Sunday, January 2, 2011

Interview with Father General on Europe

Father General

Following up on the Comments on Europe. The interview with Father General on Europe (see Electronic Bulletin n. 21, October 20), has aroused considerable interest both within and outside the Society of Jesus, but has also raised some doubts. We therefore turned again to Father Nicolás for some clarification.
Q. Your comments on Europe after some visits to your men in the Continent have elicited interest and wonder; they also came immediately after your visits to Belgium and Switzerland, are they the fruit of these two visits to European Jesuits?
A. Not in the least. As a matter of fact I sent the answers "before" those visits. They do not even refer to what I have seen in my encounter with Jesuits. They are more of a general character and express how I am affected by the European way of speaking about problems, issues and people after having lived 48 years in East Asia, which certainly has a different tradition in this regard.

Q. Are you concerned that some Europeans would consider your words too blunt and even unfair to many Europeans, who are certainly not proud or arrogant, but simply make use of direct and assertive language?

A. I guess that this is the risk of every statement that affects groups of people. I would certainly be concerned if my words are taken as a negative judgment on European peoples, which certainly they are not. I insist on saying that this is the way I am impressed, affected by a way of speaking that used to be mine. Maybe it is still mine. I am also aware that the languages are built and structured differently. European languages are basically centered on the topic under consideration. They assert or deny, explain or dismiss, clarify or develop an idea, an opinion, a conviction. East Asian languages leave much more space for attention to the persons in dialogue. You do not answer primarily to the topic in question, but to the person asking, and there are plenty of additions at the end of a statement that make this statement softer, fallible or a matter open to discussion and to other opinions. The fact is that the subject matter is usually not defined or denied at every step, but remains open to contrary opinion, further search for nuance, or simple error. This evidently helps to keep everybody on board without feeling ignored, denied or dismissed from the conversation.

Q. Is there anything that can be said about these impressions?

A. It is always very difficult to tell others what to do, when one is not sure (as I am not) that one has made the needed changes. I can only speak from my experience and how I had to learn a new way of speaking, that is prior to and goes beyond learning another language. In other words, I had to learn to speak always with great respect for the 'other' person, persons or groups, with whom I am speaking. This is not something I could learn overnight; it takes years to change habits that we have developed from our early childhood. I have to say that, more often than not, it is not a matter of personal effort or acquiring some diplomatic skills; it is best learned by becoming aware of how comfortable and pleasant it is when people address each other in this respectful manner, when the person is more important than whatever ideas we might have about things.

The second thing I had to learn through the years in Asia was to be more honest with my own doubts and insecurities. It is more real, and, consequently, more helpful in human interaction to let our ignorance and uncertainty show. There are very few things about which we know something. Speaking with such awareness opens up possibilities for others to help us, to instruct us, to contribute with their experience and knowledge where ours fall short. This simple fact does marvels for personal communication and smooth interaction. If you call this "humility" then I have to say that humility is very good for inter-cultural communication.

Q. You make it sound like human communication can be helped by a certain amount of spirituality.

A. Thank you for understanding my words like that. This is exactly what I think can help us most in our complex and difficult world. There was a time when I thought that knowing languages was enough. Then I learned that being clear and even accurate about what we are talking about was even more important. Later I learned that knowing the cultural background of the persons we meet was paramount for real communication. It is in Asia where it dawned on me that communication begins and deepens when we become able to welcome the other person from the heart and, as they are, strong or weak, settled or vulnerable; and that if there is no love, it is hardly possible to communicate. In other words, the skills of communication can be acquired and trained; but the event itself is much more an art into which one grows in humility and love, than a technique that one can master and be proud of. The similarities with spiritual growth are many and very deep. I am extremely grateful to Asia for introducing me to such a discovery.

From the Curia

New Province Decreed. On November 26, 2010, the feast of St. John Berchmans, Father General approved the Decree to officially unite the Chicago Province and the Detroit Province into a single apostolic entity, now known as the Chicago-Detroit Province (CDT). The new Chicago-Detroit Province will officially take effect on January 1, 2011. Father Timothy P. Kesicki is Provincial of the new Province.

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