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the great dreams of the ideologies, worsens the existential discomfort. Young people need adults who are capable of helping them connect together past-present and future, adults who know how to fashion the future prospects as a fascinating target to be reached and set for them a task to be accomplished. But all too often even at school they are faced with sceptical adults, who have been injured by the collapse of their youthful disappointing dreams.

c)The process of growing up as an initiation into ‘reality’

Growing up means coming out of narcissistic withdrawal, out of a protected setting, accepting a social role, and taking on responsibilities vis-à-vis others. Besides the difficulties that young people run into today as described above, they are also characterized by a greater familiarity with the virtual dimension which makes it even more difficult to relate to reality. Being uncomfortable with one’s body, the various forms of even violent manipulation that it is often subjected to, are symptoms of this deeper difficulty and it is a very sensitive issue since, from the psychological viewpoint, the sense of reality is based on the bodily ego. When a person is unable to accept his or her body, realistically perceiving its boundaries, it is not possible to correctly perceive the broader reality.

While the issue of body awareness is central in the process of opening up to reality, it must be added that adolescence is characterized by an attempt to escape from other obstacles, besides the acceptance of one’s body: escaping from others (when adolescents disguise themselves within a group in which identities are cancelled); escaping from time (as to the past, they refuse traditions which are felt to be extraneous to them and from which they disassociate themselves; as to the present, they refuse the discomfort and the pressure of taking on of a social role; you cannot realistically project yourself into the future); escaping from God, for whom at the most an intimist, affective dimension is nurtured, which is useful for personal outbursts, without there being any interest and commitment to having one’s religiosity evolve in more mature terms.

d)Outgrowing individualism

Identity is constructed only within a relationship, rather within a rich network of significant relationships.

The risk is that of withdrawing into a barren self-referenced subjectivism. Instead, a person can construct himself when he is open to the dimensions of otherness, of relating to others, of unselfishness and solidarity. Today young people are showing a significant orientation towards the values of peace and solidarity and there is a diffused willingness to different forms of volunteer work. These are strong points from which work can be done but with the awareness that it is not to be taken for granted that one can shift from emotional orientation, and even episodic actions of generosity, to an authentic opening to the community dimension.

Educating people to encountering others, to dialogue, to making critical reflections on themselves and on the community they belong to is an approach that should be followed more intensely and with greater awareness. But in order for young people to be capable of dialogue and solidarity they need the support of a community that bears witness to and substantiates these values. Today this is particularly difficult; indeed, more and more the contexts in which people live are neutral, cold or imbued with values of individualism and fierce competition.

The challenges in education. Recovering the past, promises, commitments

Italian Episcopal Conference, European Symposium, Roma 1-4 July 2004

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