Column by Francesco Capellini, member of the International Preparatory Group of the 18th edition of the conference

A pandemic, coming with its lockdown experience and routine disruption, represents a good opportunity to embark on the only journey we are allowed to take: the one inside ourselves. How many times did we claim not to have enough time to do so? Well, introspection became a spontaneous ritual to me during lockdown and I finally got the chance to face some unsolved issues left ignored in the past. Am I alone in this?
As a consequence, I started dealing with what I have been considering shallow and negligible for years. On the one hand, I confronted with myself, my harmful habits and vices that were numbing my days, while, on the other hand, I questioned my relationship with others, from family, to friendship and sentimental relations.
Well, without diving into personal issues, which would be quite irrelevant to the most, I would like to share some of my takeaways, in order to stimulate your reflection and create the conditions for some further confrontation and action.

Looking for ultimate answers might be a misleading orientation
As humans, we strive for ultimate answers that will gift us with a perfect state of endless happiness, serenity or peace. So, did I, trying to fix myself step by step, the way I am and the way I relate to others. Well, you know what? After an intense period of deep questioning and changing, I found out that me and my life were still fundamentally the same, in the end. There is not such well-defined point of arrival, there is no such set of habits that will bring me to a perfect state in which everything works. I found out that the only constant is change. Life needs to keep on moving in order to be alive; panta rei, someone cleverer than me once said.
What I learned is then that we created a fabulous unlimited market where everybody is too busy buying and selling answers with the promise to stop our run for the unachievable truth, while we should focus on the questions that orientate our search and keep us moving (which means, alive) in constantly evolving contexts and circumstances. Questioning becomes an attitude, and the legitimation of the existence of alternatives a pursuit.

Who defines my needs?
The concept of need is quite subtle to me, because it is, to a considerable extent, relative. I happened to make some reflections on my consumption habits, realizing that without having job meetings or events, nor travelling, nor having dinners and parties with friends, the allocation of my budget was completely reshaped. Questions such as: what am I earning money for? How much is sufficient to have a meaningful life? and Do I really need to work so many hours? frequently popped up in my mind, questioning the meaning of my actions and objectives. More generally, when your time is not any more set by social commitments, how are you going to spend it and with whom? We are used to delegate such a task.
We tend to travel established paths at whose ends there is the spot prepared for us. It might seem comfortable, but we end up disappointed when we look for a meaning. My lesson learned is that we should not look for meaning when we have the power to create it ourselves.

Being alone might be more comfortable than having to deal with people
Pandemic times represent an interesting test for our individualistic societies. I proved that potentially I can live without physically interacting with anyone: smart working, food delivery, meeting friends online (I must recognize that I was among the lucky ones who have a livable flat and a smart job, though).

Anyway, I allow myself to generalize affirming that living alone is getting technically easier and easier, but it might be a misleading illusion. Firstly, our hyper connectivity on social media and digital platforms proved that we are, at least, not so comfortable left alone with ourselves. We enjoy isolation as a reduction of external pressures and stresses, but we cannot erase our need of sociality. Secondly, coexisting is getting harder and harder because our societies promote and reward productivity and comfort. Most of our interactions become perceived as inconvenient: our competitive and efficient lifestyle trained us to interact with others just when needed, producing disposable relationships aiming to an exchange. We are trained to think that we can buy our independence. Instead, by the biological point of view, we know that for a consistent part of our lives we are clearly not autonomous at all, starting from childhood and old age. In facts, relationships acquire another meaning in the reciprocity and gratuity of caring, accepting fragility as part of our human condition. Do we really have to give up meaningful relationships for the sake of a fake independence?

Progress seems to be a lie
My generation grew up with the unwavering belief that the only possible way to conceive time was progress: time is linear and our condition will constantly improve. In this sense, the pandemic crisis represents a wake-up call: not just we will probably live in poorer conditions with respect to our parents, but also, we might end up living in a world in which we do not really want to live. Recognizing how our system keeps running despite our interests, disrupting people’s lives and our common home, increasing inequalities, destroying nature and promoting individualism, makes me wonder what can we do about it.

I do not have answer, but a proposal. Why do not we question it together and create the possibility for a satisfying, meaningful, alternative to emerge?

If you somehow recognized some of your thoughts in the previous reflections, if you are not sure our societies are going to the right direction, if you feel like you are losing control on yourself, if you do not like the idea of being an efficient, isolated individual, if you strive for an alternative, (…) you are invited to follow the discussion on this page and candidate yourself to join about 80 young motivated people in order to contribute to debating and creating the future we want. There is no given answer: the next might be (y)ours!