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Pope Francis seems a refreshing presence in the Catholic Church these days. He seems to be saying that despite his position he has not lost the common touch, that he wishes to be grounded with his people. Not an easy task, considering the centuries of tradition, his “uplifting” and the pressures of his office. Unlike many of his predecessors, Francis wants to be more of a pastor than an exalted focal point.
Communication theorists must see in the Pope’s attitude and behavior a need to connect with his Church’s population in an embrace that may help to heal the wounds of in-house tragedies of recent years. Pope Francis is wise enough to realize that the hurting and alienation of many Church members need acknowledgement. Thus, he is trying to collapse the distance between the Vatican and the rest of the world. As a Jesuit, he seems more sensitive to the workings of community than the independent, upwardly mobile diocesan priest.
Politicians especially know the power of rolled up sleeves, a firm handshake and eye contact. They struggle in campaigning to create a “narrative” voters can identify with and accept, attempting to establish a credibility that invites not only belief but response at the polls. They strive to be one among – not above or apart from – their constituents.
There is no more effective way to communicate than leveling. Any communication that comes from above or below has in some way to offset inevitable feelings of control or weakness. Leveling asks for and requires presence and respect.
Presence is much more than simply “being there.” It is an energy and an attitude that establishes connection both emotionally and mentally. Presence provides a focus all about relationship and, more than any other factor in the communication process, enhances the clarity and quality of any relationship.
Respect is a synonym for acceptance. It is an essential leveling piece of friendship and even intimacy. Respect wages no war against differences since acceptance is merely the beginning of understanding. Leveling provides the roundtable for putting words to the truth of self and what is going on. There is no clearer way to share respect.
Leveling requires conscious effort and honesty, always. Neither Pope nor politician dare presume they are perceived as one among many. It is up to them to create connections that do not neutralize their roles but enhance them by sharing a sense of oneness with those they serve. Differences may remain but their acknowledgement renders them stepping stones toward a sense of equality and ultimate truth.