Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Lessons From a Combatant in the Culture Wars: John Paul II and a Life of Charity

[John Paul] lived simply, by deliberate choice. He had neither a bank account nor personal funds, his needs being met by the archdiocese. If a priest or parishioner gave him a gift of money during a parish visitation, he wouldn’t even open the envelope, but gave it away the same day to someone in need –George Weigel*

Zealots on both sides of the Culture Wars believe the main way to transform culture is to get their hands on the levers of political power, or at least to get their hands on those who have political power. The question is, however, do you want power or authority? Do you want power to force your vision upon culture or authority to influence, inspire, and lead?  Power is both rooted in and informed by force. Authority is rooted in morality and informed by love. Power can be seized; authority can only be earned and bestowed. Power can force people to “live this way,” but it only produces slaves. As authority has no desire for slaves, only genuine “converts,” it seeks to persuade and convince, is supported by character and compassion, while maintaining the mindset that the right to influence others is earned.

We read of how John Paul was so instrumental in helping to overthrow communism in Poland and around the world and we think, wow, what a powerful man. Yet, we should remember that his astounding effectiveness did not come through passing down edicts but, rather, through winning people over by the magnetism of his character and by his vision of each human person being created in the image of God. People listened to his teachings because they sensed that there was a man transformed by love to be love.

In his book, “The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries,” sociologist Rodney Stark points out that, among other reasons, it was the care and compassion of the early Christians toward the suffering, diseased, displaced, and poor, that won the masses over to this new religion. These early believers read Christ’s words that in feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, and etc, they were doing so to Him, and took Him at His word. In other words, what helped to bring about the fall of paganism and Emperor Constantine’s embracing of this new faith (at least politically) in only a few centuries was the visible demonstration of God’s love through works of charity. (A quick summary of Stark’s thesis can be found here.)

People are far more prone to listening to and following the lead of those whom they see genuinely caring for them and others, then to those who treat them as pawns on a political chessboard or as mere subjects for propagandizing. This was the how-did-it-happen behind the authority given to the words of John Paul by millions of people around the world. He was “powerful” because he never sought to have power over others, only to be a witness in word and deed to God’s love for the world.

However, not only was he an individual of great kindness and deep compassion, he also organized the churches he led to be and do the same.

In 1950 the communist leadership in Poland banned the Church from any formal outreach via chartable institutions. In 1963, to get around this ban, John Paul II, had each parish establish a Parochial Charity Team, “that included permanent members called ‘parish guardians,’ and volunteers. Their task was to identify and care for the sick and needy … irrespective of religious affiliation; non-Catholics and non-believers were, [he] urged, part of the parish’s responsibility. The teams provided food, medicine, and clothing to the needy, nursed shut-ins in their homes, and carried out extensive home visitation programs.”

While the communist party in Poland exercised power over the people, it was the Christians and, more specifically, John Paul to whom the people listened and followed. Of course, had the impetuous behind the charity been the equivalent of getting-out-the-vote then such authority would never have been bestowed. Acts of charity as a means for attaining or maintaining political power is not “charity”: it is manipulation for the sake of power. Charity has nothing to do with power or propaganda. If true charity does have an agenda, it is only to become love in action.

Next Post: Lessons From a Combatant in the Culture Wars: John Paul II, T Power to Persuade

* All quotes from Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, by George Weigel, Cliff Street Books, 1999

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015

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Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Lessons From a Combatant in the Culture Wars: John Paul II and the Power of Indirect Witness

The confrontation between the Church and Poland’s communist masters was a constant war, not a sporadic set of skirmishes. It was always “we” and “they,” “us,” and “them,” for as Pope John Paul II later put it, “the communists tried to be accepted, not just as a political authority, but as a moral authority, as an expression of the Polish nation.” The principle obstacle to that was the Church, which “the regime tried to pretend … did not exist.” The confrontation could not be understood in conventional Western political terms. This was a non-adjudicable struggle. Somebody was going to win and somebody was going to lose. -- George Weigel*

Growing up under the Nazi occupation of Poland and, then, as a priest during the rule of Stalinism, John Paul II was familiar with being a combatant in culture wars. (From the age of 19 until he was 58 years old, he lived under totalitarian regimes.) Certainly, he knew that his battle was essentially a spiritual one. Yet he also understood that culture is an expression of a particular faith and, therefore, of religion. Accordingly, he adopted the tactic of resistance through culture. “This was not a man consumed by history. This was a man determined to shape history through culture.” This was part of his genius and one of the main reasons why he and the Polish Church were so successful in overthrowing communism.

