people have been fundamentally important to me –
Chiara Lubich, Paulo Freire and Martin Buber. Three
lives, three experiences, three masters in dialogue,
and three different cultural worlds. I will attempt,
through a kind of imaginary round table discussion,
to allow these three to dialogue briefly on “education
met Chiara Lubich in 1971 in her community – made
up of those following her way of life, her “Ideal.”
I had just enrolled at the university, and meeting her
was something so totally new for me that I came to understand
the importance of education.
immediately gave me several techniques, or tools, for
dialogue.These were not purely theoretical points, but
rather the fruit of a lifestyle, a concrete experience
in interpersonal and communitarian relationships. Since
I saw it being put into practice, I began to understand
the Art of Loving, of which Chiara was a great master.She
wisely knew how to connect theory with practice, not
only talking about the Art of Loving, but actually living
it, bearing witness to it, and experiencing it herself.
short time later, when I had my first exam in pedagogy,
I encountered Paulo Freire, the Brazilian educator and
theorist, through his book, The Education of the Oppressed.
In it he proposes dialogue as the fundamental dimension
of the pedagogical experience.
then, I had often the occasion to quote Freire’s
work to my students and in other contexts.
towards the end of my university, during a philosophy
class, I “met” Martin Buber. My professor,
who was a well-known scholar, mentioned this Jewish
thinker, whom he said could be considered the “philosopher
of dialogue.” Really struck by this description,
I wrote down on a piece of paper the name of this “thinker,”
unknown to me at the time. He immediately sparked an
interest in me, as I started to study his works. In
the end I wrote a book published in 1994 called Education
in Encounter: Martin Buber on Education. For all three
figures, the question of educating to dialogue emerged
during a time of suffering or tragedy.
than 70 years ago, in 1938, Martin Buber was fleeing
the Nazi regime. In the precariousness of that situation,
he wrote, “We are living in an age ‘without
a home,’ we are lost in ‘open country’
and we don’t even possess four poles to build
a tent.” Buber was referring to a more intimate
dwelling, more essential and urgent – an existential
dwelling that he defined as “I-Thou,” an
authentic encounter, a dialogue that calls each one
to move out of self-centeredness.
few years later the young Chiara Lubich was living through
the drama of World War II in Trent, Italy – the
collapse of homes destroyed by the bombs, but more so,
the collapse of values and ideals to live for.
from that concrete experience of global destruction,
she entered into a dialogue with someone who does not
collapse and cannot be destroyed and who speaks Words
of Life – God. She discovered the constructive,
educational power of love and in particular, of mutual
love. She began to build homes, form Focolare houses
where differences co-exist, where a community of people
live in dialogue, in the understanding that “Where
two or three are united in my name, there am I in their
midst” (Mt 18:20). In
her case, too, the explosive power of dialogue emerged
from the ruins, from the darkest crisis, and she allowed
herself to be carried forward by a hope that overcomes
Freire also deplores the sense of being an orphan which
one feels after living through injustice or oppression,
in a world where conversation is an empty monologue.
For him, it is the creative power of dialogue that can
different ways, Martin Buber, Paulo Freire and Chiara
Lubich all insist on the human being as the place of
encounter and dialogue. In their view, dialogue is the
very essence of a person, the dimension that makes us
human, the principle and goal of our life.
journey of humankind, the existential journey, the path
to authentic fulfillment of one’s identity is
the journey of hospitality, of “word” that
becomes “dialogue,” allowing us to enter
into the shared dwelling of authentic relationships.
are the fundamental dynamics for an authentic dialogue?
The art of inviting others Hospitality presupposes the
art of inviting others. An invitation indicates that
you have something to offer, to share and at the same
time it also expresses a desire.
invite a person by “asking,” thus recognizing
the importance of the “Thou” of another
(Buber says the “Thou” is someone, “never
just something”), and also showing the other that
we are poor and needy in front of him or her.
awareness of one’s own “poverty,”
which is the same as “humility,” is the
starting point for establishing an authentic encounter,
one that is not based on the overbearing display of
wealth or knowledge, but only on the poverty of the
one who knows how to share.
offer hospitality presupposes an “unconditional
acceptance” of someone.
attitude of unconditional acceptance of others is a
very strong point in Chiara Lubich’s proposals,
“love everyone,” “be the first to
love,” which are directly connected to the command
to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk
12:31), and another phrase from the Gospel, “Whatever
you do to the least of my brothers, you do it to me”
of these points have profound educational implications.
To educate is undoubtedly a process of inviting and
is two-sided; it is dialogue.
principle of hospitality is fulfilled in what Buber
calls “reciprocal inclusion” and a “reciprocal
experience of the other side.” The path that leads
to the other, that leads to “his or her house,”
is “empathy,” the capacity to put oneself
in the shoes of the other (in his or her thoughts, needs,
desires, mentality, experience, history) while remaining
oneself, keeping the necessary interpersonal distance,
since the “I-Thou” is not fusion or identification.
is, as Buber insists, a matter of looking at one another
and speaking to each other on opposite shores, knowing
all the while how to pass over to the other side, how
to put oneself on the other’s side.
is exactly this act of putting ourselves on the other
side, and looking at things from a different perspective
that will allow us to achieve a new, enriched identity,
an alter-identity. It can make me ready to see myself
in a new way and allow me to change (Buber says, “I
construct myself in you.”) Freire writes: “In
this way the educator is not only the one who educates,
but while he is educating, he is educated through the
dialogue with the student who, in turn while being educated,
is also educating.” We find ourselves then at
the center of the very precious dimension of “reciprocity,”
which is mutual love, always rich in fruits and gifts
and which for Christians includes a sacred dimension,
finding and becoming an immense and profound icon of
we journey along together, like the disciples on the
path to Emmaus (see Lk 24:13-35), we speak together,
we communicate our stories and concerns, we discover
with amazement that we are accompanied by an unexpected
guest who is only outwardly a stranger.
Milan is director of the Center of Social and Intercultural
Education at the University of Padua and a member of
the Focolare Education and Unity association.