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If the Jesuits can do it, so can we

(Article published in the Jul 28,2004 issue of TODAY, Business Section)

Whatever one may think of the President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s State of the Nation Address, there is no disputing that achieving just a few of her lofty objectives, within the short time allotted to her term,  will at the very least require inspiring and rousing in heroic proportions the entire nation known more for its week-long fiestas than serious and sustained hard work.  True, there are in every office, government or private, not a few Alberto Reyeses (See, Trusts and Estates, 07 July 2004 issue of TODAY) doing their jobs softly and silently.  But, in these critical times, the nation needs fervent ferment, passion and obsession, people striving like racing rowers bending and grunting to the same beat.  To help the President lead the nation, I suggest that she and her cabinet and senior officials read Chris Lowney’s “Heroic Leadership”.

Chris Lowney writes from his background of seven years as a Jesuit seminarian and seventeen years as managing director of J.P. Morgan Chase.  If my recollection of the days of the sutana is correct, he must have been what we locally know as a “Jesuit scholastic”, finished with his novitiate and with enough course credits in Philiosophy and Theology to teach at a Jesuit high school. “Managing director” is a rank in the dark suit and expensive tie world signaling that his job defies definition but nevertheless entails a substantial amount of responsibility and flexibility.  He is not the global CEO but is most likely on a first name basis with him.

Lowney considered it his “great fortune and privilege to have left the best company in one ‘business’ only to land at the best company in another.”  I have been genetically modified by 11 years of studying, and more than 25 years of teaching, at the Ateneo to be incapable of objectively assessing his view of The Society; but my experience with the people at J.P. Morgan, both local and abroad, provide more than sufficient basis to agree with his reverence for The Bank.

Heroic Leadership brings to the table a contrarian view of what it takes to be a leader. Presenting an alternative to the current genre of how-to-be-a-leader books, most of them setting up for emulation either Atila the Hun or Nicolo Machiavelli or sports coaches to today’s astronomically compensated professional athletes, Lowney submits the Jesuits as the more likely counter model.  His thesis is that the core values of the Compañía de Jesus that resulted in its consistent success over the last 450 years (I take that as an articulum fidei but you are free to help yourself to a grain or two of salt) are the same ones that we, whether holding positions of leadership or not, need to move and shake the world we live in. Heroic Leadership is thus definitely good reading for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as well as her official (and personal) family, and, in fact, for everyone in any walk of life, during these days of grace surrounding the feast day of Society of Jesus founder, Ignatius of Loyola, on the 31st  of this month.

Jesuit indoctrination (“value formation” is the politically correct term) elicits from members of the Society, and, in varying degrees of success, from the people they influence (together their name is also legion), fierce loyalty and adherence to four central principles: (1) continuous self-awareness, which generates current realistic assessments of one’s strengths and weaknesses; (2) unfettered ingenuity, or fearless openness to meet the demands of constant change; (3) genuine love founded on seeing in oneself and in others a communality that is priceless; and (4), an infectious heroism, a sort of  overflowing inner drive, similar to the fanaticism that strives for the Olympic gold, except that Herculean effort is poured out daily.

These values come with preferred methods of achieving them, all tucked under what Jesuits fondly call, together with their other ways, as nuestro modo de proceder.

To attain up-to-date self-awareness, i.e. of one’s current strengths and weaknesses, which is the bedrock principle on which the other three build, the non-negotiable prescription for all Jesuit recruits is the Spiritual Exercises, a closed retreat which consists of 30 days of intensive focus on oneself under the guidance of a director who takes the retreatant through a series of “meditations” or points for reflections designed by Ignatius himself.  The Jesuit emerges from the retreat with spiritually blood-shot eyes, his heart throbbing with the love that once hovered over the dark waters and sent a dozen fisher folk to speak in tongues to the four corners of the world.