As an artist—he was a poet, playwright, and stage actor—he knew the transformative power of words, symbols, and imagery. Not only did he write plays and poetry that indirectly but powerfully express his convictions regarding human dignity, the purpose of freedom, and the nature of God’s fatherhood, but also frequently met with artists of all mediums for conversation and mutual support. (He also maintained friendships and private correspondence with philosophers, scientists, and historians.)

Tyrants such as Hitler have always understood the power of art in subjugating a culture. He knew that humanity and art are inextricably wedded, so he destroyed museums, plundered private art collections, and ransacked libraries. Destroy the culture, erase the heritage, and the way is paved for domination. Resisting such a culture of death – not only negatively by “saving the art,” but, also, positively in supporting artists and sharing his own artistic creations – was something John Paul II saw as critical to his Christian witness and advocating Christian humanism.

His witness, however, extended beyond the arts, for, as Weigel noted, the bishop of Krakow also believed his calling included being a “custodian of a heritage” and as “the defender of the people of Krakow.” While the communist leaders saw this as so much twaddle, “For him, it was a living, breathing tradition in which he was immersed in his home and his cathedral. As he lived that tradition, he helped provide symbols for his people’s rising dissatisfaction with the status quo. Events and struggles, in other contexts, would have been mere matters of a zoning restriction or a parade permit—like the building of new churches, or the holding of public processions—became emblematic of a rising cultural resistance to the communist monopoly on political power, the communist expropriation of Polish history, and the communist ‘pulverization of the fundamental uniqueness of each human person.’”

“Resistance through culture.”
“Custodian of a heritage.”
“Defender of the people.”

I remember my initial experience of reading these descriptions and thinking not only how insightful and wise he was but also how applicable these metaphors are to all of us who wish to leave a legacy to our worlds: a legacy that pays appropriate honor to Goodness, Beauty, and Truth, to Faith, Hope, and Love, to the fundamental uniqueness of each human person, and to the heritage our nation’s Founders created and passed on. Consider how you, with your particular talents and opportunities, may both resist the culture of death and advocate a culture that is life affirming. Consider how and where you will defend people in your world, wherever their dignity is being denied.  

Culture Combatants quite often believe the only way to engage the advocates of the culture of death are through direct confrontation (aka, mouth-to-mouth combat). History is replete, however, with evidence that, quite often, a far more effective means of success is through what John Paul II referred to as our “indirect witness” via “the sanctification of all of life, which [can] not be divided neatly into containers labeled ‘religious’ and ‘other.’” It is the indirect “other” of individuals, families, laborers-professionals, artists, and educators, whose attitudes, deeds, words, and work, embody Goodness, Beauty, and the Love of God for all human persons, whose lights dispel the darkness.

Next post: Lessons From a Combatant in the Culture Wars: John Paul II and a Life of Charity

* All quotes from Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II, by George Weigel, Cliff Street Books, 1999

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015 

Monte’s book, Legendary Leadership
For coaching, go here

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

And Now a Word From Our Sponsors

My favorite magazine arrived: Cigar Aficionado. The first place I always turn is to “The Good Life” section, where they have the greatest ads for the newest toys and have-to-go-there destinations, with photos that pop and copy that elicits drooling. This month’s (June) ads include a TaylorMade R-15 driver for $435; the new Volvo XC90, still boxy and safe, but now with loads of new bells and whistles, starting at around $49,000; the Grand Del Mar Resort in San Diego, with a photo that screams, Luxury; and, my favorite ad in this issue, The Royal Scotsman train, ”…unlike its many rivals, South Africa’s Blue Train, Australia’s Ghan…it doesn’t link destinations, usually traveling in a loop….” A train that goes nowhere—in style: for $1500-1900 per person per night.  Is that awwwwwesome or what?

I love advertizing, whether it is print, radio, Internet (okay, I hate pop-ups), or television, I am fascinated by what all goes into the ad. Why this color, that copy, those personalities, this page or time-slot, and the particular demographic to which the ad is aimed? Sometimes the information is useful to me, sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes I am left doubled over in laughter—not the good kind—or yelling something such as, “Pathetic!”

Some advertisements are classy, some of them tacky, and some of them are downright idiotic: in my opinion. Obviously, if the ad campaign that I think is idiotic continues running then my opinion is in the minority, because the ads are driving customers to purchase the advertized product.

