Monday, June 8, 2015

John Paul II: The Power of a Compelling Vision

[John Paul] was addressing them not as another diplomat speaking the language of power according to club rules, but as a witness to the truth about “man in his wholeness,” in all the fullness and manifold riches of his spiritual existence.
-George Weigel

Solely hammering away at what you are against in our culture is not an effective strategy for persuading others to your point of view. Human nature, such as it is, has a proclivity for pushing back, when told, “Bad boy: bad, bad, boy!” Critique alone never persuades people to change directions. Not for long, anyway. Only the presentation of a compelling vision will do this.   

While John Paul certainly critiqued modern cultures, it was always within the larger framework of his vision. When he condemned decadence and libertinism, for example, it was while presenting his vision of the purposes and responsibilities of true freedom. When he stood against men seeking to dominate women, it was within the context of his belief in “a radical equality of men and women as images of God.” * As he saw it, the liberation of women from such domination was not liberation against men but a liberation for their “personal originality,” and for the “restoration of communion, of free and equal self-giving.” Keeping the vision at the forefront of his message not only kept John Paul from coming across as a nay-saying old curmudgeon but also imbued his communications with joy and hope.

To whom would you rather listen: a killjoy or a messenger of hope?

If we wish to create conversations with possibilities for persuading others, we will want to consistently present our vision of what we believe is true, right, good, beautiful, and noble, in a spirit of love and respect.  When our message is restricted to standing against something, our communication is perceived as being against our listeners. Sharing our vision in the light of “this is how we were made and for what we were made,” frames the conversation within the context of our being for our listeners. Mind you, if doing this is only a strategy for effective communication and not our true state of mind, our audience will sense that they are being played.  

I am not suggesting that we refrain from calling evil, evil. For example, tyranny, wherever and however it rears its head, is evil. The question, however, is this: what is your vision of what good governance looks like? How do parents, teachers, business owners, and political leaders, govern in ways that respect the dignity and unalienable God-given rights of others? 

Speaking of questions…

Answering the Big Questions
As a man who carried on conversations with scientists, philosophers, religious leaders, politicians, artists, and educators, around the world, John Paul had a firm grasp on the burning issues of his times. He knew what people were asking: knew of their fears and concerns, of their plights and their yearnings.

Ask yourself this: is it possible to present a compelling vision, if I do not know what my audience is asking? The answer, of course, is no, because I would not be able to present my vision as a possible answer to their specific questions, which leaves me talking at my audience rather than responding to them.

After decades of suffering under the tyrannies of Nazism and Communism in Poland and a lifetime spent having conversations with people around the world, John Paul understood the most critical question of his times:

The crucial issue of the times, [John Paul II] suggested, was the human person: a unique being, who lived in a material world but had intense spiritual longings, a mystery to himself and to others. A creature whose dignity emerged from an interior life imprinted with the image and likeness of God. The world wanted to hear what the Church had to say about the human person and the human condition, particularly in light of other proposals—“scientific, positivist, dialectical”—that imagined themselves humanistic and presented themselves as roads to liberation. At the end of 2,000 years of Christian history, the world had a question to put to the Church: What was Christian humanism and how was it different from the sundry other humanisms on offer in late modernity? What was the Church’s answer to modernity’s widespread “despair [about] and all human existence?

The responses to John Paul’s public addresses, homilies, writings, and conversations, were astoundingly positive, even when taking very unpopular positions. I believe this was due to the fact that people perceived him as being for them: a defender of their dignity, their rights, and the freedoms required for doing what they ought. Simply put, his vision both resonated with and gave hope to his listeners.

* 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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