Dialogue works in politics
Pope Francis has just finished his pastoral and state visits to Cuba and to the United States. What an amazing week for our American brothers and sisters, and even for us who watched and listened from afar. I borrow and paraphrase the words Fr. James Martin SJ used to describe the Bishop of Rome, words that comes from scripture actually: Pope Francis does all things well; he is all things to all people. This is how Jesus was described, so apt too these words for the Vicar of Christ. Yes, indeed, as Fr. Martin exclaimed, what a beautiful man!
In the next few columns, I will share highlights of the Pope’s speeches in Cuba and the United States. They have had a profound impact on me and on many others, including the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, John Boehner, who decided to resign the day after the Pope’s address to Congress.
I begin with what is clearly the approach of Pope Francis in engaging with the world. In his encounter with the Bishops of the United States in Washington DC, he explained this with clarity: “Dialogue is our method, not as a shrewd strategy but out of fidelity to the One who never wearies of visiting the marketplace, even at the eleventh hour, to propose his offer of love (Mt 20:1-16) . . . Harsh and divisive language does not befit the tongue of a pastor, it has no place in his heart; although it may momentarily seem to win the day, only the enduring allure of goodness and love remains truly convincing.”
In his speech before the US Congress, Pope Francis framed his words around four great Americans that he chose to provide a unifying structure to weave his speech around. One cannot go wrong with Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Thomas Merton: “Three sons and a daughter of this land, four individuals and four dreams: Lincoln, liberty; Martin Luther King, liberty in plurality and non-exclusion; Dorothy Day, social justice and the rights of persons; and Thomas Merton, the capacity for dialogue and openness to God. Four representatives of the American people.”
Pope Francis elaborated on this further: “A nation can be considered great when it defends liberty as Lincoln did, when it fosters a culture which enables people to “dream” of full rights for all their brothers and sisters, as Martin Luther King sought to do; when it strives for justice and the cause of the oppressed, as Dorothy Day did by her tireless work, the fruit of a faith which becomes dialogue and sows peace in the contemplative style of Thomas Merton.”
In that same speech, Pope Francis articulated so well the goal of politics in its original noble sense. His words reminded me of how Aristotle first framed the purpose of politics as a logical and necessary extension of ethics. In the Ateneo School of Government, where many of our students are politicians, we emphasize how politics is the highest form of charity.
Sharing what he thought was the reason for being for Congress, the Pope pointed out how each legislator “has a mission, a personal and social responsibility.” He explained that their responsibility was “to enable this country, by your legislative activity, to grow as a nation.” According to Pope Francis: “You are the face of its people, their representatives. You are called to defend and preserve the dignity of your fellow citizens in the tireless and demanding pursuit of the common good, for this is the chief aim of all politics. A political society endures when it seeks, as a vocation, to satisfy common needs by stimulating the growth of all its members, especially those in situations of greater vulnerability or risk. Legislative activity is always based on care for the people. To this you have been invited, called and convened by those who elected you.”
Finally in the speech to Congress, Pope Francis cited the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” According to the Pope: “This Rule points us in a clear direction. Let us treat others with the same passion and compassion with which we want to be treated. Let us seek for others the same possibilities which we seek for ourselves. Let us help others to grow, as we would like to be helped ourselves. In a word, if we want security, let us give security; if we want life, let us give life; if we want opportunities, let us provide opportunities. The yardstick we use for others will be the yardstick which time will use for us.”
This reminder about the golden rule, something that Speaker Boehner alluded to when he announced his resignation, is timely for us in the Philippines as our election season begins. I would caution, for example, many who are posting negative things about candidates to look at their own lives and see if they have not done anything wrong too, or have something to be ashamed of. If they have—and I certainly have in decades of legal, political and governance work—one might be kinder to others. That is why I have decided I would never use negative information about the candidates and their families, including supporters of candidates that some want attacked or shamed. As a person with a public life myself, I want to practice the Golden Rule so that others will also treat me kindly.
After listening to the Pope’s speech in the US Congress, I also decided that I will no longer repost or respond to negative Facebook posts about Poe, Binay, Roxas or Duterte. Personal attacks do not enable dialogue; on the contrary they create a state where people are embittered and are not able to move on even after the elections. I will only post positive things about the candidates and start hiding negative posts or even blocking the people that are consistently posting negative posts. Debate and differences on national issues shall of course still be highlighted in my social media platforms and I will try to shift the election discussion to these issues once all the platforms of government are released.
Dialogue works in politics. When Pope Francis went before the US Congress. He spoke uncomfortable truth to power, but he did not use harsh words or divisive language. People listened and responded because of that. He did what his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi had exhorted his brothers: “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.”
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