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The Ife Head

The Ife Head

Some days ago I happened to read one of the most beautiful considerations I’ve read in the last years. It was by Ben Okri, a Nigerian-born novelist. It was about the sense of tranquility emanating from the Ife Head, a brass statue from Nigeria, dating back to the fifteenth century. The author was talking about how the presence of tranquility in a work of art speaks of a great internal civilization, because you can’t have tranquility without reflection, without having asked the questions about your place in the universe and having answered them to some degree of satisfaction.

I think it’s just beautiful. To me, it says that no matter what creed, cultural background, experiences, or ambitions are behind someone, every human being sooner or later is confronted with the eschatological need to find a meaning to his life, a reason to his mortality. And that as a human being, I can start experiencing some sort of true serenity only after dealing with those questions.

But it also says something equally important. It says that the necessary condition (even though not sufficient) for such a spiritual journey is to be part of a society that may allow for it in the first place. A society where the level of progress and civilization is such that people are given the time and the opportunities for speculation, without being continuously worried about how to satisfy their basic needs.

What I also wonder is whether I still appreciate to live in a society that allows me for such an opportunity, or if I’m so used to this standard, that I just take it for granted. I believe it’s important that I stay aware of this, because the lurking risk is to forget that civilization and progress are as precious as fragile, and demand a constant commitment to be preserved, and improved. A commitment that also requires me to be aware of my responsibilities, and play my part in making society a better place.

Pietro Bonizzi, Assistant Professor at Data Science and Knowledge Engineering

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