E S P E R A N T O:
A NEW FORM OF HUMANISM
by Claude Piron
Claude Piron is a Swiss psychologist who taught at the Department of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the University of Geneva from 1973 to 1994. He has worked as a translator at the United Nations in Geneva and New York, and is best known in the Esperanto world as the author of a popular series of detective novels.
A Humanistic Commitment
Nothing, it seems to me, is capable of defining humanism more appropriately than the famous line from the Latin poet Terence: Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto. "I am a man: nothing human is alien to me." At the base of this concept is a sense of solidarity uniting the humanist with all persons, regardless of their race, religion, or culture. To be a humanist is, fundamentally, to love human beings; and to love them, in the deepest sense, is to want them to develop according to their own nature, to have the desire to relate to them and know them, to care for them, and to respect them in their entirety.
All of these elements are to be found at the root of the Esperanto phenomenon. It may appear strange for someone to dedicate a number of hours to the assimilation of a language almost completely useless in commerce and industry, a language that the diplomatic world ignores, that scientists can apparently do without, and that is not tied to a centuries-old culture. But the person who is skeptical about such a linguistic pursuit is not aware of how richly rewarding it may be emotionally, nor of how satisfying the feeling can be of participating in a wide-ranging activity intended to promote the psychological maturation of human society.
In order to become fully mature, one must abandon both infantile self-centeredness and abstract adolescent idealism. And people, in their relations with the wide world, face the temptation of clinging to these two immature attitudes. The first, the infantile, encompasses a tendency to lock oneself blindly within one's material interests. Once having fallen into this trap, an individual often becomes cynical, unaware of the fact that what he is hiding under his so-called "realism" is actually only a self-centered withdrawal into a protective cocoon that provides shelter from wider responsibilities. The other temptation, typical of adolescence, is to allow oneself to be governed by an abstract idealism.
The head is filled with ideas of self-dedication, and the heart beats fervently for the Third World and all humankind; an emotion vibrates every time one thinks about the victims of one dictator or another, or one or another unjust regime.But concretely, practically one does nothing, and continues to live one's small life, though not without a dull sense of guilt. Esperantism, the use and advocacy of Esperanto, proposes a commitment that guards against this double stumbling-block, and its effects are far more profound than might be apparent at first glance.
It prevents stumbling into cynical self-centeredness, because it does not satisfy a purely material or immediate self-interest, and invites you to come out of the protective shell mentioned above. And it prevents stumbling into nebulous idealism, because it is based on a concrete reality, embodied in a veritable means of communication which when appropriately mastered enables you to engage in dialogue with a community of people from all countries and social environments. Names such as Poland, Japan, Brazil, and Iran evoke in the ordinary citizen pictures from a newspaper or television program, or perhaps memories of a vacation. In the Esperanto speaker they evoke a face, an address, a face-to-face exchange or one by letter, tape or e-mail. It is always a matter of people meeting people, of their getting in touch with each other and being capable of directly expressing their ideas about life, or of sharing their joys and torments. Contrary to a widespread opinion, English does not enable a similar type of dialogue, for two reasons.
For one, in the majority of countries it can be used only by a socio-economic and scientific-intellectual elite. For another, even if a non-native English speaker seems to have mastered it almost perfectly, he never senses it as a true personal possession, but always as something foreign that demands more cerebral energy than use of the native tongue. For structural and other reasons, Esperanto once learned is never experienced as foreign.