Thursday, September 24, 2015
Listen. Not simply "hear," but listen.
Washington is a town that has mastered the skill of not only hearing what a speaker is saying but simultaneously processing the statements in a uniquely Washington way. Inside the beltway they seem to sort incoming information not for understanding but for separation into two categories: that with which they agree and that to which they oppose. Our politicians take it a step further. Not only do they sort the information, but as the person is actually still speaking politicians scan the statements creating arguments to attack or adopt the statements, depending upon whether the speaker is perceived as friend or foe. An open mind is never seriously considered as an option in Washington.
Ever since Pope Francis was selected to lead the Catholic Church and began soaring in public opinion, politicians and special interest groups have tried to hijack the Pope and his popularity to forward their agendas. When he says something that pleases them (for Democrats it might be his call to be stewards of the environment or for Republicans his stance on religious freedom) they embrace it and ride his coattails. When he says something they do not like (for Democrats it might be his rejection of moral relativism or for Republicans his views on the death penalty), they dismiss his statements as simply the views of one man outside his element.
Early on in his papacy the media, political parties, and special interest groups attempted to put Pope Francis into a neat box. When they saw they could not do so, and measured his growing popularity, they then began simply processing his message to spin it to their advantage. They have literally tried to use the Pope.
All the while it never occurred to them that maybe, just maybe, the truth is complicated and not neat; and possibly there is more than one way to look at the complex issues of our time. It never seemed to cross their minds that examining contemporary social problems requires an approach that starts from a place of humility. It further demands thinking a bit like Pope Francis and seeing these problems not through a lens of "spin" but through a lens of a preference for the poor and a recognition of the inherent human dignity of all people – even those with whom one disagrees.
Washington has been fortunate to be on Pope Francis's agenda for his first trip to the United States. Members of Congress, the body charged with governing this nation and actually steering the country through difficult times, should not squander his historic visit. They risk doing so by regarding it as simply an opportunity to hear him speak and boast that they met him. To do so is to equate the Pope with the Beatles and act as though this is 1964. Well, this is 2015 and we have serious moral and geopolitical problems that include numerous wars, a refugee crisis, a poverty crisis, and an environmental crisis. Congress would be wise to take a cue from Pope Francis and follow his suggestion to "choose humility and reject vanity, pride and success."
In short they should put aside the spin and avoid the temptation to use the Pope for their own gain. They should do something very un-Washington: not just hear his words, but listen to them with open hearts and minds.