To keep the Jesuit continually charged after the 30-day retreat, he is required “upon rising”, “after the noon meal” and “after suffer” to do the Conscience Examen, a 5 minute time-out, as it were, during which he reminds himself of his personal goals and checks his performance so far in the day. Together, the Spiritual Exercises and the Conscience Examen (the second really a follow through of the first) provide  the Jesuit with the basic armor to confront the world.

The self, thus continually assessed, is fixed to a star, the one that was seen in Bethlehem, held up at Calvary, and recognized at the breaking of the bread at Emmaus.  This hitching is exclusive and demands not only ignoring other enticements but constant readiness to drop comfort zones and foray into new ones, a stance that is currently called “ingenuity”.  To develop this ability of instant mobility, of place as well as of activity, the Jesuits are asked to adopt the habit of indifference or detachment from everything, the bad and even the good, other than to their guiding star, so as to be able to pack up and go when and as the spirit calls, like people living in tents roaming the dessert or warriors barely asleep girt in loincloth waiting in the night for the rustle of angel wings passing above.

But following the star for the Jesuit must mean staying in the world.  Unlike other religious orders like the monks who fled the world and stayed in monasteries, Jesuits were meant to work in the world and with the world. But their view of the world is through lenses with a special tint. They are told to see in the world the same creative care and guiding hand that they see operative in themselves during the Spiritual Exercises and the three times daily Conscience Examens.  They are thus to recognize the value in everyone and the good in everything, after the fashion of the fatherly pronouncement made before the seventh day of rest that all was good.  With that view of the world, Jesuits are able to accept with love every one and every talent, even their fellow Jesuits, and, with just a wee bit of effort, the Opus Dei.

To the elements self-awareness, ingenuity, and love, the needed spark is provided by self-embraced standard, the magis, transated literally, the more.  Magis encapsulates the aspiration, required of all Jesuits and their co-workers, to strain and strive, not just to do the good but rather the better.  Bonded with the other three values, the resulting spirit is formulated in the Jesuit slogan Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, correctly translated as “For the Greater Glory of God”, and not “So Gloria May Have More, God”.

The transformative power of motto and method is evident from what the Jesuits made of themselves.  Ignatius of Loyola before his conversion was, according to his executive assistant Juan Polanco, one who “did not live in accordance with his belief, and he did not keep himself from sin.  He was especially out of order in regard to gambling, matters pertaining to women, and dueling.” He was arrested at least once for dueling and once chased someone with his sword down the street for bumping into him in a narrow passageway.  He endured excruciating surgery just so he could pursue his military and courtly aspirations after the clumsy French sent a cannon ball that hit his right leg at Pamplona.  And when he decided to emulate the hardship of the saints, he, during his more than 2000 miles journey to Jerusalem was foolish enough to walk barefoot and, in his own account, let his hair “go its way according to nature without combing or cutting or covering it with anything by night or day.”  I should have known that during my PMT and ROTC days when the crew cut with white sidewalls was the hairstyle ordained.

Without doubt, Ignatius’ bio data would not even land him in Corporate Makati’s list for job interviews.  Aged thirty eight, and therefore terribly old by his era’s standards, he had a record of two failed careers, two arrests, several encounters with the Spanish authorities, and no money.  Yet, he formed and set the direction for a society that has lasted for 450 years and, though its members are presently getting older in average age like other religious orders, continues to assert its presence and influence on the world.  Due to Ignatius and his values and methods, we, in this country, were blessed with Jose Rizal, Gregorio Del Pilar, Claro M. Recto, Raul Manglapus, Horacio De La Costa, and, more recently, Evelio Javier, Edgar Jopson, Eugene Moran, and, the Hon. Voltaire “Butch” Rosales of the regional trial court in Batangas.

        President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has a lot to gain by picking pick up a tip or two from the way the Jesuits do their thing.   Chris Lowney’s Heroic Leadership tells her how.  And we hope she listens for we have no doubts that the nation, given the right leadership, will today be more than eager to rally under her banner.