in the form of bringing to the teacher and class one reason to be happy they had that day; and then if a child says, “No, I have no reason to be happy; nothing is good for me, yesterday was terrible,” then all the other children have an opportunity to surround him and say, “Look, we like you just the same and it’s fine.” There again such a little recipe, yet it could brighten the classroom and give the children the joy of being grateful; and to the teacher a measure of appreciation as well as a look into the student’s life.
DJB: I was curious about how adopting a granddaughter at the age of sixty-three affected your life?
LAURA Oh! It affected my life! Tremendously! It is unbelievable. People sixty-three years apart are in different worlds, but it is very touching sometimes because she has this extraordinary kind of insight. Karen is seventeen now, and is just graduating from high school. She took me to all kinds of worlds that I had no idea existed. You see, I was brought up in a very conservative family in Turino, in Northern Italy–a totally different universe. Even if it were just one or two generations it would be different, but this is just so different.
I see that there is, of course, all the weight of this society which is not for a teenager to be heaped upon her. This continuous, continuous, continuous stimulation is really very difficult to deal with. I mean, I used to go to a movie, maybe once, or twice a month. Here we can push a button and have one hundred movies any time of the day or night, and many, if not most shows, identify sex with violence and vulgarity. Vulgarity is paid probably the highest amount of money. I am lucky that Karen focuses a great deal on her inner world and tries to figure out what’s inside. She has remarkable insights.
DJB: Do you think that they focus too much on what’s external, rather than what’s internal?
LAURA To focus internally is made almost impossible for young people. The environmental impact is overwhelming. Every day the distractions are multiplied and are more hypnotic and addictive. Like with every addiction, the dosage must be augmented–so, more TV, more noise, more guns, more advertising. In the meantime, the body is not moving, is just accepting whatever it is fed, psychologically or physically. There is an advertisement for a computer Nintendo game that I cannot forget. It represents a young boy, about thirteen or fourteen years old, lounging in an executive armchair, grinning with delight; he is holding a terminal in his hand and he is experiencing (the copy says) the thrill of racing 200 M.P.H., of climbing to the sky in his B-14 jet fighter, or parachuting, or diving under the depth of the sea. All these thrills are given to him–free and for nothing. He did not have to train his body-mind, did not have to feel fear and surmount it; he did not have to face danger.
In Island, Aldous has a beautiful passage about the initiation from childhood to adolescence. Young people have been trained in rock-climbing as part of the school curriculum and today they are having a test. Rock-climbing requires skill, cooperation, coordination, and facing danger. “Danger,” Aldous writes, “danger deliberately and yet lightly accepted-danger shared with a friend, a group of friends, each totally aware of his own straining muscles, his own skill, his own fear, and his own spirit transcending the fear. And each, of course, aware at the same time of all the others, concerned for them, doing the right things to make sure that they will be safe.”
Do you see the chasm between a youth lounging in an armchair and being spoon-fed thrillers and one who experiences his achievement through his own doing–through his dedication and courage and his concern for others, through the training of his body-mind? Which one of these two youths will have the higher self-esteem and therefore better health and more capacity to love and to be a valuable member of society?
DJB: Is that part of the education described in Island ?
LAURA Yes. Instead of mainly verbal education as it is here, in Island, education is on all levels.
DJB: What kind of advice would you give to young people in our society?
LAURA I would tell them: Respect your body. Focus your mind. Love your heart. Support and cooperate with anyone who wants to do the same.
DJB: What are you doing these days?
LAURA– Now that Karen is seventeen we spend less time together. I am becoming again more active on Our Ultimate Investment, the organization I founded in 1978 for “The Nurturing of the Possible Human.” The concept is that much of the predicament of the human situation begins not only in infancy,