Balduzzi, E. (2016). Narrazione educativa e generatività del perdono [Educational narration and the creation of forgiveness]. (Mauricio Bicocca)

Balduzzi, E. (2016).

Narrazione educativa e generatività del perdono [Educational narration and the creation of forgiveness].

Milan: Mimesis Edizioni. 182 pp.

The book reviewed here studies the link between narration and forgiveness from an educational perspective. Emanuele Balduzzi, a teacher at the Instituto Salesiano at the University of Venice (Italy), introduces this text with a reference to his direct experience of oral narration that is worth mentioning:

I can clearly remember that wonderful educational experience when my grandmother Lina, with unique skill and exper tise, wove a marvellous world of meaning with the delicacy and love of her words, her gestures, and her presence […]. And I must insist that now, despite the great diffusion of the digital media, when I think of my narrative imagination from an educational perspective, the image of my grandmother Lina telling me a story, her own living and distinctive story, always comes to mind first […] (p. 9).

The proposed study is part of a pedagogy of virtue and is aimed at an audience of university students. In this framework, three key elements are analysed in its pages, namely:

1) Narration as a communicative expression linked to orality.

2) Narration and its connection to forgiveness, both in the person who requests it and the person who grants it.

3) The pedagogical implications arising from forgiveness analysed under the concept of generativity.

The first chapter examines the educational value of oral narration. Once narration’s essential characteristics —order, coherence, distinctiveness, originality, harmony, and others— have been presented it goes on to consider the distinction between information and narration. In effect, these elements are distinguished in an educational field where narration offers impersonal and supposedly neutral content, such as a news story, where the key thing is that it be accurate, fast, and effective. In other words, the information requires the separation of the communicating subject from the communicated content. Something different happens with oral narrative. This seeks to develop the child’s imagination and sense of fantasy and it requires the people present at the narrative act to get involved. «I am not just going to listen to a story, but a story by an especially loved person» (p. 24).

What implications does narration have for education? It should be noted, firstly, that it strengthens the educator-learner relationship, a relationship that should be guided by the pedagogical principle that students should be able to manifest their own inner self and this must be elcomed, heard, safeguarded, and preserved. In this way, the figure of the educator has a most delicate task: to be the custodian of the pupil’s narrative. Secondly, it makes it possible to create new stories together. So, both the educator and the learner are bearers of different stories that are not always easy to reconcile. In this encounter the possibility of an opening arises, a new narrative that enables the creation of a third intimate and interpersonal story, fashioned together in a unique and special relationship. According to Balduzzi: The great educational contribution of narration is its capacity to transfigure, to go from a simple listing of communicative content to an authentic experience of an interpersonal encounter» (p. 35).

The second chapter covers the link between the word and narration. The author analyses the importance of words in narrative discourse and offers the interpretative keys that an educator can consider to understand the sense and meaning of a student’s narrative. Here he underlines the importance of the cultural context in which each person develops and how narrations of stories are a key element that brings together the development of the members of a community, something that is of crucial value for education since narratives act as a sort of bridge between one generation and another. So, there are numerous examples that could be cited in the world of Western literature of narratives that acted as an educational basis for educating new generations. On these lines, the author notes that:

Humankind has a natural tendency to narrate, a sort of narrative instinct that manifests itself in a natural ability to tell stories. In a society with a wide range of people, characters, ways of being, lives, what draws them together and shapes them in their being historically is narrations, narrations that make it possible for each individual to identify with the identity of a people. […] from an educational perspective narratives are not just a decisive factor for personal growth, but also a powerful vehicle for interpersonal encounters and construction (p. 51).

In light of what has been set out, other educational aspects that are relevant to narration arise. The first lies in the need for active participation by the subjects involved in the narrative act. The second is the decentring of the narrator, as in the oral style no ideal audience is kept in mind to be addressed but instead specific people who listen to her, and so she must adjust her narrative to the audience before her. The last aspect is its intimate nature. In other words, it opens itself up to any form of private communication. This is also one of the characteristics of the educational relationship.

