nor is it incompatible, but it is not the main thing! The essential purpose with children is to... educate them: to help them become men and women capable of achieving autonomy staff as adults. Everything else takes second place. And this maturation staff will require, inevitably, efforts, renunciations, fatigue, delaying instant gratifications... And, on the part of the parents: exigency; and exigency is not the language of today's taste. The love of parents needs to conjugate a delicate balance between exigency and tenderness. Or better expressed: to demand with tenderness.