IN these times of befuddlement when we are trying to figure out whether we are moving forward to better practices and better results as we hear the din of modernity around us, or if we are actually traveling backward to obsolete or debunked ways, do we need to think or just act?
Do education, modernity, capitalism (all nations are intrinsically practicing it whether they claim to be socialist or not), nationalism, and religious beliefs provide the answer? Their values should do so but their application to what is ailing us is where the problem lies.
People look around and place their faith and their fates in those who seem to have the answers, make the promises, direct their attention to them. These are the populists among us who have captured our imaginations and our trust. In turn, we have given them pride of place, of governance, the future to manage for us.
Populism per se is not quite wrong, unless it lies or in the interest of fulfilling its extravagant promises, upends the society by bankruptcy or injustice. If it catches the popular attention because of popular need, if it fulfills its promises without breaking the bank, the social order, keeps the basic values that society has declared sacrosanct, and is true as against false, why not embrace it and live with it?
At times like these, there is one populist we can listen to because he can be trusted – Pope Francis.
As a populist, he has his ear to the ground but his values in place. He has made singularly accurate analyses of what is occurring today in the turmoil that nations, peoples and traditional ways of doing things find themselves.
Though he is a Jesuit, part of the renowned order of priests of the Church noted for scholarship and philosophy, who use what they call “discernment” to deconstruct problems or come to some enlightened solutions, Pope Francis eschews the complex and complicated to point to the simple and possible solution.
Thus, he has spoken on the environment, on migration, on capitalism, on labor, on any of the social problems burdening us and his Church, all of present mankind actually. And he puts them in language and image that all can understand.
He is very practical and says that progress cannot come at the cost of environmental damage because that is destruction of Creation and suffering for God’s creatures. Of capitalism and modernity, he has said that they cannot come at the cost of displacing man from his universe of environmental comfort, ability to work, have the basic services and create a better world for the future. He has three key words regarding what any man needs—labor, land and lodging. If capitalism in its drive to expand tampers with these key needs, then it is destructive and must re-orient itself to make things better not just for the capitalists but for all. Everyone is part of a capitalist world and can participate to make it work best. It cannot just be for those who have the capital, but also for those who produce and consume, everyone.
But before we go into how and why capitalism has to change or re-invent itself, we should just ask that it be for the good of all. It should give, not deprive. It must always provide work, always take into account the people who will use its products and be fair to all.
In the same way, all people should be of goodwill to others, especially the migrants of today who need refuge, a new life, the opportunity to contribute to the society that they enter or wish to enter or are settled in. It is wrong to make migrants the hostile other, the enemy and the outsider. They can enliven any society, contribute to it improvements and in general bring it to a better level. It is a question of enlightened and inclusive management of resources and people.
While this is hard to see in the chaos of war, migration, drugs, joblessness, lack of basic services, it must be taken on trust from seeing societies that have been enriched by migration. The universe is limitless so far and should be for all. Man’s inventiveness has come from necessity. Creativity can bloom, new solutions can be found.
If one cannot understand or see a solution as Pope Francis does, then trust and follow his ultimate advice—be charitable in your daily life. When need of others comes up to you, give what you can, help. Go by instinct, judge case to case and do not bother to break your head with discernment, just share and include. Being close to need in charity makes one ultimately see solutions, attempt new answers, pay attention. Be a good Christian, or Muslim or Buddhist, or whatever belief system you have.
It is quite simple. Think of your neighbor who may be the migrant, the panhandler, the homeless, the uneducated, the unemployed and do what you can. And don’t break your head explaining why it is so.
Pope Francis said this of the modern innumerable have-nots as against the small global elite. If a beggar comes up to you, do not think twice, give a modest amount to make the beggar happy. Do not tell him what to do with the money, his happiness may be different from your idea of what his happiness should be. If he needs a drink, let him use the money you gave for it. Do not so much moralize but share, include, love. It will be reciprocated somehow.
It is unorthodox, instinctive, for many almost counter-intuitive, but then let the sharing way take over. Discernment will come eventually and show that the sharing way taken was the right way.