The intimacy and interdependence of oral narration are updated in pedagogical love, a love that is manifested in the educators when they are dedicated to the good of the people who trust in them and their growth, and when the narrator can safeguard and care for the stories that the students tell (p. 59).

Chapter three studies the relationship between narrative and asking for forgiveness. It makes it clear that the act of forgiving is a phenomenon that is living and integral to human beings and enables them to grow and mature. In this framework, certain characteristics of requesting forgiveness appear: firstly, the existence of an insult or affront —physical, psychological, or moral— that one person makes to another; secondly, the offender’s remorse for the act committed, in other words, an inner malaise in her conscience that affects the free development of her psychological-moral life; thirdly, a feeling of guilt (pp. 89-90); fourthly, repentance (p. 95); and fifthly, the decisive act of asking for forgiveness (p. 97). One particularly interesting element noted above is the feeling of guilt, which not only has a psychological character but also a moral one, and, on the one hand, involves pain and sorrow for the wrong unjustly done to another person, and on the other hand, the singular and marvellous possibility of personal achievement and growth. The presence of this pain opens the doors to repentance and the hope for a change in life. Accepting liability for the act committed and wishing to make amends for it implies a rebirth, a new inner aim for the person In addition, it is worth adding that forgiveness can never cancel or nullify the gravity of the affront committed (p. 125), but the potential for forgiveness can change the meaning and the sense the offence had and turn it into an opening and something liberating for both the victim and the offender. In so doing it disconnects the offence from the past and renews the desire that gives meaning to forgiveness: the renewed desire to do and practise good (p. 126).

Once the relationship between narration and asking for forgiveness has been covered, chapter four approaches the problem of forgiveness and the meaning of the narrative. The author states that humankind has a desire for purification, for liberation from guilt, that only the act of forgiving can create in it. In this way it transfigures humankind and revives in it the sense of its existence (p. 127). But this transformation implies a difficulty that is both psychological and ethical. In effect, forgiveness cannot, as an authentic and sincere act by the person, be reduced to the merely logical-intellectual dimension; instead it involves the entirety of the human being, her emotions, all of her feelings. And in this direction, the act of forgiving also assumes the ethical-moral dimension of the person. The willingness to ask for and grant forgiveness implies a moral desire for redress, openness to a renewed horizon for doing good. «Forgiveness», Balduzzi writes, «requires narration to be meaningful […]. Narration shows forgiveness in all its grandeur. And forgiveness can be regarded as a renewed narrative …» (p. 136).

Finally, chapter five provides a fruitful reflection on the generative character of forgiveness. In other words, this section analyses the fruit of a true act of forgiveness: its transfigurative dimension, or as the author puts it, its generativity. In this work, generativity is defined as «the person’s capacity to create dispositions towards their own good and others’ in their family, community, and social relationships» (p. 150). On these lines, the author refers to the generative educator (p. 152), characterising this as a person who has an educational presence, a good attitude and patience, respect for students, the ability to create invigorating encounters, to do and uphold good, among other qualities.

Generativity is imprinted in the dimension of personal action […] and agrees to thinking and directing one’s own actions towards a horizon that is not restricted to one group of people but is potentially broad and open to a whole group (p. 137).

Accordingly, forgiveness has an essentially generative character, as it makes it possible to renew a horizon of meaning and of recreating broken interpersonal relationships or mending the offense done within a person. Forgiveness, thanks to the fruitfulness of its generative character, offers the person the possibility to grow and mature in her humanity.

There are many and very valuable elements that enrich this great work by Balduzzi and it is not possible to summarise and list them in a brief review. However, it is to the author’s great credit that, bravely and with argumentative skill, he has chosen to offer an updated perspective on the Western humanist educational tradition. Analysing the link between forgiveness, narration, and generativity from an educational perspective means regarding the student as a person again, as a human being, and regarding education as the key social factor that must care for full personal and collective growth.

Mauricio Bicocca