Thursday, September 5, 2013

Catholic Virtual Wars 04: Clericalism, Blogger Infallibility, and Tools for Arguments

I need to tie up some loose ends with this post after reading comments, emails, and other material out there.

Un-virtuous is as the un-virtuous do, starting with me. 

One thing I would like to point out about the Catholic Virtual War series is that I don't pretend to be infallible.  One person, in my post on Strident Catholics, pointed out in the comments that she felt I had been strident in the past on this blog.  I know I have.  Now some have accused me of this simply for bringing up a controversial issue where good Catholics can disagree (and it gets ugly when one side feels there is no such room).  Stridency has to do with the "how" we discuss any controversy.  I can disagree with someone who takes a different position on a number of hot button issues without being so angry as to border on hating someone.  That's when our words take a more hostile turn,  and that is entirely unproductive.

I neglected to explain well enough in my previous posts that my ability to speak on any of the three subjects thus far comes from real experience, not from others, but from myself and my own imperfections in this regard.   Anyone who knows me personally, has probably seen my choleric temperament at work.  I can be downright abrasive at times,  though it is nothing like what it was when I first got a clue that there were better ways to handle things.  I still fall, but as Jesus taught me, I pick my cross back up, and keep moving.  Yes - we are our own crosses because looking inward can be very painful and it can cause us to lose focus.

Back in the 90's I witnessed skilled negotiators work through a very difficult situation.  These negotiators had with much training in anger resolution.  I was in awe at how they could calm and defuse an angry participant and get them to move forward into something more productive than simply complaining about problems and leaving their colleagues in a state of hopelessness and despair.  They did it in a way that allowed the person to keep their dignity - the same way a good coach would tell a player to shake off a bad play - perhaps with some firm instruction followed by a pat on the helmet. A good coach knows of the potential for a player to go out on the field dwelling in the schooling they just got.  Yes, I know, sometimes a coach has to lay into a player, but that's not what good coaches do day-in, and day-out. Any coach who has to do that is a lousy coach.

These negotiators were not just skilled in defusing anger, they were skilled in bringing out the best in various personalities, from the most over involved to the most least involved; from the loudest, to the quietest; from the sniper to the one who was passive aggressive, and the list goes on.  They were good at something else: Tempering the bad qualities in the various kinds of personalities you would see in any crowd trying to solve problems.

It was then that I began to get a clue that my desire to throw in a good zinger in the midst of a heated discussion was only self-serving for me, and entertaining for others.  I'm not infallible so I still fall to that, and have, at times, even on this blog.  It is from years of working at my own flaws that I write about these things on this blog, so it is no secret to me that I am just as guilty as anyone else of committing sins against good and effective communication.   I have the benefit of training, so it is even more disappointing to me when I realize I crossed a particular line.  Sacramental Confession is helpful and my own blogging has been the subject of my trips to the box more times than I can count.  We should all make use of the sacrament for this kind of thing, even if only to build virtue (even in the absence of grave matter).  It's humbling.

We can all have the greatest of intentions and the best possible argument, but we can derail it all with just one expression that then causes everyone else to take their eye off the ball.  It's kind of like the football player who gets hit for penalty after penalty.  He would argue he is playing good football and he probably has a lot of sacks or a lot of yardage and touchdowns.  But his inability to control his actions can lose the game.  The tail wags the dog in such cases. His teammates know there is nothing helpful about going from "First and Goal" to "4th and Long" no matter how well the opponents kneecap got re-arranged.

In a like manner, well-intentioned Catholics can have a lot of truth yet cross a line in how they convey it.

A Question about Pope Francis on Clericalism

A question was asked at the beginning of a comment that I could not post because, while it didn't name names, it may as well have given them.  The conversation would undoubtedly had turned to talking about those persons and their particular works rather than principles.  Critics jump on a bandwagon to criticize the persons and supporters come to their defense.  That's when a lot of humble people, there to discuss a deeper underlying issue just disappear.

Below I quote the opening two lines of the comment.  I thought was a valid question, given that it was in the quote I used from the address of Pope Francis in my post on "Messy Catholics." That post was made because I sometimes see people exploiting the Holy Father's edict to "go make a mess."  I thought it would be helpful to look at his words in the context of his full address, and to see what we might get from his words, and not get.

Amid all this indignation about the way certain prelates have not received the high respect that's their due, has the word "clericalism" come up yet? Yes, Pope Francis clearly states he wants it eliminated. 
I wanted to share that because I had also seen that in many com-boxes and other places online.  I have a simple answer to this.

Who was the Holy Father addressing, if not clerics and seminarians? Let the clerics and seminarians do an examination of conscience on clericalism and let the lay people concern themselves with what pertains to them.

Does this mean lay people should not discuss clericalism, what it means, what it looks like, and how it can be reduced and eliminated?  Absolutely not.  But what good is it to simply poke a finger in the eye of clerics with a hit-and-run criticism using the Holy Father's words?  And, I'm not referring to the question that was asked.  If you have some thoughts that might help clerics see and understand clericalism then offer something in a productive way, with examples, and without sarcasm and stridency.

Tools for Good Communication and Discussion

There are many sources out there that show how to advance dialogue and de-escalate anger in a discussion.  By reading those things you learn what kinds of things act as fuel.  What might Catholics online learn from some of these sources?

I still say that many an orthodox Catholic, with very good intentions, has gotten themselves alienated by the way they point out problems.  There is a Catholic radio station I listen to which does not neglect to talk about things like the Church's position on contraception - on a regular basis I might add.  I've even heard them talk about the need for bishops and priests to speak out more on this and other things; about the awful statistics showing the state of the Church; and about the failures that have led to all of this.  They may not focus on the scandalous aspects, but a heavy focus on that has potential to shatter the faith of those whose faith is weak.

How I have heard them present that material is matter-of-factly, without sarcasm, without stridency, without leaving listeners feeling there is no hope left in the Church because the subject was neglected for so many decades.  They simply put the catechesis out there and they keep putting it out there for the humble to hear, and hopefully heed.  As I said, everyone has a free will and if you don't try to force something on someone through stridency, far more will choose to accept it, or at least think about what is said.  Stridency, while attractive to some souls, is to a delicate soul who is confused by all of the conflicting things they hear, noise that can push them right back out into a disinterest in their faith.  This is where we have to be careful in what we say that is pleasing to the choir because we may push other potential choir members off the risers.  The face we put on the faith that I keep talking about, is one that can bring others to Christ for it's beauty or push them away for it's ugliness.

We all know there is a time for tough love and it isn't every day of the week. It's used as a last resort and it is used after all other attempts have failed.  Dwelling in a hopeless, fearful, anxious way about the problems we all know have led to a decline in Catholic stats is like the ball team that begins to bicker among themselves when they are losing.  A good team knows that finger pointing at the one who dropped the ball, who struck out, who got picked off stealing a base - accomplishes absolutely nothing. The best team is the one that wants to forge ahead with each player remaining calm and focused on getting hits and catching fly balls.  If you have ever played sports and have witnessed a player having an off day, you will know what I mean about the uselessness of dwelling in what hasn't gone right.

Here are some useful sources for your online interactions, your household and work place.  Please note that because I link to these secular sources it is not an endorsement about everything you find there.  If there is something contradicting the faith in any one of these, please let me know as I had only time to do a quick scan.  Also, don't use these just for learning how to deal with others; use them to look inward, at your own communication skills.

There are many more.  In another post, I want to get in to some topics related to root cause analysis.  There are things there that can be helpful when discerning any situation.

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The obedient are not held captive by Holy Mother Church;
it is the disobedient who are held captive by the world!

- Diane M. Korzeniewski

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