To read without reflecting is like eating without digesting. Edmund Burke
Once upon a time a large boulder obstructed the middle of an ancient roadway. To get around it travelers were obliged to veer off to either side of the road. As they passed, they would shake their heads and mutter, “What an inconvenience, someone should get that big thing out of the way.” After many years, a visitor finally came along and decided to move the large impediment. The entire neighborhood watched as the stranger used a sturdy tree branch to pry and slowly roll the boulder off to one side of the road.
To the surprise and amazement of the stranger and onlookers, a small bag of gold coins with an envelope lay beneath the rock. “Thank you for being such a true servant of the kingdom,” stated the enclosed letter. “Many have passed this way and complained. But you are the only one who saw the problem as an opportunity to serve! You are exactly the type of citizen we need in this kingdom. As a token of my appreciation, please accept this bag of valuable gold that traveler after traveler did not discover simply because they failed to act.” The note was signed, “a thankful King!”
There is nothing more tragic than failing to act when the opportunity avails itself! Potential “bags of gold” are missed simply because leaders do not properly discern the phonics of the philanthropic prospects before them. Edmund Burke rightly describes such inattentive reading of societal signs as “eating without digesting.” History is replete with anecdotes that illustrate the tragic consequences of individuals who were unable or – unwilling – to properly read and then respond to the phonics of their respective times. As a result, societal obstacles festered while the populace anxiously awaited the lone visiting vanguard to apply the needed philanthropic leverage.
Servant-centered leaders do not wait for others to advance what is in their own power to accomplish! They are quick to employ the necessary resources for clearing the barriers that create the privations of their respective citizens, customers and fellow constituents. They reject the naiveté of waiting for problems to self-resolve. On the contrary, true leaders relentlessly seek to understand the phonics of their respective contexts by vigilantly employing the tested methods of observation, keen interpretation and wise discernment!
Due to inaction’s deleterious nature, clemency is provided by the Church for what is often referred to as sins of “omission.” These are the boulder-moving opportunities, the philanthropic acts that are unfortunately miss-read, ignored or neglected! Attention should therefore be given to developing the valuable ability of “societal reading” – the scanning of the contemporary roadways for prospects that demand the visionary muscle of our respective entrepreneurial service.
Apart from providing stimulation for the eyes, and the possibility of mental development, the ability to reflect upon, discern and then effectively respond to the necessities of our times is a most vital leadership competency. The capacity for such “societal reading” is an activity that involves great levels of concentration that should not be pursued merely for the purpose of conversational acumen or in indulging professional reputation. On the contrary, the inclination for reading societal events, opinions and ever-changing global issues should be the interest of all leaders as it more effectively guides them to discern the contemporary boulders that require the métier of focused effort.
Pope Benedict XVI, the religious world leader of the Catholic Church, recommends a useful method for developing the habit of such discernment. The ancient tradition of prayerful reflection, called Lectio Divina, is a favorite theme of the Holy Father who insists that societal attentiveness through the spiritual reading of scripture can “bring the Church a new springtime.” In the words of Pope Benedict, “evil draws its power from indecision and concern for what other people think.” His recommendation serves to avoid the perils associated with contemporary turpitudes of philanthropic omission – the negligence of which only enhances the dysfunctions of societal privatization.
The origin of Lectio Divina can be traced back to Saint Ambrose (3rd Cent.) and later formalized by the Carthusian monk, Guigo II (12th Cent.). Traditionally Lectio Divina involves four (4) separate yet interrelated steps: reading (lectio) meditating (meditatio), praying (oratio) and contemplation (contemplatio). When linked to the objective of wise decision-making, this ageless instructional method has the potential to help leaders act for the benefit of society in an appropriate and timely fashion. More specifically, when faith-centered business, political, and academic leaders are confronted with difficult choices, they should consider the following five-step Lectio sequence:
- Read: Read, listen and attend to Holy Scripture, liturgical texts, patristic wisdom, and official Church documents with focused expectancy, trusting that God will communicate His Word of direction.
- Meditate: Seek the relevance of sacred texts by assessing societal contextual situations against the standards of holiness and service.
- Pray: After listening and reflecting on the Wisdom of the Church, honestly seek the strength to overcome respective difficulties with Divine direction.
- Contemplate: True contemplation pursues the creativity of new insights. Leaders should use the wisdom of Biblical and liturgical texts to refine their respective entrepreneurial perspectives.
- Act: Finally, empowered by what has been experienced through attention, meditation, and prayerful contemplation, appropriate actions may now be selected that will more faithfully align personal and professional desires to the Will of God.
A survey conducted by an independent publishing firm (Jenkins Group) has revealed that millions of Americans never read another book after leaving school. According to the report, 33% of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives. An astonishing 42% of college graduates never read another book. Eighty percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year, while 70% of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years! Finally, 57% of all new books are never read to completion. While these statistics are troubling, what is more intriguing is the percentage of leaders who neglect careful societal reading, choosing instead to focus on the narrow interests of their respective institutional agendas.
Reading is important because words – spoken and written – are the building blocks of life. The ability to read and understand text is fundamental to the development of a healthy self-image. So too, is a leader’s ability of philanthropic perusal. It is the only way for the Church to provide much needed salt and light to a darkening world!
As young students learn to sound out letters and fashion new words, humanity requires individuals who are willing to expand the lexicon of philanthropic service by genuinely seeking opportunities to dislodge the economic, social, and political boulders hindering the thoroughfares of contemporary existence.
So, move a boulder . . . who knows, you may just find a bag of gold and the King’s appreciation waiting underneath!