05/30/2012, 00.00

For society and the marketplace, family and children are the most important assets

by Bernardo Cervellera
The theological pastoral congress concludes its first day as the 7th World Meeting of Families got underway in Milan. The family is a social asset that favours personal growth, solidarity and the dignity of women. In presenting their papers, speakers criticise the power of individualism and markets, which stifle free giving and human dignity. Advertising targeting children is also slammed. Changing policies that relegate family values to the private sphere is an urgent priority.

Milan (AsiaNews) - A family constituted by a man and a woman with two or more children is the most important asset in developing personal well-being, enhancing societal cohesion, and creating a more humane and liveable yet successful marketplace. This is the first point agreed upon during the first of three days of the theological pastoral congress, taking place in parallel with the 7th World Meeting of Families currently underway at Milan's convention centre (FieraMilanoCity).

The morning session began with a ceremony and a dance with more than 4,000 representatives from 150 countries in attendance. This was followed by the presentations of the two main speakers, Card Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, and Luigino Bruni, associate professor of Economics at University of Milan-Bicocca (pictured). In the afternoon, Prof Pierpaolo Donati, of the University of Bologna, presented the results of a study on the family as "societal asset".

This study, conducted last year with 3,500 respondents in Italy but applicable to the rest of the world, shows empirically that the traditional family-two or more children tied by a bond of fidelity between a man and a woman-stabilises children's personality, encourages help towards others, creates personalities capable of creativity and responsibility in work and enhances social cohesion.

The results are surprising to say the least because they go against the broad visibility of individualistic common law relationships, gay couple privatism, and social stigma attached to marriage. Families with children build cohesion, help for seniors, education, morality, social commitment and solidarity. From this stems a strong demand for recognition of the family not only in terms of its private, internal values but also as a value itself in society. The results of the study blame the political-administrative system for its incapacity to value the contribution of fathers, mothers, grandparents and children. In fact, it tends to penalise them through taxes, consumption and marginalisation.

According to the study, "The end result says that the normally constituted family is still the primary force in the country, although it is becoming a minority. So we can say that a minority of strong families must bear the burden of social cohesion, which is thrown into a crisis by tendencies of individualism and privatism supported by the political administrative system, and, of course, by the market." And yet, traditional families are "happier", more joyful even when they are "poorer".

In his paper, Prof Bruni also noted the growing conflict between capitalist and individualist society and family values as well as the need for some sort of "social revolution" based on family values and Christian humanism, views that were met by long minutes of applause.

Bruni also stressed the importance of work, for oneself and one's dignity first rather than for its market "price". Care and solidarity are values that provide an "added value" that is hard to quantify. Giving freely is also too often reduced to something that has no price and is thus deemed of no value. The work of women (and others) in the home is denied consideration in a nation's overall wealth.

"A culture that values only what has a market price no longer understands value and values; it does not understand the value of things," Bruni said. "In two centuries of capitalism, businesses have developed a system of incentives and rewards that failed to consider the added value of giving in work." For him, if we fail to speak about the dignity of work (rather than just its price) and of giving freely, we could drift towards a society where everything is for sale, a society of people who are "slaves", a place that offers only non-essential work without motivations or ideals.

The scholar also appealed for a moratorium on children advertising ("In the last 20 years, revenues from targeting children in advertising has increased tenfold. Children are worth too much to be left in the hands of profit-seekers"), and called on people to understand the value of the family. "Since it is the main source of relational assets, more consumption does not help the economy; in fact, consuming fewer goods creates more assets, relational assets, spiritual assets, proximity assets, all of which are also essential assets for recovery and economic development."

One point on which all speakers agreed is that families tend to be unaware of the social asset they are. Instead of fighting for their rights, families too often accept relegation in the private sphere (or the role of consumers) as dictated by the marketplace.

In his address, Card Ravasi presented a synthesis of the private and public, personal and social, man and woman, parents and children. Drawing from the Book of Genesis, the Song of Songs, the Gospel (including the Apocalypse) and quotes from ancient and contemporary authors (Aristotle, Tolstoy, Chesterton, Jorge Luis Borges, etc), he drew a fascinating portrait of the family as a "house" in God's presence, where men and women possess a shared as well as a specific dignity; a portrait that includes the pain, hardship and precariousness of life as well as the hoped-for splendour of the golden city of the Apocalypse. He also cited a study that goes against the dominant view, namely the 2009 European Values Studies, which indicates that 84 per cent of all European citizens (91 per cent of all Italian citizens) consider the family as fundamental institution. Unexpectedly, the family is the most important social reality in 46 of 47 countries surveyed, ahead of work, friendships, religion and politics.

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