The art of giving freely is learned in the family

Economy is a Greek word that directly refers to the home (oikos nomos, rules for running a house), on the family

Economy is a Greek word that directly refers to the home (oikos nomos, rules for running a house), on the family. But the modern economy, especially contemporary economy, is governed by other principles, distinct and in many ways opposed to the ones that govern a family. A founding principle of the family, perhaps the primary one that underpins all the others is gratuitousness, which is the farthest from a capitalistic economy that is more familar with the surrogates of gratuitousness (discounts, philanthropy, sales). These serve the purpose of immunizing the markets against true gratuitousness. The family, in fact, is the main place where we learn from childhood on and for the rest of our lives, what Pavel Florensky calls the “art of gratuitousness”. It is especially in the family that we learn as children to work, and that no work can be done well without gratuitousness. But our culture associates gratuitousness with “for free,” the discount, the half-hour of overtime without pay, the zero price ( Saint Francis instead told us that gratuitousness is an infinite price: it can’t be sold or bought, because it’s unpayable).

Gratuitousness means giving freely; it is a type of behaviour and a lifestyle that consists in approaching others, oneself, nature, God and things – not to use them in a utilitarian way for one’s own advantage, but to acknowledge their “otherness” and in their mystery, to respect them and serve them. To say gratuitousness means, therefore, to recognize that a certain way of acting done because it is good, and not because of recompense or sanction. […] If the family wishes to cultivate the art of gratuitousness as it should, it should be careful not to import into the home the logic of incentive which is rampant in today’s world. […] One of the tasks of the family is the formation of a person’s work ethic, which is precisely the result of gratuitiousness. If, instead, you begin to practice the logic and culture of incentives, and money becomes the reason for doing things, children will not be good workers when they become adults, because the work well done of tomorrow will always depend on the gratuitousness that is learned especially during the first years of life and especially in the home.

The absence of gratuity in the economy also depends a lot on the absence of a feminine gaze. […] Women look at the home and at the economy and first see the connections of human relationships that that are happening. The first goods they see are the relational ones and the communal goods, and within these they also see the economic goods. It is certainly not by chance that the Econom

y of Communion was the result of the vision of a woman (Chiara Lubich), nor that the first theoritician of the common goods was Katherine Coman (1911), or that Elinor Ostrom was the only woman so far to receive a Nobel Prize in ecomony because of her work on common goods. And there are two women at the root of the theory on relational goods: Martha Nussbaum and Caroll Uhlaner.

When the feminine gaze is missing from the economy, the only relations that can be seen are instrumental ones where it is not the relation that is the good, but where relationships with people and with nature are seen as the means used for obtaining goods.

If the feminine gaze and genius of the home (oikos), had perhaps been present in the theoretical foundation of modern economy, we would have had an economy that was more attentive to the relationships, to the redistribution of revenue, to the environment and perhaps to communion. Communion is the great word that the family has to pass on to the economy. The prophetic role of the family in today’s world, to be believed, must take on the form of the children and the form of the economy and, therefore, of sharing, welcoming and communion. Because the children and the economy are nothing more than the ordinary life of each and of all, which is the only place where prophecy is nourished and grows.

Source:, Luigino Bruni, “Così lo sguardo femminile può cambiare l’economia”, 23 August 2018.

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