“La peste che il tribunale della sanità aveva temuto che potesse entrar con le bande alemanne nel milanese, c’era entrata davvero, come è noto; ed è noto parimente che non si fermò qui, ma invase e spopolò una buona parte d’Italia.”
“The plague that the Health Tribunal had feared might enter Milan with the German gangs, has indeed entered, as we know; we also know that it did not stop here, but invaded and depopulated a significant part of Italy.”
Alessandro Manzoni’s The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi, Capitolo XXXI) has been widely used to better understand our reaction to pandemics. Similarities with the 1630 Great Plague of Milan have been analysed by Orhan Pamuk, Nobel Prize in Literature, in a recent opinion published in The New York Times. Pamuk insists on humanity’s tendency to create rumours and spread false information as an unprompted response to pandemics. The most common rumours during plague outbreaks were about who had brought the disease in, and where it had come from.
Do we have the ability nowadays to resist rumours, misinformation and stigma and to fight back the tendency to lock ourselves down into our fears and prejudices?
All those interested in the educational dimension of the pandemic will read with great delight the open letter written to his students by Domenico Squillace, principal of Liceo Scientifico Alessandro Volta, a secondary school in Milan. Squillace urges his students to preserve the most precious asset we possess: our social fabric, our humanity.
Pamuk doesn’t say anything else when he argues about our ability to share reliable information and build a common knowledge that “begets a sense of solidarity” between people and “encourages mutual understanding”. This optimistic statement echoes Martha Nussbaum’s work in her book Not for profit about global citizenship. For her, the global problems we need to solve question our capacity to come together and cooperate in ways we have not before. Pamuk sees hope for a better world to emerge after this pandemic, if we can “embrace and nourish the feelings of humility and solidarity engendered by the current moment.”
When schools reopen, it will be up to them (and to us!) to develop new strategies to make students global citizens.
If we don’t succeed, then, in the words of the Milanese principal: “La peste avrà vinto davvero“: “The plague really will have won.”
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