The satisfied West had lost hope

You fight the "not chosen hunger" by keeping alive in each person the "good hunger" of a "not yet"

by Luigino Bruni

published on Mondo e Missione, January 2012

LOGO_Mondo_e_missioneA personal experience. A few months ago I went on a trip to Kenya for lectures and conferences. Going around the country I saw, or rather glimpsed from a distance, many forms of poverty, misery, and even true hunger.

But the strongest image that I took with me, from encountering part of the African culture, was not that of emptiness, but of fullness. In particular, I was impressed to see many young people studying for exams crowded at night under the streetlights, because they had no electricity at home.

I thought my students in Milan, slacking in their studies because they have lost that which motivates a young person towards life: the desire for the future, the hunger for life. As for poverty, there also exists a positive variation of the term hunger, which refers precisely to the lack of something I do not have, and motivates me to improve myself and the others.

After the war, Europe was capable of great things, that is to rebuild morally, civilly, and economically the countries destroyed by civil war between Christians, with millions of dead and rivers of debris, because  those peoples had strong desire and need of finally building a new world. When this type of hunger is missing in persons and peoples (as happens in Europe today), it also becomes very difficult to deal seriously and effectively with the "negative hunger," which must be fought, for where there is no enthusiasm and desire to live, there can be no energy to take care of others. One fights hunger not by choice and suffers (from nature and/or others, from wars, bad relationships…), by keeping alive in persons the positive hunger of a "not yet," which we want to get to, and compel us to the commitment.

The West and its economic and social development model is showing all of its fragility, and not just because of finance, but a deficit in anthropology that has a lot to do with the absence of this positive hunger. If this “good hunger” is satisfied of life, which is an expression of a call to transcendence in each person, with goods and not with the cultivation of humanity and relationships, the most important asset of any economy and society becomes less in each person: wanting to get up in the morning to improve our lives.

If that better world that those young people of Kenya dream of is only the African version of this model of development, waking up from that dream will be dramatic, because it definitely will not be able to keep its promises.

Africa and other regions of the world are still only partly achieved by capitalism. Now they face the great challenge of giving birth to a market economy and a post-consumerist economic development, more communal and supportive, more in harmony with the environment, and less materialistic. We must avoid the deadly mistake of turning off the desire and hunger for life in young people, only filling the void with goods. The goods are important, sometimes essential, but they become "goods" when they do not extinguish the hunger of good things that are more important than merchandises.

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