“Educating young people about love and friendship through the

The title of the study day held last Friday, November 23, at the Pontifical
University of the Holy Cross (Rome), itself unveils the purpose of the
seminar, which was aimed at educators, teachers, and writers: to reflect –
with the help of great storytelling professionals – on how some works of
particular depth can grow young people’s virtues regarding romantic
relationships and friendships.

There are universal stories, which we could define as being “timeless”:
stories so humanly value laden that stand the test of time, or rather, that
can live in every age, because they speak to people of any age in every

These stories are the so-called “classics”: literary works that speak to
all humanity and can especially help those who are entering into adulthood.

This premise was the basis of the initiative, organized by our research
group, Family and Media, under the Chair endowed by Elina Gianoli

What do young people read and watch?

Professor Norberto González Gaitano, professor of Public Opinion in the
Faculty of Communication at the Santa Croce, and director of our website,
began the workshop illustrating the project “Educating for love and
friendship through stories”: an ongoing international work of research. This project has
investigated young people’s preferences of books, movies, and television
series and then will create focus groups to talk about love and friendship
with them, using the most read or watched works as tools of debate.

To present the data on the first part of the project which recently
concluded, was Dr. David Iglesias Pérez,
expert on communication and political research methodology at GAD3 pollster

In a clear and thorough way, he explained the methodology of the survey:
the sample of 3,700 young people between 18 and 28 years belonging to nine
countries (Argentina, Colombia, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy,
Mexico, Spain and United States) was chosen with the quota system,
statistically representing the population of that range of age. Each
partial sample has been weighted according to population as to strengthen
the reliability of results. The error sample is estimated in around 4% for
each country and 1.5% for the whole sample. Then, some characteristics of
the questionnaires were also explained and, lastly, the so much awaited
results presented.

The results he offered
(of which

we give you only a foretaste,

hoping to intrigue you and encourage you to read the final report of all
the research once it is finished), can in some respects comfort us. If it
is true that 50 Shades of Gray, the book by the English writer
E.L. James, in which passion becomes slavery and love turns into abuse of
power, has been widely read among young people (ranked sixth) – probably
thanks to constant bombardment by advertising – it still does not exceed
works of great educational value such as The Little Prince by
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry or The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien,
where respect, humility, and solidarity are highlighted.

If there is no lack of appreciation for films like Me Before You,
by the English director Thea Sharrock, in which the individualistic search
for happiness is exalted, there are even more beloved films in which the
protagonists heroically give their lives to others (Titanic, by
James Cameron, Spiderman by Sam Raimi, The Chronicles of Narnia by Andrew Adamon).

What can this tell us?

Young people need “heroes,” but also to rediscover the value of simple

An answer has been given by the internationally renowned high school
teacher and writer, Alessandro d’Avenia, who presented his
book Every story is a love story, warming the
hearts of the participants with his aphorisms and their particular depth: “Young people need heroes – he said – they need to see the
scars of those who did it before them, for they were fragile as well .”

The boys want to get out of mediocrity, they look formeaningful answers, they look for completeness in the stories: “That’s why the classics
never get old: they talk about heroes who fought and won, they give us a
sense of completeness.”

But how can we be complete, how can we be heroes, if we do not find
ourselves in extraordinary situations like those that Spiderman faces?

For example, betting on the fact that “love saves”: giving life every day,
in the most ordinary and prosaic occupations of everyday life, learning to
appreciate the essentials, which is often found in the simplest things, in
bread on the table or in a well-tended flowerbed at a gas station…

The professor of Semiotics and Cinema Armando Fumagalli
spoke about the joy that is born and grows in the simplest things,
presenting on the work Anna Karenina, a timeless
novel by the Russian writer Lev Tolstoy.

The professor has been able to bring to light, with great skill, the
differences that emerge in the novel between a purely carnal and therefore destructive love – that
between Anna and Vronsky – and a love marked by tenderness
and planning, warmed and protected in the hearth of
home-life – the one between Levin and Kitty – destined to mature over time
and bear fruit.

It is in the small and large family commitments that true love

grows between a man and a woman”: this is the main message conveyed
strongly in his speech.

If to be lovable, you must first be loved…

Heroism is also going beyond appearances, digging deep,
accepting the “pace” of the other.

It may seem easy and logical to love those who are already lovable, but
what if true love requires a change of paradigm: to love in order to be

This is the thesis supported by the bright Spanish writer Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera: receiving love betters us. This great mystery, he
explained, is contained in beloved fairy tales like that ofBeauty and the Beast or in timeless novels like Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen.

Everyone seeks happiness and speaks of love, but few know that the true
“Charming Princes ” need grace, delicacy, and a woman’s trust to become
such. The protagonist of Pride and Prejudice, Darcy, is an honest,
loyal, courageous man, but he needed Elizabeth to show it to him so that he
could recognize himself in those virtues and not rest on his pride.

Another novel that invites one to go beyond appearances and to bet on a
“patient love” is The Painted Veil, by William
Sumerset Maugham, about which Antonio Malo, professor of
Philosophical Anthropology at the Pontifical University of the Holy Cross,
spoke. “Not all instincts are good for the simple fact of
having manifested themselves,” said the philosopher and, if the instinct
awakes in us passion, it is reason that then helps us to know and discern between different desires, to understand which are
good and which are bad.

Being lovers is easy, immediate. Loving one another requires the ability to “get used to” the other and to forgive. It is more difficult, but leads to a fuller and
happier life. This is what the protagonists of the film, adapted from the
novel, experience: in the romantic escape, devoid of planning, Kitty is
lost. While, in patching up the relationship with her husband, in the
commitment to know him deeply and to be with him until his death, he is a
woman’s winning challenge, and will give her the strength to live her life
of widowhood with dignity.

Humility and service: two forms of heroism

Another form of heroism, especially in a narcissistic society, is humility. And serving others, instead of
looking for servants is perhaps the greatest revolutionary act we can
accomplish in life.

To talk about this, expanding on the themes contained in The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien, was the
essayist Andrea Monda, engaging and with a strong sense of
humor, who showed us how Frodo’s real helpers in his journey are
not the great and powerful, but the little ones, the Hobbits, otherwise
recognized as “the half men,” despised and snubbed for their littleness.
And yet their strength lies precisely in their smallness.

“We have seen where the Super Man of Nietzsche brought us: we have seen
what the 20th century was,” said the essayist, “We do not need super men,
but half men, humble people, who are incomplete and willing to be completed
by the other. On the other hand, true friendship can exist only if we admit
that we ourselves are not enough.”

The passion of the speakers and the positive response of the public

To all of our speakers, we extend our most heartfelt “Thank you,” not only
for accepting the invitation, but also for taking care to present your best
work, for having exposed these works with clarity and passion, for having
shown our same educational concern.

And if anyone dares to say that “beauty will save the world,” you, our
reader, seizing it and offering it to others, you are undoubtedly part of
this mission.

Furthermore, the large turnout and the positive response of the public
reveal to us how much we need beauty and feel the desire to talk seriously
about love and friendship. Yes, although we often feel driven towards
coldness and cynicism, these themes interest and challenge us still.

Here is the link to the photo gallery!

Here is the link to the video!


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