Development Cooperation Handbook/The video resources linked to this handbook/The Documentary Story/Wiki threads between definitions and openness
Wiki threads between definitions and openness
In the effort to prepare the manual, I was then confronted with the need to “define” the terms I was using and the need to keep the definitions open. Without accurate definitions, the whole subject would have become vague and inconsistent. With rigid definitions, it would have become pedantic and imposing. So I tried to redefine the basic concepts in a way that revealed how important it is to propose one perspective and then how important it is to realize that that perspective is still subjective and is still a “provisional” achievement that needs to be further discussed.
It may seem a paradox that the Wiki platform, which is made for open multiple authorship, organizes and shares knowledge along conceptual “definitions”. So, on the one side, we have an effort to clarify concepts by “enclosing” them into precise semantic boundaries; and on the other side, the effort to transcend the personalization of such definitions and leave the possibility to each reader to propose additions, integrations and modifications to such definitions. What we have on the web is, therefore, a sort of provisional agreement on the way to define concepts, which makes clear that there is no final “objectivity” in any form of conceptualization. Concepts are products of our intelligence, and so our subjectivity is involved, along with our need to confront our points through dialogue and further observations.
In fact, we are in dialogue only as far as we realize that concepts are provisional achievements of our subjectivity. When instead, we believe that we have arrived to “final” statements and that our definitions are now “objective”, we try to stop the flow and we break the dialogue.
This is as much true at a personal level as it is at the level of the relationship amongst different communities and different credos. We would like that the wall, within which our community lives, becomes permanent. And for that we would need not only to restrict the movement of the people; We would need to stop the process of changing the meaning and connotations of the words we use.
So much violence has been done in the world by those who have more economic power and have used it for imposing their conceptual categories on others. So much good has been done in the world by those who enriched their communities with concepts and visions learned from others. And while some people who thought that the world would have become automatically a better place to live in, because new communication technologies would have helped us to learn more from others, have to come to terms with the fact that new technologies are also used to generate new tribalism, new intolerance, new fears. And so, as it always has been, the struggle continues between the people who believe that “we know best” who put their views as the really good views and despise the views of the others, and the people who believe that “we only know a little” who are curious about others and would like to expand their horizons through the new perspectives they can learn from others.
Another enemy of conceptualizations and dialogue is the person who believes that “all is just an opinion”, and that we can never arrive to concepts which can form a basis for reciprocal understanding and cooperation. These are the people who have realized the subjectivity of thought, but who are very sorry of it, because they would have preferred that we had some sort of solid objectivity which would have made us “sure” of what we say. They believe that all is an opinion (except the absolute truth that all is just an opinion). And so all opinios have the same value and there is no use in trying to define concepts and build consensus. They think that even when people talk, they do not listen to one another. It is a sad view, very nostalgic of the lost “objectivity” which actually builds an ocean of darkness around each subject eternally isolated by others. But instead of being consequential to their belief and live in silence, they go on preaching against any effort to enliven the concepts we share and improve the societies we live in. Nobility belongs to those who see the concepts and accept responsibility for living in harmony with them. Vulgarity belongs to those who see only opinions, and so feel no responsibility to follow even their own conscience, since that is also an opinion which they try to manipulate when it advises against something that is perceived as their own interest.
Since I wanted the manual to be a platform of dialogue, I felt the need to define concepts in a way that they could facilitate reciprocal understanding. My main focus was the basic concepts of “development”, “aid”, “cooperation”, “communication”, “subsidiarity”.
I was quite happy of my definition of “communication”, that I framed in these terms: The objective of communication is achieved when a group of "I"s accept to identify themselves as a "we". But then explaining this required a full chapter which in a sense brought the manual into some philosophical discussions which might have been perceived as “out of the main topic” of the manual. But I took the risk and adventure in this philosophical mine field, with the kind of patience that I had seen in the job of Unifil in South Lebanon.
It took a lot of effort for me to tackle the question of “subsidiarity” which I redefined differently from the standard definitions. “Subsidiarity is generally defined as the "organizing principle stating that a matter ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest, or least centralized authority capable of addressing that matter effectively". While this is the standard way by which the word "subsidiarity" is used in institutional governance, its concept is more relevant and refers to the way that different authorities interact so that they reciprocally recognize and empower each other avoiding that "the bigger" is put higher in the hierarchical order then "the smaller". Subsidiarity means that each level of authority requires the others in a process that all are reciprocally "subsidiary". The "smaller" in a geographic sense may actually be "higher" in a "ethical" sense and may have much more relevance to the life of the individuals than the far away "big powers". At the same time it is the peaceful and synergic coordination of the "smalls" into widely coordinated "bigger" authorities that enable the smalls to be really autonomous authorities that really recognized and protected the rights of the individual persons.” With this concept of subsidiarity, I could bring together the challenge of ⇒ developing a global partnership for development and ⇒ recognize and protect our diverse cultural identities
But the big question was how to define "development" in a way that was neither "Western-centered", nor "anti-West". So I decided to reveal that we need to define development from the perspective of "development cooperation", which is the capacity to integrate the view of the other on what development is". "Gradually awareness is growing that social and economic development require a balanced mixture of freedom and order, of spontaneity and rule, of solidarity and competition. However there is much disagreement of what should come first (freedom or order?) and where to set the balance (more spontaneity or more governance?). Freedom and order are two vital factors of development. On the one hand, they promote each other and on the other hand, they destroy each other, especially if one of the two grows too much at the expense of the other. A similar balance between two seemingly contradictory, and actually reciprocally enabling factors, is the synthesis, in development, of “change” and “continuation”. In fact, development has a dynamic character implying simultaneously that something is transformed and something is carried on. When we talk of "development" in the human and social context, we refer to a course of action that integrates two processes: a change for the better and a preservation of a cultural identity and its value system. A social change that is implemented independently of the value system of the persons whose environment is changed is not development. And neither is the preservation of an old value system, independent of the aspirations of the new generations, development. Using another terminology, we could say that “development” is when there is synergy and creative communication between “progress” (moving ahead) and “tradition” (taking forward one’s values)."
I thought that with this definition I could then really explain why I consider communication so important for development. But not all communication. Only the authentic communication, i.e. the one that unites the "Is" of the counterparts in a shared identity of "us". And so I could add to the definition of development an indication of the necessity to be at the same time humble and authoritative. "Change and learning are not produced by social workers and by teachers; they are produced as responses of persons to the external inputs they receive. Authentic development aid workers, in the same way as authentic educators, will aim at “empowering” the persons and will help them develop their potentialities."
Well. So I used the manual for taking a round of more "philosophical" landscapes. I know I will be criticized for it. But I liked it, and may be if I liked it I could share some of my pleasure with my readers. But philosophy is OK only if it is lived outside the classrooms. The philosophical diversions of the manual will make sense only if they lead back to concrete work and concrete stories. So let's now to return to the field and see if we find a way to close the threads into a beautiful carpet. A flying one? You bet!