Winter is Coming, Build an Ark! (Ways the Bold and Brave can Give Back to WYA Europe this Holiday)

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For some time now I have the impression that the winter is coming in Europe. And when I think about it, I feel the seriousness of this sentence in a similar manner Ned Stark does in the Game of Thrones series. I mean here in the intellectual and spiritual winter, not the physical one, of course. Although one could object my lack of age and experience for making such claims, I sense the serious lack of spiritual orientation and the intellectual insight that would offer the deep and true answers to the problems which the world is facing today. Here, I don’t mean only about the dominant political or intellectual establishment, or the obvious threats to human dignity in today’s society. I am more concerned about the lack of a true alternative.

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                Hannah Arendt

My biggest worry are the ones who should be on the side of the Truth, because I see that many of them can only provide a reaction to the wrongs of today, but not the real integral solutions. The people who should belong to Truth are often secluding themselves in reactive and sometimes radical environments, not rarely starting to look and act as their opponents.

Hannah Arendt finished her book about the Origins of Totalitarianism saying that Europe got rid of one totalitarian system, but that is still in its roots in danger of the ever recurring nature of totalitarianism. Basically, totalitarianism has the tendency to return and return, ever in a new disguise. Another intellectual prophet of the last century, Alasdair MacIntyre finished his book After Virtue claiming that we are facing “a new dark age which is already upon us.” Recent events in Syria certainly strengthen this impression. “This time, however”, adds MacIntyre, “the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.” The lack of consciousness and the lack of real alternative, we might add.

So, what should be the alternative?

For almost 18 years now WYA is trying to come up with an answer, and implement it. When I was coming to work for WYA Europe, I was told that the primary goal of our organization in the following years is building the Chapters across Europe and strengthening existing ones. “What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us.” This sentence was written by MacIntyre, but it quite resembles the thing which we do in WYA Europe.

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                          Alasdair MacIntyre

We are trying to build communities where the moral and intellectual life will be sustained. In fact, sometimes I think that we are also building Arks where these communities will be able to survive the winter’s floods. We are trying to help to build the community, but also teach them practical skills – where to find the wood for building an Ark (i.e. fundraising), how to construct the decks (i.e., building an organizational structure) and how to sail it (e.g. giving them leadership or advocacy training). But, besides teaching them these practical skills, we put the biggest emphasis on developing the life inside of the Ark.

“Winter is coming…and we can’t face it alone, ” says Jon Snow in one part of Game of Thrones. Indeed we cannot face it alone, and that’s why we have to build communities based on philia, the friendship kind of love. And this is not something emotional or ready-made, it is something that is born out of day-to-day growing in virtue. This shows that our primary concern is practical – we want to live the concrete experience of human dignity before we start to promote and defend it. And then we also study the human person. This we base on the insight that the main problems of today’s world are the problems about the truth about the human person.

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“The treasures that the wise men of old have left us in their writings I open and explore with my friends. If we come on any good thing, we extract it, and we set many stores on being useful to one another.” Socrates

All our communities, that are the Chapters, are growing around the Certified Training Program, where (as Socrates describes the process of learning), “we open and explore with our friends the treasures that the wise men of old have left us in their writings.” Here “wise men of old” signify also some wise men from the last and the current century. Besides education, we also understand the primacy of Culture over Politics and Economics. In order that your Ark can float, it needs the adequate sea (i.e. the cultural surroundings). So, we’re also salting the sea to make it more floatable.

Now, one could think that these would be very closed communities. Yes, maybe, in the beginning, we are trying to protect the fragile life which is being born in these communities, the same as mothers protect their young children. But, as they are growing up, they are expected to go out to the mission bringing to the world the experience of human dignity and understanding of human person sustained in the Ark. We call this being actively engaged for the good of the other (and others). The experience of friendship within the Ark transforms in the solidarity on the social level.

Will it work?

Finally, how can we prove that this what we are bringing to the world is a real, true and quality alternative? We can offer some reasons for holding that claim. First, we give the primacy to the experience of the concrete realities, and this is where we root our ideas. This secures us not to escape in abstract ideologies which in the name of ideas sacrifice the human person. This also helps us to understand that our “enemies” always have more in common with us, in comparison to the things that separate us. Their humanity comes before their ideas. This helps us not to assume the approach of the things we are fighting against.

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                                          Alexander Solzhenitsyn

Secondly, we believe the good is deep, and the evil is shallow. Thus, we never completely satisfy ourselves with the quality of answers we provide in a concrete situation. We are aware that we always must dig deeper and search for improvements, creative alternatives and a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the vision we are offering. This makes us constantly grow and improve ourselves.

Thirdly, we don’t separate the Truth from the Good and the Beautiful. We believe the Truth is something that always has to be communicated with goodness and humility. That is why we are trying also to find that which is beautiful in each position we hold and use the attractiveness of Beauty to communicate the Truth. “One word of Truth shall outweigh the whole world,, ” says Solzhenitsyn, but only if you communicate that Truth together with the Good and the Beautiful. That’s why it is not just about what we profess, but also the way we do it.

How can you support us?

Finally, the most important hypotheses about the man and the world have to be tested in life. That’s why many of us in WYA are ready to invest their lives in these hypotheses. And this gives them extra quality. The vision for which one is ready to die f always beats the one for which people only argue and advocate. What brings us to the final proposal.

Let’s bet! We will put our lives in this hypothesis and you help us build an Ark (i.e. you invest in making the hypothesis happen). Here are some ways you can do it:

  1. Help us secure the wood for the Ark by donating.
  2. Tell us about the people who would like to be Ark-builders, and suggest them writing us on europe@wya.net, starting Certified Training Program or applying for the Internship Program.
  3. Spread the word about the hypothesis by signing the WYA Charter or liking us on Facebook.
  4. Send future Ark-builders to the International Summer Camp. 
  5. Come to our events to learn more.

How can you be sure that you did the right thing and invested in the right hypothesis? You can’t before you try, that’s why this article was for the bold and brave, the ones who invest riskily but expect high returns. This is not a safe game, but when the winter is coming, demanding approaches are usually the ones which can provide the real answers.

Written by Hrvoje Vargić, WYA Europe Regional Director.