I know: some of our more sensitive fellow citizens are frequently mortified by advertizing, as it is, in their estimation, without dignity, appealing only to our base instincts. “Look, Edith! Kate Upton in a bikini, a bare chested Channing Tatum, three laughing toddlers and … puppies!!! We gotta buy this car!” “Case closed, Wilson. The Feds need to govern all ads so as to protect people from themselves.” And you think the Feds would stop with only governing ads for consumers and not gradually demand that the public be protected from the dissemination of information from “dangerous” philosophies and religions … why? And since when is being tacky against the law or synonymous with “immoral”?

Advertisers utilize tacky because the public responds to tacky. If the majority of people only responded to classy ads then that is what would be produced. This reminds me of those people whom scream and whine about the unjust profits of large corporations, demanding the Feds step in and take away its ill-gotten gain. From where do you think those profits came: the buying public who is demanding the product.  The real problem for the haters of tacky is not with the advertisers; it is with their neighbors, the buying public.   

“No, no, no, Wilson. Advertisers are shaping the values of our families and nation.” Question: Who is in charge of shaping “our families” values? That would be parents and grandparents. So, if you want to be ticked off at someone, let’s place the responsibility where it belongs. If advertisers are shaping your children’s values, then you need to be angry with yourself. Case closed.

While capitalism provides arenas of achievement where we earn our incomes, as well as with a cornucopia of products and services to purchase, it does not impart discernment. It is neither the fault of capitalism or advertisers that the masses prefer Fifty Shades of Grey to Macbeth or pays sports stars more than school- teachers. If this troubles you, then take it up with your family and neighbors.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Families, Valets, and Cynics

A prophet is not without honor, but in his own country, and in his own house, and among his own kindred. –Jesus

No man is a hero to his valet. –Not attributed

People read these sayings and think, well, sure, this is because the prophet’s family is far more aware of his failings, as is the hero’s valet, so they have a more “realistic view” of the individual. But what about the other side of the coin: what about the blindness that comes with over familiarity and the small mindedness of the petty that blinds family and valets to true greatness?

I have witnessed parents denigrating their child, calling him dumb or scatterbrained because of a small oversight on the child’s part, who are utterly clueless as to the child’s greatness of intellect or talent. Every night at the dinner table they are sitting with a budding young Einstein, Beethoven, or Jobs, whose light is going to astonish many, and they sit there making fun of the child’s shortcomings and idiosyncrasies? Talk about child abuse. And, yes, the same can be said of some siblings and spouses.

And what of the valet who fails to see his employer’s heroism because it is the nature of valet’s to castigate anyone and everyone who’s light might shine greater than his?

The cynicism of family and valet’s is not a commentary on the Great or the Heroic but upon the cynic who chooses to remain blind to the complete truth about the individuals they condemn, ridicule, and dismiss. Sure. They go around saying that if George Washington had been their child or St Pope John Paul II had been their priest or minister or Winston Churchill had been their spouse or if they had worked for Henry Ford, then they would have acknowledged the greatness and heroism. The reality is that, if you are blind to the greatness of others today, you wouldn’t have seen greatness back-in-the-day.   

May God wash away all cynicism and open the eyes of the blind so that we may see the complete truth of those around us: their worth to God, their value to all who know them, and the heroic manner in which they live their lives and engage their talents in serving others.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015

Friday, May 8, 2015

Getting Beyond Going Nowhere

A buddy of mine and I were walking toward the elevators at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. We were there facilitating a training on sales and persuasion and were discussing the outcomes for the afternoon’s workshop. As we were approaching our elevator, I saw four men stepping inside and the doors beginning to close. Rather than yelling for them to hold the door, I motioned for my friend to wait.

As we stood there talking, the elevator doors opened and, as I was about to step inside, I saw the same four men still standing there. I grabbed my buddy’s arm and said, “Let’s watch.” The doors closed. A few moments passed and, when the doors opened, they were still standing there. One of the men saw me and I could see that he was puzzled but they allowed the doors to close again. When they reopened, you could see on their faces that they now realized they weren’t going anywhere.

Stepping inside, I showed the men the keycard they would need in order to push the button that would take them to the penthouse: the only floor this particular elevator went. I asked them if they’d like to come up but they scurried out as quickly as possible.

So many people live there lives in an “elevator” that isn’t going anywhere.

Sometimes all they need is for someone to give them the correct keycard. 

Sometimes they need to be shown that they are sitting still because they refuse to use the keycard.

