In advance of the Pope’s visit to the United States, several of the larger polling organizations have noted that his US approval ratings are dropping. In fact, among conservative Roman Catholics and political conservatives (two groups with a substantial overlap) the numbers are plummeting. Within minutes of being elected, it was clear that Francis was not going to focus on dismissive reflections of some alien ‘them’ (pro-choice advocates, LBGTQ persons, Muslims, religious liberals, communists, social welfare supporters). Instead, he chose to challenge ‘us’ to live by the mandate of Jesus to love our neighbor as ourselves, and to cherish the universe with the same love and attention the Holy One brought to its creation.
The man currently sitting in the chair of Peter refuses to think of himself as a king among kings (a refreshing change). Rather, he continues to take up the mantle of Jesus, seeking to serve the neediest, and to live without fear on their behalf. This means, of course, that he can not be counted on to support the power structures of the world or the prevailing economic, political, and social status quo. This makes it extremely difficult to co-opt him. And it immediately made him persona non grata with a number of groups, including the Roman Catholic political candidates hoping to win the GOP nomination for President (and there are a lot of them this year –) and their supporters. [As an aside, as soon as it became apparent that he was not going to rescind the ban on abortion, insist on the ordination of women, or allow for same-gender marriage, his ratings dropped among liberals, too. A perfect example of ‘Damned if you do; damned if you don’t.’]
But what I find most distressing about this situation is not the results of the polls; what I find myself saddened by is how the search for approval (rather than the dependence on inner authenticity) has warped us. I don’t want to suggest that approval is meaningless or that we should refrain wholesale from approving of others (or ‘not approving’, for that matter.) But as I listen to the rhetoric and read the news headlines, I suspect that we are pretty far down the road of training ourselves as a society (and training future generations) to value approval over any other measuring stick. And I would like to suggest as humbly as possible that we cut it out.
This is a tricky topic to talk about because there are people (Donald Trump springs to mind) who don’t give a rat’s ass what other people think. When ‘not caring’ borders on the sociopathic, it precludes empathy or any sense of responsibility to the common good. Such people want what they want and no disapproval is going to stop them in their headlong march toward getting it. But I am happy to say that the vast majority of us are not there yet and, even if we stop giving the opinions of others excessive weight in our lives, we are not going to turn into sociopaths.
Now, seeking approval may not be an issue for you, but I have become increasingly aware that the ‘approval – disapproval’ tapes running in my head have brought me to a complete standstill more than once in my life. I have hit a point of professional or personal paralysis trying to juggle what other people want me to do (their ‘approval’) against an inner compulsion to speak a truth or choose a path or make what they consider a mistake. I believe this has been an enormous waste of energy and has led to periods of profound barrenness in my life, some of them lasting a year or more.
It is Martha Beck who gave me my mantra for these times, “What other people think of you is none of your business.”
I must confess that I have not yet reached the Pope’s exuberant insouciance in the face of raised eyebrows, pursed lips, frowns, and snide comments. But I am learning to breathe in the peace of looking toward my inner sense of wholeness for guidance rather than the approval of even those most dear and precious to me.
So, as I prepare for the turn of the season from Beltane to Lughnasadh on 1 August, with the shift in emphasis from growth to harvest, I am looking more closely on the abundance I have to offer the world. And I am reminding myself that not one scrap of it has been created by the approval of others. What I have to offer comes from listening intently to the seeds of truth inside me and nurturing them with faithful attention to their fulfillment.
If I asked you to compile a list of the people you admire most in the world – a list that no one else would ever see, so you can be totally honest – my guess is that there would not be more than one person on it who could have won a popularity contest or sky-high approval ratings. The people we tend to admire most are the people who are willing to be identifiably themselves and no one else. Most of them are quirky, or smart, or funny, or inventive, or creative, or wise, or provocative, or steadfast, or piercingly honest, or willing to sacrifice themselves for others. In the process of being fully themselves, they angered or irritated or threatened other people who would have benefited from them toeing a party line, or fitting neatly into a pigeon hole, or kowtowing to the status quo. Instead, they dared (or dare) to do things their own way. And they don’t spend a lot of time apologizing for it, either.
Pope Francis is so refreshing and challenging and admirable because he won’t pretend to be anyone he isn’t even if it would be expedient. He won’t stick to a script written be others – even the script that has served the bureaucrats in the Vatican so effectively for so many generations. His goal is not to have high approval ratings, but to love the world he serves with every fiber of his being – which is bound to feel like a judgment to those who refuse to love even themselves.
As I return from an extended time away to the more normal pattern of daily life, I am trying to retain this still young and somewhat fragile focus. I invite you to join me if this is part of your growing curve, too. I invite you to choose a role model to serve as your beacon. I invite you to maintain a sense of humor – when I don’t take myself quite as seriously, I tend not to pay as much attention to the disapproving comments of others. And I invite you to borrow Martha Beck’s mantra, “What other people think of you is none of your business.”
Then, I invite you to lean toward the new season with enthusiasm and an appreciation for your own unique authenticity.
Text © 2015, Andrea La Sonde Anastos
Photos © 2015, 2013 Immram Chara, LLC