Guest post by Gino Francato.
We can live in a better world but we first need to break the chains that keep us tied to the present!
I was born in an Italian town only one hour south of Venice, Rovigo. Many Italians wouldn’t know where to place my hometown in a map but there’s a good chance that a South African guy would know it. Rovigo has always had and still has a very strong rugby team and good connections with South African rugby players. In the mid-eighties some of the best South African rugby players were part of the Rovigo’s team. One of them, Naas Botha, one of best number ten in the world is still a celebrity in South Africa.
I started playing with the junior team when I was twelve. Naas Botha and other local team members visited my school to promote rugby for the junior teams, and that triggered my passion for rugby. The following week I started training at the rugby stadium that happened to be only five hundred meters from where I lived. The town is small but playing rugby was so popular that the under-thirteen junior category, could classify two teams in the tier. I started playing with the “B-team” and that was the time when I met “Briciola”. “Briciola” is a nickname given to a boy that was the shortest in our team and quite small for his age in general. “Briciola”, which in Italian means bread crumb, had a speech impairment that made him talk slowly and in short sentences. I neither knew what the issue was with his speech, nor was curious to know. “Briciola” was what he was, and that was enough for me, I guess. I think kids are more inclusive and tolerant toward diversity. As we age, we create higher and higher walls around us.
“Briciola” played scrum half. The scrum half has to coordinate the big guys scrum players and that requires quite some calling and shouting. A bit comical for someone that struggled in a normal conversation, if you think about it. He looked even smaller when he was playing close to our scrum. Still today I wonder how he could find the courage. In those days many team mates much bigger and stronger than him decided to change sport because too worried about getting hurt. I recall him training with us over the years until he left at the age of nineteen never really having played a full game in his career. He was too small, and our coaches wanted him not to get hurt. He played only shortly in easy-to-win games where we could protect him. I remember his mum coming to support him even if he was most of the time sitting on the bench. She was a tiny woman with a friendly smile, but in her eyes you could read determination and courage.
The reason why I’m telling you about “Briciola” is that despite his physical limitations he was not only appreciated by all team members but also earned a privileged status. You could tease anyone in the squad but him. One of my team mates ridiculed him once. The most respected players reacted immediately and strongly in his defense. I can still remember the silence in the changing room right after. I don’t recall similar episodes ever since.
My father that used to work in a bank as a simple employee retired in the mid-nineties. One of the reasons why he retired early was that he saw a change in the banking system that he considered very dangerous. Banks were allowed again to trade in highly risky financial products that could create incredible gains but even enormous losses. Banks are not companies like others that can go bankrupt if they make mistakes. They collect the savings from the most vulnerable groups of our society such as pensioners, small entrepreneurs and employees. Banks can’t go burst. In the past my father and many other bank employees were point of reference for the communities, like the local priest and the doctor. You could trust your bank. Banks requested their employee to sell risky products to people that had no clue about what they were. My father decided not to be one of those employees.
The financial crisis in 2008-2009 opened the eyes to many people. With only a few exceptions, the same people that brought the world to the verge of bankruptcy in 2008 are now enjoying the capital they earned. My father, a nobody in a little bank in Rovigo understood fifteen years before the crisis that in order to make a few very rich, a major source of instability was introduced in the system. The heads of the institutions who had to supervise the system claimed that didn’t know what was going on. The wealthy part of our society seems to get away with anything they do, no matter what. Funny enough, the system continues practically unchanged today. It’s just a matter of time and it will happen again.
Climate change is a question of survival not anymore only for insects and white bears but for human beings too. Scientists have been telling this for years, but who can make any sense of the cacophony of the daily news? We had to wait for a Swedish teenager to tell us that our house is on fire.
We never have time, we are always too busy doing ‘something’, but Covid-19 lockdown forces us to pause, think and reflect on the life we lead. Many find their lives full of “stuff” but rather scarce in meaning. We’ve been promised stability and wealth but we’ve been deceived. Our society makes a few people very, very rich and the rest poor. We deserve to live in a better world. A world with more equality, where money and technical progress are not ends but means to achieve a more balanced and happier life. Many intellectuals, economists, journalists, sociologists, politicians believe that the time has come for society to put purpose at its core. Is this going to happen? Now?
I talk a lot with my friend Werner about the world we live in and the chance we’ve got to see it changing. I’m the optimist of the two. I think we can change but it’ll take time.
The neo-con vision of the world, the dominant culture that we are sharing is only fifty years old. We’ve not always thought this way. We’ve got a short memory and it’s getting even shorter with the information overload. It all started in the seventies with the privatization plan of an American democrat president Jimmy Carter, and fully embraced by Reagan and Thatcher in the eighties and nineties. It didn’t happen overnight. Changes like this require an intellectual framework, a story that people can believe in, and that takes time. This process started in the thirties with Friedrich Hayek, an Austrian economist. Hayek worked with think-tanks, universities and newspapers in the US to set the basis for the creation of a new belief and many followed him. The myth of the free market created a new horizon that starting from the collapse of the Soviet Union dominated unchallenged our view of the world till today.
Can we escape from this enchantment? Yes, we can if you think in decades. The neo-cons see mankind as rational selfish agents, the Homo Oeconomicus. Supposedly personal gain is our main source of motivation. We’re not that. We’re mostly emotional beings.
If you see a section of the central part of the human brain and compare it with a reptile, you’ll notice that the cortex, the part that is responsible for our sophistication in human relationship represents the main portion of our brain structure. We’re designed to connect with other human beings, we’re social animals. Multiple studies found out that care for others is the ultimate source of happiness, it’s not money, material possessions or power. I admit that many of us are quite busy in nurturing our egos but this isn’t going to bring us any good in the long run.
We can create a more inclusive society where the weakest, the less fortunate is not crashed in this infinite economic growth madness but respected and protected. Change requires to break the chains that keep us imprisoned to past and present. We can’t see a way out as we live in a mono-culture. Adam Curtis, a talented documentarist calls this phenomenon hypernomalization: we know that there is something wrong with the world we’re living in but as we don’t have a credible alternative, we pretend it’s all right and we do nothing.
We need a new vision, a new story to break the enchantment. We need to think of a society that considers human beings and nature not as assets to exploit but ends in themselves. The junior team that made “Briciola” feel included is proof that we have inside us the power to change.
Gino Francato is business leader of an incubation platform at SABIC, one of the world’s top chemical companies. Gino worked in specialty chemical corporations in different geographies, industry sectors and in different functions for more than twenty years. He earned an executive MBA from SDA Bocconi School of Management and a MS degree in Chemical Engineering at the University of Padova. He believes in the power of education as a social transformational tool. He creates and delivers mindfulness, leadership and innovation management trainings.