Giovanni Grandi is a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Trieste. As he is currently working on a book: he had planned to spend period in retreat, but not exactly in the way as it is happening right now… 
He was supposed to be one of the keynote speakers at our 11th international conference in Sassari this year. Unfortunately, we will only be able to attend his lecture next year. In the discussions about the necessity to postpone the conference he drew our attention to the fact that people will need time to mourn, and to restore relations for a significant period after the pandemic is soothed. We asked him about his reflections on the crisis and the recognition of the crisis.  The discussion is part of our #SolidarityOverDistance updates.

Giovanni Grandi

Can you recall the first moment when you realised that there is a crisis developing around you, and it has an impact on your life?

Well, it is quite difficult to recall a precise moment, but I can say that the first signal that something unusual was happening was the closure of my sons’ schools at the end of February. Of course, there was already news about arising problems in Lombardia but most people were thinking that there was nothing particularly new in what was happening. We all knew about the problems in China, but in somehow news were not enough to implicate a “crisis” also in our country. In that sense, I feel that the unusual decisions of public institutions - in our case of our regional government - to block something so daily, so obvious as schools, functioned like a strong warning about what was probably arriving.

How does the crisis affect your work and your daily activities?

I think my position is quite unusual: I had been planning since last autumn that March and April should have been a “reclusion” period, entirely dedicated to finish a study on penalty and restoration from a moral point of view. So paradoxically my agenda was already “empty”. Moreover, I changed university (moving from Padova to Trieste) exactly on March 2nd, so in practice I am still waiting to know my new colleagues and to reorganise my academic life. So this spring was already expected to be a very peculiar period in my life: the word “crisis” was already the best candidate to describe it! Many things changed in our family’s organisation: our three sons need space, devices and internet access for their lessons and we experienced the physical limits of smart-working, that is quite easy if you remain alone at home and more difficult if you have to share rooms and to organise turns in using the computer or the tablet. But I think these are really minor problems, and I wish that most families could live this quarantine as we do, appreciating the opportunity to spend more time together. We often think about lonely people or about large families that have to remain closed in little spaces, maybe without the possibility to continue their ordinary work… That kind of situations are really a crisis situation.

For Italian speakers: Giovanni has been publishing vlog posts - and he keeps doing this also during the quarantine: sharing his reflections about the ongoing situation.  Non-Italian speakers may still enjoy him playing music on the same channel. 

"We don’t have – I mean as a generation – an experience about events like this pandemic... "

Many of us thought that life will get back to normal once the effects of the pandemic are mitigated. Now, after our lives changed so unexpectedly and gravely, we wonder how this return will be. It does not seem likely that everything will be like it was before. What are your thoughts about this? In other words, what do you think, what will be our challenges and responsibilities once the pandemic is soothed?

I think that one of the biggest problem is exactly imagining the future. I mean, as I mentioned I just changed university: of course this means I have to rebuild a lot of things, but I already have an experience that will help me: my imagination is supported by past practices and way of doing things. But the general situation isn’t similar to this case: we don’t have – I mean as a generation – an experience about events like this pandemic, that forces us to introduce new attitudes in relationships, to slow down productivity, to suspend mobility… Our social grammar – if I can use this expression – is in standby, we don’t know if and when it will be restored, and in the meanwhile we feel that is very difficult to compose new projects. After three week of lock-down this lack of imagination appears very clearly. At the very beginning there was something similar to the enthusiasm for changes: during the first week people organised online meetings, flash-mobs with music on balconies and shared fantastic ideas and photos of activities at home on social media. After 15 days the number of deaths, the difficulties of people working in the hospitals, the uncertainty about the length of the lock-down revealed the sadness of a new “normality”; messages on social media became more serious, with a lot of incentive to think, to rediscover the sense of our way of doing things. Now, after the first month the topic is “nothing will be like it was before”, but the debate is still at that declaration point. I think we don’t really know what we have to change and moreover what we need to change. I mean: the amount of “serious” contents shared online is increasing, but the point is that we need "to do" something, and not only to "consider theoretically" what can we do. We are spending a lot of time looking at videos, posts and so on, but what about silence, time for moral or spiritual exercises? My feeling is that we are suppressing this kind of moment in our daily life, and without this kind of practices changes risk to remain wishful thinking. Perhaps a particular responsibility  involves taking care about our spirituality, because this is the actual thing we can really do now and not only projects for the future.

"We have to learn how to use proper words, moreover how to tell publicly the suffering that affected a great part of the population, with respect and without rhetoric..."

It seems now that the pandemic developed very differently in China and in the rest of the world (including Italy). Do you think it is more difficult to combat such a pandemic when we live in democracies? 

Of course modern democracy has some values that could be an obstacle in such situation: I think particularly at our care about “privacy”. For example, the proposal to follow the movement of citizens through smartphone apps in order to control pandemic could be quite problematic. How can we avoid the risk of a “big brother”? We have to be very clear about the limits of solutions like this, but is it possible now? How long will this situation continue? If we introduce these kind of “political” tools, will we be able to dismiss them once it becomes possible? But this is clearly only one of the possible issues. So there are of course peculiarities of democracy that in this particular situation sound like limits. Anyway, I think that we will learn a lot of things from restrictions: the government asked citizens for cooperation, nevertheless secured punishments for people who will not respect limitations. Would it have been possible to do this differently? Aristoteles would have said not. Most people do the right things only because they are frightened by the perspective of punishments. I think this a great challenge also for restorative culture: how can we learn to do the right thing, even if it is difficult, simply because it is something in favour of other people? Perhaps restorative practices could teach us something exactly about the possibility to feel in a deeper way the needs of other people, in order to make our decisions also through feeling their presence, their life and not simply considering only our wishes or needs.

What do you think a restorative culture can do, once the pandemic will be soothed? What could be helpful steps or attitude at that point?

The good use of words is one of the main issues in restorative practices, and I think this could be an important resource, still in this period, that is characterised – this is my impression, of course – by a distortion of narratives. I mean: on one side, on social-media, we can notice a huge amount of “story-telling” about ordinary life during pandemic. Generally, we find here good narratives. People prefer not to show their pain, and when they do it, very often I notice also a resentment towards other people who continue saying “it will be all right” (“#andràtuttobene” was an unfortunate hashtag in Italy during the very beginning of the troubles). On the other side, in public speaking we can observe a strong use of heavy metaphors: the one of “war” first of all, Covid-19 as “enemy”… I’m not so sure that this is a good choice in language: in Italy also countries that seem to not “fight” with us against the pandemic quickly became “enemies” (particularly in the narrative of some politicians). I mean we have to learn how to use proper words, moreover how to tell publicly the suffering that affected a great part of the population, with respect and without rhetoric, in order to share feelings deeply and to transform suffering not into revenge but into a new power to build positive things, particularly as European citizens. The European Forum has a great challenge, but has a great experience that will be very precious!