Sometimes people need to be pointed toward an entirely different elevator.

From time to time, we all need someone to help us get beyond going nowhere: a coach who will help us see what we are not seeing, hear what we are not hearing, feel those feelings that we have spent a lifetime avoiding, all so that we can finally get moving again toward whom we were called to become and doing what we were called to do.

·      Instead of feeling hopeless and helpless, standing there in a stationary elevator, allow yourself to feel the anticipation of walking through doors where you will be making significant contributions in the lives of family members, friends, and at work. Now. Allow yourself to believe that such a life is possible for you.

·      If, up until now, you chose to only punch “B” for Basement, where you can perform all that is required of you without the slightest degree of effort, see yourself living a life that reflects the best of you—of your gifts, your talents, your wisdom, and your faith.

·      Are you weary of playing an elevator attendant? Does it feel like everyone around you is going somewhere, except you? What if you were shown a floor where you could engage your life in pursuit of a vision that filled you with a sense of purpose?

·      Maybe you are one of those individuals whom everyone sees as mega-successful, while you know there is a black hole of meaninglessness in your soul. What if you had someone in your life that could help you discover how to fill your soul with life, love, and joy?

·      Are you stuck in an elevator with people (friends, family, or coworkers) who do not know it is not moving, yet lack the skills to inspire and instruct them in how to get moving? How would your life look, what would you be experiencing and accomplishing, if you could learn these skills?

If you are stuck in an elevator going nowhere and know you need some help, I am available, as a life-coach. You can contact me at MonteThird@gmail.com to schedule a conversation about how to get moving. The first session is free.  

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Traveling South v Heading North

Sometimes all we need is for someone to point us in the right direction…

I was talking to a friend the other day and he asked me what was it about coaching that I enjoyed so much. In answering, I told him about Rick, one of my first clients.

On our first coaching call, Rick told me that everywhere he worked he always started out receiving superb 360 reviews and accolades for his IT genius and skill sets. “Management tells me the sky is the limit and promotions are going to come quickly. But after a while … I don’t know what happens … people change their minds about me. I start getting warnings about my attitudes. I end up leaving before there is anything negative in my permanent files. And then the process begins all over again. I hate this. So does my wife.”

In our second session, I asked Rick to cite his top three values. When he started saying he needed time to think, I told him he actually didn’t and to just tell me what comes to mind. Now. “Freedom, love, and adventure,” he replied.  A nano-second later, he said, “O, no…” He saw it immediately. “Is it possible to change my values?” 

If freedom is your highest value, then how are you going to respond to the increased responsibilities that come with promotions? Rick had been a master of self-sabotage. After a few more sessions, I was able to help him change his entire mindset so that all those past behaviors would no longer be an issue. Within a couple of months, he was promoted and his career was finally taking off.

This is what I love about coaching. My greatest passion in life is helping people to get to where they want to go, both as human beings and in their careers and callings.

Like Rick, the reason many of my clients first contact me is because they are facing a specific challenge or conflict at work or in their personal lives that they can’t get through on their own. What they want is another set of eyes and ears, another perspective, a clearer head, and a wiser approach. This is what I seek to provide.

Most people get stuck in the process of working through challenges and conflicts because their attention is restricted to the surface level. What I help my clients to see is that both the questions they ask and the answers they come up with come from beliefs, value-systems, and cultural influences, that exist on a subconscious level: a level they have never investigated. Before a successful strategy for breaking through their challenges can be mapped out, however, we first need to have an adequate understanding of who the person is, as well as who they wish to become.  Why? Because “Who” always proceeds “What.”

Like Rick, what if you possess beliefs and values on a subconscious level that are actually creating the challenges and conflicts you are facing? Imagine what it would be like to be fully congruent—where your values, beliefs, mindset, and behaviors, all line up in support of your vision for the person you intend to become and the work you know you are to accomplish.

What would your life look like, if you had someone to help you discard the blinders placed on you by others, so that you could see all of the possibilities, not only for solutions to your present challenges, but for personal transformation, as well?

From time to time, we all need someone to help us: a coach who will help us see what we are not seeing, hear what we are not hearing, feel those feelings that we have spent a lifetime avoiding, all so that we can finally get moving again toward whom we were called to become and doing what we were called to do.

If you are feeling stuck or frustrated by a situation in life, please connect with me.  I may be able to help.

As always, my first coaching call is free. You can contact me at MonteThird@gmail.com to schedule your appointment.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2015