Interview With Swiss Psychologist Mercedes Palet
By Miriam Díez i Bosch
BARCELONA, Spain, 18 AUG. 2011 (ZENIT)
Youth need the experience of family life, and they can become disoriented without it, says psychotherapist Mercedes Palet de Fritschi.
Palet de Fritschi, a psychology professor at the Abat Oliba University in Barcelona, spoke recently with ZENIT about the importance of the family, which she describes as an "irreplaceable environment for ... deeply vital and personality-shaping experiences."
In this interview, she discusses the role of the family in modern society, the many attacks being waged upon it, and what gives her hope for the future of today's youth.
ZENIT: Is the family still what it used to be?
Palet: Undoubtedly. The family is still what it used to be: "first and vital cell of society," "domestic Church," "spiritual womb," "educator of the human being," "community of love and life founded on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman."
However, the family is the institution that has most strongly suffered and suffers the attacks and threats of a culture and a society that draws away from God. For this reason, today, it is certainly remarkable to discover an entirely contradictory situation.
On the one hand, for several decades now, voices have been raised about the need for the family and its benefits while, at the same time, attitudes and situations declared and upheld are completely against the family.
A few years ago, the traditional family, based on marriage between a man and a woman with a view to mutual love and assistance, and to foster life, was still understood to be the basic cell of society and something "good and desirable." At the same time, however, personal attitudes defended attitudes contrary to the formation of the family: divorce, de facto unions, sexual liberty, contraception, etc.
Nowadays, the threat against the family has taken on a new dimension, because not only is it attacked as an institution, but — even on the legislative level — it is understood to be "the origin of all conflict" and, therefore, an institution worthy of abolition.
The most recent attacks suffered by the family these days are very diverse in nature and intensity: in terms of gender ideology, technical manipulation of life and of childbirth, an anti-birth mentality, etc., just to mention a few. I cannot embark here on a thorough analysis of each item, so I will only mention one of the attacks which, from a psychological viewpoint, most strongly oppose the very nature of the family: the subject of "the capacity to undertake commitments."
As Benedict XVI has already pointed out in his message for the Madrid World Youth Day, "many people have no stable points of reference on which to build their lives, and so they end up deeply insecure. There is a growing mentality of relativism, which holds that everything is equally valid, that truth and absolute points of reference do not exist. But this way of thinking does not lead to true freedom, but rather to instability, confusion and blind conformity to the fads of the moment."
As a result of the relativism in force in the contemporary mentality, people today seem incapable of committing themselves permanently and vitally in those spheres of life, which are most essential, such as the family and many realms of social life.
Without a family, people remain disoriented, disconcerted. In our everyday practice of psychology, we can prove this almost daily. Adults and children who lack a "life environment" yearn for the experience of mutual belonging and crave the experience of filiation.
And what is more regrettable is that there are men and women, children and youngsters who are incapable of understanding that the traditional family is precisely the original and irreplaceable environment for these deeply vital and personality-shaping experiences.
ZENIT: It can be said that young people today no longer grant the same value to concepts such as sacrifice, patient waiting, austerity … why has this consideration been lost?
Palet: Because of the lack of live and attractive examples of these virtues; because of the educational failure of the western culture; because of the easy, consumerist mentality, because of the unprecedented eroticism of public and private life, in addition to the loss of the sense of transcendence in life.
As Francisco Canals already warned, contemporary man's pursuit of a sense to life far from all transcendent value, focused mainly on what is practical, in the sense of useful and pleasurable, has launched people today into the unrest of a vicious circle in which the very ethical dimension becomes forgotten in its essence (it seems that only what is "subjectively good for me" exists), to be assumed merely as technical efficacy through development, scientific education, creative possibilities, visualized as capacities for dominion and production.
Good is only that which, in some way, proves technically useful, and which, somehow, brings pleasure. Therefore, for contemporary man — and not only for today's young people — attitudes such as sacrifice, patient waiting, and austerity are attitudes lacking in ethical or moral content and which, at the most, only make sense in relation to "something" perceived as socially useful, or economically profitable or, eventually, as a source of sensitive pleasure.
ZENIT: Young people are generous but also egoistic. What gives you most hope, as an educator?
Palet: Because education is understood to be the promotion of the human being until the state of perfection known as virtue, it can thus be stated that the psychologist, who works more with his or her person and life testimony than with scientific knowledge, is an educator insofar as he or she helps patients in the process of acquiring virtue.
In this sense, what gives most hope is always the encounter with truth, with truth about oneself. Starting from this encounter with truth, the psychologist hopes the patient can organize his or her affective life in such a way that, under the guidance of reason, he or she can attain and issue a true judgment about him or herself.
In the practice of psychology, there are two key items on the psychologist’s part which can kindle hope: first, true knowledge of oneself, which activates the functions of consciousness and, as the result thereof, a true judgment of one's own behavior.
In this sense, from the practice of psychology, it gives me hope to be able to help young people understand who they are and what or who they live for; that they should discover themselves by unveiling the purpose or objective of their own lives.
However, only a personal encounter with Christ is truly healing and the source of all hope, beyond all expectation.
ZENIT: World Youth Days usually give prominence to testimony. What testimony would you like to hear?
Palet: The testimonies rendered by young people in their personal encounter with Jesus Christ "risen and alive" are often stirring, and the vigorous stories of their conversion, after a longer or shorter life away from the Church, ignorant of faith and Redemption, bear witness to Divine Mercy and to the healing power of God's Grace.
These are testimonies which, undoubtedly, I like to hear and see, and which, on the other hand, encourage one to raise one's heart and thank God for his intimate Love and Mercy for every one of us.
Far from wishing to minimize or relativize the exemplary force of such testimonies, nor the miraculous aspect of many of them which, as I have just pointed out, are a sign of the gratuitous action of Divine Grace, the testimony I would also like to hear would be that of a young person thanking God for the gift of faith received from the love and example of Christian life of his parents and brothers.
I would very much like to hear the testimony of gratitude of a young person who, in simplicity and joy, were to give testimony of the faith received and lived within the Christian family; thanking God and his parents for the gift of life, thanking his parents for the example of love and self-denial of everyday family life, the example of spousal love, the example and self-denial of fatherhood and motherhood.
I would very much like to hear the testimony of a young person thanking God and his parents for the Christian education received and for having been brought into the Holy Mother Church.
[Translation by Clara Iriberry]