The lesson of Socrates

Every week you will find an interview here. To begin this series, we have invited the thinker and writer João Roberto de Araújo. In his seventies, this daring visionary is seeking the global expansion of his experience as a social emotional educator.

Teresa Magalhães, a writer and literature professor, was invited to interview him.

Teresa – It is well-known that a long time ago you developed the work of Education for Peace, which is one of the pioneering actions worldwide in the creation of pedagogical material for Social Emotional Learning (SEL). What supported you in your struggle?

João Roberto – In these times of cybernetic and globalized navigations, I take as a compass the words of the ancient mariners: It is necessary to sail. The existential seas alternate between storms and doldrums, imprecisions and needs. The pains of violence are tattooed onto humanity, alongside the desire to glimpse a calm horizon, with land in sight. In order to navigate these waters, sometimes stormy, sometimes tranquil, with visible surfaces and unknown depths, my boat is that of humility. There are known issues that are my rudder and that guide me. But my knowledge is full of mistakes and errors. As the French philosopher, Edgar Morin, said, there is blindness in knowledge and there are illusions. For this reason, my positioning is of comprehension and acceptance of the unknown, of mystery and of ignorance. Such a perspective appears to disparage me, but it does not. I realize that it reveals an open rationality, which accepts the error and the uncertainty and is therefore available to change and to recreate.

For my vision to be understandable, I would like to highlight the legendary dialogue attributed to Socrates. A disciple once asked him: – Master, who is the wise man? He calmly replied: – The wise man is the one who knows that he does not know, although but he will always seek to know, even knowing that he will never entirely know. I mean, the wise man does not give up, he continues to always look for answers. Legend has it that the disciple, taking advantage of the opportunity, asked him another question: – Master, and the idiot? Who is he? – The idiot is the one who says he knows.

I do not want to begin this series of interviews by saying that I know all the answers. Whoever dares to say this ignores the complexity that is at the heart of all the issues. And there is no greater limitation of the human being than not realizing the complexity of the physical and biological phenomena, and particularly those of human life… All the psychological pain and all the suffering we experience derives from ignorance. The agonies of a psychological and mental nature result from our obscurantism. It is from this perspective that I will speak. It is not only from my knowledge, but also from my ignorance. Of course, there is knowledge. There is science, which explains step by step with the Cartesian rationality of its methodologies. When a surgical operation is performed, there is science to support this process. It explains many things, and we appropriate information, seeking answers in research and in scientific studies. However, it is not only by science that we appropriate knowledge. Man also obtains wisdom through art. It does not explain the phenomena. Art is intuitive and produces the transformation. Intuition is a shortcut of logic. Suddenly, a person sees an artistic expression and does not know how to grasp it rationally, but the person is moved and transformed by it.

Philosophy questions. This is the path that most enchants me. It is necessary to question! Always! Life is a question mark. All the time we question ourselves and the greatest blessing that we have is to keep alive the strength of the question. When questioning, the human being appropriates this stimulating complexity that surrounds it. There are also the traditions that do not explain the phenomena; that are not intuitive and do not question values but provide a background, which is in the culture and in the experience of our ancestors. Religion is part of these traditions, which also contribute to human knowledge. There is a need to be very careful because the size of the scientific knowledge is not the largest dimension. There is an immense expanse of the unknown. Therefore, I value the mystery – and even a sense of religiosity, in being a part of something greater, to stand before everything unknowable. I have a profound respect for this mysterious and unknown dimension. The human being has always had the drive to explain the unknown, just as primitive man looked at the sun and the moon and imagined many things. He invented from this. The questioning and investigative imagination creates the action and the resulting experience. The explained mystery does not end the questions, due to their extent and entangled secrets. We are apprentices and we only have a rough sketch that we redraft all the time. This is the case of the transcendental subjects that question: – Where do I come from and where am I going?

There are issues that go beyond the available potential logic for humans. Metaphysical questions embraced by religions stimulate our imagination, in the attempt to walk in the world of mystery. However, they are beliefs and deserve all our respect and they bring the benefit of faith that helps in the navigation of so many people, but does not assure them of any certainty. Life is full of uncertainties with a few temporary safety zones. Therefore, I now want to speak from the perspective of science and provide some considerations about the human being by means of his marvelous imagination that produced mythology, religion and tradition. There is a need to be very careful and to broaden one’s perspectives to other dimensions that go beyond scientific knowledge. You ask me what supported me in my struggle to build peace. Unhappy, we experience the bitter taste of violence in our lives. I also tasted that flavor, socially, in my private life, and in intimate personal relationships. I lived very close to the deep pains of those who suffer. I knew the despair of those who do not sense alternatives to continue surviving, and who indulge in self-inflicted violence. I knew people who, faced with uncomfortable emotions, did not know how to constructively channel the pain of their frustrations. I knew the emotional illiteracy and wanted to draw attention, strength and struggle in this direction. I am sure the happiness we seek so much will come with SEL, social emotional learning. I am optimistic in this regard.

JOÃO ROBERTO DE ARAUJO is the founder and Creator of Opportunities of 50-50 SEL Solutions. He is 74 years old and was a pioneer in the development processes of social emotional skills in Brazil, where he worked for thirty years.

He has created educational materials used by approximately 700,000 students and 20,000 teachers. Living today in Paris, France, he is developing his work of social emotional learning in French schools.

He has the dream of finding partners to “work together” and to “be a bridge” between the challenges of human coexistence and the resources of social emotional skills.

He is working towards making the proposal of 50-50 SEL Solutions known worldwide.


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