The subsidiarity of emotions

Columns - Beyond the market

by Luigino Bruni

published in pdf Città Nuova n.11/2016 (116 KB) on novembre 2016

Emozioni a Firenze ridIn large enterprises of our day the attention paid to the management of emotions is growing quickly. Economic organizations are beginning to feel instinctively that we are in a profound anthropological transformation, and so they try, as much as they can, to find the solutions. Because of its ability to anticipate the needs and desires, capitalism is now realizing that in our time there is an ocean of loneliness, famine for attention and tenderness, lack of respect and recognition as well as desire to be seen and beloved, in an unprecedented and immense measure. And it is gearing up to meet even this 'demand' for new markets.

On the other side, the protagonists of our economy know that the emotional fragility of workers is an ever greater weak point in it. This fragility is caused by the sudden disappearance of an entire millennial heritage of the cultivation and education of emotions. The past generations had learned to go through suffering, joy and crises together, to share in the act of mourning. Literature, popular religiousness and the poems once taught us how to suffer through the pain of others, even those whom we will not see or ever embrace. Mourning was a total kind of event that in its limited time absorbed everything (in our house, when a neighbour was dying we would not turn on the TV). This management of emotions had taught us how to suffer for people we don't know; but without religions, literature and art we only cry for natural reasons (relatives and close friends), we do not you cry for cultural reasons: for people we don't know but are never so strange or foreign as not to feel that they are our brothers. We have forgotten this management of the emotions, and we are in a kind of 'holy Sabbath of emotions', awaiting a resurrection.

One sign of this emotional disaster of our capitalism is the increasing presence of coaches, counsellors, business psychologists in our companies, the growth of supply in new master's degrees in "Management of emotional resources" or "Development of emotional intelligence." All this says that the emotional crisis is great, and that it is the origin of many new relational conflicts and illnesses of the soul – at work and at home.

As for now, the results are altogether rather disappointing, and could not be otherwise, because the great contradictions of our time are forming an ever-growing presence inside the enterprises. The factory is no longer the 'morphology of capitalism'. Therefore it should not be the company to treat the emotional poverty of its workers, because the disease is much more extensive than that which occurs within its borders.

Consider, for example, the enormous change (also in terms of work) that the evolution of the Internet is generating. Many social relations are now lived and operated in the environments of social media. Interactions without bodies, where we exchange millions of words that are different from those that we say or we would say looking each other in the face and clutching the hand of the other. We do not see the redness of the cheeks, the wet eyes, the trembling of the voice; and so we say new and different things with words and symbols (emoticons) that are almost always less responsible or true.

Given the importance that these new 'places' have for teenagers and young people (and now even children), in the age of the Internet we should invest much more in the education of emotions - and we should think more about the fact that this environment is managed by huge corporations for profit. We should talk more and deepen the trivialization of words and signs. The 'heart' and 'kisses' are serious things, which must be handled carefully and sparingly, to prevent them from becoming empty hearts and kisses which will not be there any more when one day we should really donate them to someone flesh and blood, and only to him/her.

Even in the use of these instruments, which are also a great blessing, the principle of subsidiarity should apply: a word sent on social networks is only good if it helps (subsidizes) the good words that we say we when we meet outside the network. We shall learn how to work again if we learn to be together, with our soul and body.

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