Relational migrations – Ethics as a Vocation

Isn’t Europe experiencing what is called in philosophy the migration of the "I" towards the "We"? At the Josefa Foundation, we are experimenting with the thinking, saying and living of our vision "Migrants, all of us", which is a demanding task, since the Age of Enlightenment marked our way of thinking and our language with a particular form of "I" and since, in the 20th century, Nietzsche annihilated the "I" with nihilism…

I am a person in this world, with my own past and also with my own future. I have an identity which distinguishes me from the environment in which I live. When I am touched by the words of another, I become aware of the world around me, of things and people. These words make me aware of the distance that there is between me, objects and other people. When I look at someone, I sense a resistance, a nudity, a fragility; I see the other’s face and it’s saying to me: you shall not kill! It is the other’s weakness that stops the "I" in my tracks. The other’s look signifies something new: the impossibility of reducing the other to what I think of them. The experience of the other is what the philosopher Levinas called the experience of infinity.

When the person facing me begins to speak, that experience is strengthened. This person speaks and I can only welcome what he says. Our "We" is established. By entering into my life, it is possible that either justice or injustice will emerge. Our intuition tells us whether or not our relationship with the other is suitable and balanced. Harmony or conflict is on the agenda. Outside of this interpersonal meeting, there are all those who are present but whose presence is not possible. Let’s call them the third party. By taking into account the presence of this third party, the notion of justice between two people is broadened to include the notion of equality, even though it is difficult to evaluate. The moral and legal standards appear at this level and do justice to the presence of this third party. The face to face meeting is not possible with everybody. Nevertheless, we perceive that the meeting between two people is more meaningful, that it is not just about the actual meeting. This is easily seen in the terminology that is used during a crisis: confronted with a situation of injustice, we tend to use concepts that are more general than the specific situation.

Let us return to the meeting between two people. In the meeting, our selfhood is halted and our ego is detached from us. Our ego responds to others. Meaning appears in my life, a Desire emerges to live for the other. And then, there is a Communion, the beginning of a possible common history, either to complete a project, to spend some time together or to spend a life time together. By stopping our selfhood, a relationship is developed. This relationship depends on our capacity to welcome the other: it should be done freely and spontaneously: with solicitude. Solicitude is not an add-on to one’s self-esteem, but rather a way to open up its dialogue dimension. Solicitude and self-esteem cannot live without the other (Paul Ricœur). The telos changes when meeting others. A relationship is established in the meeting, even if it is not an equal one. The relationship which is the most just is friendship. One of the essential characteristics of a friendship is mutuality or reciprocity. According to Aristotle, friendship implies a togetherness and an intimacy. The relationship brings about the desire to work towards a common goal.

The ultimate common goal can be found in families. In a family unit, the nucleus of society, a child receives his roots and freedom receives its substratum. The substratum is his participation in human nature. Freedom is built from the child’s experiences in the family unit and, later, in society.

In society, an adult’s course of action serves the goals of society. The sharing of a common destiny results in an increase of possibilities and a common power for people who live together. This action is sustained by institutions. An institution is a social reality. It is like the home of meaning, of telos and of the We. Is it superior to individuals? Paul Ricœur likens the institution to a distribution system. It exists only as long as individuals take part in it. It is not a separate entity nor only made up of the individuals. It is responsible for the distribution of roles. It is a system beyond the individuals and their roles. The institution is a system of relationships that relies on the commitment of individuals for its sustainability. It is this dependence that makes it also vulnerable.

In our relational migrations, we go from the "I" to the "We". A child grows up alone or with brothers and sisters, half-brothers and half-sisters, cousins, uncles, aunts or with friends. He grows up to become an adult. He starts a home and family. An adult leaves his home to go to work. He accepts his job, his colleagues. An adult stays in his country, chooses expatriation or is forced into exile. In every stage of life, as the "I" matures the "We" stops his selfhood which is altered, revisited and amended by various encounters. In society, as in the family unit, the "We" helps the "I" to develop when he changes directions, when he evolves, when he stops.

I think that the above can be applied both to the Josefa House, among us all migrants, and to intergovernmental negotiations. The world belongs to everyone. Only by switching from the "I" to the "We", at all institutional levels, will a modus vivendi be found, allowing us to live in peace in this world.

The Josefa House

The Josefa House is a place of hospitality and thereby where the "I" is replaced by the "We". Hospitality is about "being" and not "doing", which is why, for example, we cannot accept everyone who knocks on our door requesting to volunteer. Josefa needs volunteers, only if they can migrate from the "I" to the "We".

Hospitality is also a prerequisite for survival because of people’s dependency on each other. We have all entered into someone’s home, for the first time, led by somebody, for the majority of us, a mother or father who brought us home after our birth. We received hospitality in our family unit. At home, we grew up with people coming and going, entering and leaving to go to various places: nursery, school, university for some, work, sports, music, cinema... We forge links with places that welcome us.

These places become meeting places, for students, professors, employers, colleagues, coaches, cinema screens, orchestras... We weave short, interpersonal and long relationships, via institutions with other institutions. Every encounter touches me, fills me, lives in me. Some would go so far as to say that I become a part of every person I meet. I go from one place to another and from one meeting to another. Sometimes I stop, friendships are made, someone gets married, a couple unites or breaks up. Some relationships deepen, others don’t, some are lost and some are broken.

Relational migrations? I go from one person to the other, from one place to another meeting various people, from one institution to another. I go from place to place, alone or with someone else; we crisscross through life meeting and separating from people. Places of hospitality, meeting places, places of conflict, places of reassurance, temporary places, places of life, places of exile, places of friendships.