Peripheries of life
At first glance, he is an elderly Caucasian man—rather portly, it must be said—with far more salt than pepper in his hair. His cheeks have a ruddy tint. There are a few age spots on his high, domed forehead, and he walks with a slight limp.
But there is something that sets him apart, that sets him above, everyone else in the room. As he walks by, there is a quiet radiance about him, as if he glows with an inner light—the kind of inner peace that is emblematic of a valiant and beatific soul.
His name is Francis.
It has been four weeks since he returned to Rome, and like the millions who followed the Vicar of Christ through the five tumultuous but exhilarating days of his visit, I have to admit I too am suffering from “separation anxiety.”
Outside my window, the sky is an almost cloudless blue, but for some reason, the day doesn’t seem as cheerful as when the Pope was in Manila. A friend of mine told me that she rather wished the Vatican could be moved here, so that Pope Francis (PF) could always be with us.
I imagine, though, that PF would be the first person to say that it is his message, and not his person or his presence, that is truly important.
It’s well known that the Vatican quietly asked that posters, tarpaulins, and billboards with his face on them be taken down, because, as PF himself said, his visit was about Christ, not about him. Which is why, as I’m reasonably sure he would say, it matters more that we take to heart what he said to us, and that we find in his example the inspiration to, as the wonderful Cardinal Tagle (who makes me proud to be a Filipino and a Catholic) says, follow him to the “peripheries.”
People I’ve talked to have different viewpoints on which of PF’s statements struck them the most. I was able to watch the Youth Encounter at UST, and was riveted to the screen. I couldn’t help but think of PF’s exhortation to the students that they must “think well; feel well; do well.” It reminds me of the (APFB) Assumption—Perception – Feelings – Behaviour model that was taught during my HBO class at Arthur D. Little; I daresay a lecture by PF at the Business School would definitely be an event to remember.
It is hard, though, to put into words what I felt when PF said: “Our world today needs weeping. The marginalized weep, those who are neglected weep, the scorned weep, but those of us who have relatively comfortable life, we don’t know how to weep.”
I realized the PF was saying that people no longer know how to empathize with the suffering of others—that we had been so wrapped up in the pursuit of our needs that we no longer knew how to acknowledge, and honor, the needs of others. It was then that I realized that, somewhere along the way as I pursued my education and built my career, I had, in some ways, forgotten what empathy means.
Preoccupied with fulfilling the requirements of my quest for worldly gains, there were times when I could no longer spare a thought for the problems of people around me.
For us who take on the challenge of being supervisors, managers and executives, it can sometimes be all too easy to look upon our employees as simply cogs in the machinery of our enterprises. Because we place such focus on profit margins, growth rates, and returns on investment, there is always the risk that we’ll lose sight of the human element of our responsibilities, and of the humanity of the people who work for us.
While it is understandable that we give so much of our time to our clients, how much time do we really give to our employees? Do we really care for them as persons who seek dignity in their work and without whom we would never achieve our goals? Or are they simply a means to an end, a resource to be used in pursuit of our own material gain and personal enhancement?
Not so long ago, the firm I work for had an administrative and finance assistant who, I noticed, would report to work each day looking wan and exhausted. She was often seen crying quietly at her desk. I was engrossed in an important tax case at the time, and I remember feeling impatient with the poor girl, wondering what on earth was wrong with her because she was always on the verge of tears. It never occurred to me to think that she might have been grappling with serious family problems, all the while trying to please her increasingly fractious boss.
I found out later that she was indeed facing a very grave family crisis and, to this day, I can still recall the remorse that washed over me for having been insensitive to her pain.
I remembered that young staffer when PF, his heart in his eyes, asked thousands of students to learn how to weep, to learn how to cry—and in so doing, to learn how to weep for others. It isn’t enough, he reminded us, to feel sorry for someone. It isn’t enough to feel pity for someone in dire straits.
To really make a difference, we must learn to “walk a mile” in their shoes and understand the depth of their suffering. Because if we truly want to make a difference in someone’s life, we have to be able to see things through their eyes, to experience their pain, and to weep not just for them, but with them.
Sometimes, the “peripheries” are as close as the person sitting next to us. Because for so long as one person weeps in sorrow, loneliness and despair, then there shall be those “peripheries” of the spirit that also call out to us for understanding and compassion. PF, who has spent a lifetime looking into the eyes of those who dwell in these “outer edges” created as much by flawed economic structures as by indifference and materialism, asks us to step beyond the comfort of our positions of power and privilege, and to look into the eyes of those who suffer, there to see not just another human being, but our own selves, as we too have suffered at the most difficult moments in our lives.
“To love at all is to be vulnerable,” said C.S. Lewis, and it is when we weep that we are at our most vulnerable. PF calls us all to be vulnerable, so that we can learn to love, and express that love not only to those bound to us by blood or friendship, but to every soul that calls out to us from the peripheries of life, yearning for a kind word, a helping hand, a listening ear and a compassionate heart.
(The article reflects the personal opinion of the author and does not reflect the official stand of the Management Association of the Philippines. The author is a commissioner of the Presidential Commission on Good Government and a former senior partner of The Tax Offices of Romero, Aguilar & Associates. He is a member of MAP national issues committee and MAP tax committee. Feedback at <email@example.com> and <firstname.lastname@example.org>. For previous articles, please visit <map.org.ph>)