Getting People to Listen for Their Own Good


An interesting spin-off conversation to the rise of Trump — rather, a spin-off amplification of a long-running conversation — is how our society’s relativism and materialism has left the West intellectually incapable of addressing the real problems of the poor and disadvantaged.  Here, for starters, is Kevin Williamson:

Sentimentality about our backwards communities, and circumlocution regarding their problems, isn’t mercy at all, nor is it — I hate the word — “empathy.” It’s cowardice, a refusal to look at the thing squarely as it is and to do what it is necessary to do. When I think about my own upbringing, one of the thoughts that comes to me most often is: “Why didn’t someone say something?” Which is, I suppose, what the white me and the black me and the rich me and the poor me and the Europhobic me and the Swiss-loving me are trying, best as we can, to do.

To this, Rod Dreher responds (emphasis in original):

… think right now about poor, dysfunctional people in your own community. Would you “say something”? What would you say? To whom would you say it? …

Here’s the thing: it’s not just the poor and the working class anymore. I’m told by teachers and others that it’s the middle class now too. The attitude that if anything is wrong, it’s Somebody Else’s Fault, is becoming general. Nobody wants to hear criticism of any sort. Nobody wants to recognize authority, or to assert authority in a meaningful way.

I’m not sure the blaming of others is the initial cause rather than a first-order consequence of something else.  In a society that defines a person’s behavior as the definition of his or her very identity, telling people that they are behaving badly is tantamount to saying that they are bad.

With these thoughts in mind, this line from today’s Gospel reading of Jesus’ Passion stood out:

They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us,”
but he replied to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe,
and if I question, you will not respond.”

Likewise, though we’re in possession of the truth about how people could improve their behavior, they will not listen unless they first realize the problem.  Unfortunately, our entire mainstream culture is too much like Pilate asking, “What is truth?”

All of the essays along the thread of this discussion are worth reading, but the frustrating and unavoidable conclusion to which one comes is that the process must be more like conversion than persuasion or critical demand.  In the Christian vision, people are not defined by their behavior, but by what God has imagined them to be.  A parallel simply may not exist in a society that insists there’s no such thing as an ideal.