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  • Want to be heard? Listen!

    Saturday, July 11, 2015

    Some are wishing Pope Francis would just shut up already and be on his overly merry way. But most every jumbled, joyful, statement that comes out of his Argentinian mouth makes me want to stand up and cheer. Somewhat like watching the jester in a Shakespearian play - bumbling along breaking the rules of conduct, happily ignoring all normal protocol, yet smashing directly to the heart of things.


    An immensely readable Pope, he’s one that will go down in history as a terrific marketer, if not a Great Saint. The amount of ink that has been spilled over this one man’s words on all sides - religious and secular, right and left, progressive and conservative - is incomparable. He’s made more headlines in the last couple years than any other topic or figure worldwide. In our information saturated world, that is quite the feat. Working in PR, I watch him in amazement, trying to learn a thing or two.


    When we’re talking about the faith, there’s a temptation to focus on the message. On crafting the correct formulation, on making good theological arguments, on painting a clear picture about what a life of faith involves.


    In marketing, they say “tell your story”. People will identify with you and buy what you’re selling.


    This is true.



    But it doesn’t get to the heart of it.

    It doesn’t cut to the quick.


    What about their story?


    Do you care a lick about the people you’re speaking to? Do you pay attention to their language, their concerns, their struggles, their hopes, their desires . . . ?


    This comes first. In order to tell your story, you need to get out of the way enough to listen. To hear their story.


    You’ll notice the themes that surface in Laudaute si cover quite the gamut. He’s on about everything from unbridled capitalism, to climate change, to abortion, to, and especially, where the poor fall in all this.


    We are digging our own grave and tossing the poor of the world in first to soften our landing.


    We’re blowing our college fund on a sports car; there won’t be much left of the world of nature at the rate we’re burning it up. And those who suffer most from this are those who have least.

    He gives both sides what they want, makes connections, builds bridges and then drives home his point. It’s not a matter of simply “branding” or “sticking to the message”. He reaches across party lines. He reaches to the people.

    Business. The economy. As marketers, we’re tempted to think: “It’s about the money, stupid.”


    Maybe. But not for the long-term. To continue selling, you have to continue hearing what your customers need, adapt, and then refine.

    The good ones (in business or religion) tell us:

    It’s about the people, stupid.


    Are you speaking in a way that they feel they’ve been heard?


    This is the first question to resolve.


    Then you can tell your story.


    Pope Francis, more than most, has figured this out. He’s notorious for responding to letters. Phoning people at random who reach out to him, people usually never expecting a response. In his speaches and in his writing, he weaves together a wide range of perspectives: he shows proof of having walked more than a few miles in different pairs of shoes. He hears the concerns of the people, and makes them feel heard.


    As a marketer, and even more so as a Christian, this is important.

    The economy of salvation is gratuitous love. Completely free.

    But it needs to be received. To get there, people need to want to listen to you. The best way to do that, is to make them felt listened to.

    I stand in awe of our Dear Pope as he leads what is more of a parade than a reform.

    Fun. Effortless. Free.


    By his choice of words and tone he reaches out to those who don’t normally give two shakes about the Church (NYTimes is his # 1 fan), he then asks those who are already on board with the Church to take a humbler approach, to look beyond the issues they’ve already got resolved, and to be self-critical instead of judgmental.


    Straight up Gospel.


    Making sure to kiss as many babies as he can along the way.


    He weaves together themes from all sides but does not fail to challenge everyone for the same price.


    By word and deed, he says:

    "I hear you. I get it. Now be your better self. We can do this together.

    And praised be!"

  • Pride and Debt

    Friday, July 03, 2015

    Half of getting what you want from life comes from wanting what you have.

    Making peace with yourself.

    Coming to terms with your past and present is difficult - but liberating. Self-acceptance is the psychological term for it. An act of the will that tells the soul:

    “I love me: warts and all.”

    It brings to light that which you want to change, as well as that which you are happy with and want to build on. Turning a compassionate gaze on yourself pays dividends in terms of healthy self-esteem. It is the precursor to positive and thoughtful action. Once you size yourself up, with the help of your God and your community, you can discover the next best steps in your personal virtuous project.

    This is the distilled version of my master’s thesis in philosophy. It’s wisdom taken from Aquinas II-II, 162: On Pride. A marvellous 2 pages of writing that I had trouble doing any sort of justice to in 130 pages of drawl.

    Aquinas is called the “Angelic Doctor:” a term that is both fitting and ironic. As anyone who has given him more than a passing glance will admit, the depth, structure, analysis and all-incompassingness of his thought makes you wonder if he was human.

    Angelic does indeed seem like the right word for it.

    Yet he is also one of the most “human” saints around. Very earthy. Strikingly real. Someone who was quite convinced of his own humanity and was wary of Christians who were running away from theirs. We run into trouble when we try to be angels or anything else than we are. This is his genius. That he was called “Angelic” probably has him turning over in his grave. He spent his life trying to be the best human he could be and adamantly preached against trying to imitate angels.

    My thesis was less of a matter of trying to contribute anything to the world of intelligible scholarly dialogue in Thomistic studies and more a matter of personal growth and discovery.

    Discover, I did.

    It was a very rich experience. I had questions I needed to answer and now I am much better equipped to do so. I had the particularly rich experience of doing a thesis on Aquinas with two Dominicans. The late, great, Lawrence Dewan, O.P. was my co-director. His knowledge and love of Aquinas is acknowledged worldwide as having left a body of work worthy of the highest distinctions. His care for the English language was a welcome bonus. I learned to think, and write, much better.

    I did the thesis to answer a question.

    What is pride?

    An appetite for excellence in excess of right reason is the answer.

    Unpacking and digesting those few words can take someone on all sorts of adventures.  “It’s brought me to a better place” I say with addicts everywhere who are overcoming one sort of narcissism or another.

    Being a bit of a serial student, I now have another question brewing:

    This excessive appetite for excellence, I believe, is at the heart of the problem of economic debt (personal and societal). The link between pride and debt is an interesting one - maybe not worthy of a doctoral thesis but I intend to pay it more than a cursory glance.

    This “puffing ourselves up”, pretending to be other than we are, it’s really the heart and soul of the credit industry. It’s what makes them thrive. You're richer than you think.


    Probably not.

    What will come of these questions?

    Too soon to tell. But the threads of discussion and interweaving of topics makes for fun fodder. I do also believe them to be of timely and pressing importance. Worth a more serious look . . .


    Lawrence Dewan


    Lawrence Dewan, o.p.


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