With the US elections fast approaching, one cannot but notice the elevated “noise” level in social media. Partisan politics is heating up at feverish levels. The buzz is all about debates, arguments, fake news, winners & losers, etc.. Sadly, the current situation has digressed into a deeper rift in societal values. Extending beyond politics, we see this alarming trend in the fragmentation of social, economic, and moral values & beliefs. Indeed, this phenomenon has exacerbated the great divide between the haves and have-nots. It’s a zero-sum game: the winner takes it all!
In particular, we are witnesses to recent populist outrages such as # black lives matter #me too #misogyny #homophobia # trade barriers #pro choice, and the list goes on. At the core of it, one may discover the strong influence of a self-centric milieu. Its prevalence fosters the ideology of the self as the end-all and be-all of one’s existence. Hence, the principal criteria for success lie ultimately in being in control of one’s destiny with total disregard for the others. In short, we see here a dystopian view of the world. After all, isn’t it a zero-sum game: the winner takes it all?
How does one try to avoid being swallowed by such a disturbing trend? In his classic book, The Way, St. Josemaria Escriva prescribes a simple yet appropriate rule in Point no. 25, which states:
“Don’t get into arguments. – Arguments usually don’t produce light because it gets extinguished by passion.”St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way
Whilst Point no. 25 above seems simple, it requires learning through daily practice of some basic principles that need to be honored and followed, namely:
1. Forget About Your Ego
Commonly overlooked as one of deadliest weaknesses of man is pride. The Catechism defines pride as “an inordinate self-esteem or self-love, which seeks attention and honor and sets oneself in competition with God (#1866).
Simply put, the mantra of the proud person is: “I did it my way.” It’s all about his achievements, physical attributes, material possessions, self-satisfaction, whims and vainglory. He has this feeling of entitlement, deserving only the best positions for himself. Anyone who disagrees with the proud person simply becomes the antagonist, totally disregarded or verbally abused or physically attacked with anger.
2. Aspire for Magnanimity
Whilst inordinate self-love may cause enmity between friends, nonetheless, it could still be purposely redirected towards striving for the greatness of the soul. Instead of having the “I” as the end goal, it rather focuses on the “Other.” Such is the virtue of magnanimity. In essence, it disposes a person to pursue noble and honorable desires in life despite its challenges. St. Thomas Aquinas describes it as a “stretching forth of the mind to great things.”1
From the idealist’s point of view, a classic example of the virtue of magnanimity may be seen in the great works of saints. One such example is St. Francis of Assisi, who founded in the Middle Ages the men’s Order of Friars Minor and the women’s Order of Saint Claire. However, this virtue is not exclusively reserved for “special” persons endowed with superpowers.
On the contrary, magnanimity may also reside in ordinary persons. These are people who strive to seek fulfillment in the ordinary humdrum activities of daily life in quiet and simple ways. In essence, magnanimity speaks of a person who simply gives his very best to be a better husband, parent, or child of God. On a higher level, during these COVID_19 times, an ordinary person may initiate a food donation drive amongst friends to feed the poor near their community. In short, such small gestures of kindness and thoughtfulness resonate well as truly magnanimous.
3. Learning from an Ordinary Tailor
To further highlight the point, I wish to share an inspiring story. It is about an unknown Polish tailor, Jan Tyranowski. As an ordinary layman, he risked his life during the Nazi regime in Poland during WWII. He started by simply using his small apartment unit as a venue to conduct doctrinal formation. This eventually led to the founding of the Living Rosary Group, a clandestine ministry of the Church. Through sheer fortitude and guidance by the Holy Spirit, it eventually grew and strengthened the Catholic heritage of Poland. The story goes, as follows:
4. To Confront the “Winner Takes It All” Mentality
In closing, we are living in trying times. The rift in this zero-sum game where the winner takes it all is deepening. We need to confront our inner selves, as poignantly written by E. Sri:
1 St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica II-II, Q. 129, Art. 1.