Mr. Robert Storey

In a political environment where there seem to be no good choices; where the choices for our next leaders all seem to be in direct contradiction with our values, what is a man to do?

Vote? For whom? Write my senator? Will they listen?

If you ask me, a man is called to action, and action is more than telling someone else what you want them to do. It certainly isn’t complaining to your friends and coworkers about the depressing state of things. We need to take action where we can really make a difference.

Few of us stand a chance at changing the federal policies, but we can change things in our town, in our business, and in our families.

The Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace published a helpful document called The Vocation of the Business Leader (VBL). An essential thing worth highlighting from this document is the call to subsidiarity. Even though it was written specifically for businessmen, the teachings provide profound lessons for how we ought to order our whole lives.

So, subsidiarity; what even is that? Subsidiarity is a principle which states that governance should take place on the lowest possible effective level. It first recognizes that communities comprise several layers. Within a larger community exist many smaller communities. For example, within the Church, there exist many dioceses, which are all united in common purpose and are all in union with Christ; but at the same time, each particular diocese faces unique challenges and opportunities. Further still, within each diocese there exist many parishes, and likewise, within each parish, there are many families. Just as each family is made up of many individuals, who contribute unique gifts and fulfill unique roles making up a diverse, but unified family, so each parish and each diocese make up a larger diverse, but united Church.

A society which respects the principle of subsidiary recognizes that the flourishing of individuals and society at large “entails the best use of [individual’s] intelligence and freedom. Human dignity is never respected by unnecessarily constraining or suppressing that intelligence and freedom” (VBL 48). Notice, there are times when the intelligence and freedom of the individual should be constrained, but this is only when individuals (or smaller communities) are unable to effectively govern themselves. I don’t think anyone would argue that a 4 year old’s freedom should be constrained when it comes to choosing his diet when his preference is sweets or in choosing his toys when a sharp object catches his eye.

But when should we constrain someone’s intelligence and freedom? VBL points us to a quote from Pope St. John Paul II:

“A community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good” (VBL 48)

So when there is a need that a lower community cannot fulfill for itself, or when a lower community needs to be directed in order to maintain unity with the larger body, it would be appropriate.

Unfortunately this is often not the case in America. Often times the Federal Government imposes its will when there is no need for it to interfere with local governance. We see men standing up against these abuses both in business and law, but this is not all of our calling. If you have the ability to influence the governance of the state, please do. Many of us need to consider getting involved in politics, especially on the local level. So do consider representation within your town, but we also need to look at the realms of influence we already possess. Within our own businesses, no matter the level to which we have risen, we need to consider how to give freedom to those in our charge. Freedoms directed toward helping them grow into their full potential. How can we give them a task (maintain the unity of the larger body) while trusting in their intelligence and ability to find a way to accomplish their duty?

I’m a high school teacher. In education, this comes in the form of “flipping” the classroom, and this is a constant trial for me. “Flipping” the classroom can happen in different ways, but it essentially boils down to giving students the tools to educate themselves and relying on the students to teach themselves, rather than just spoon-feeding the material. It is so easy to just lecture at my students and tell them what to think, and often time that is exactly what they want to done for them, because it is easy. They don’t have to think. But for me to do this, is for me to have a lack of trust in their ability to do the work, to research hard questions, test different approaches to these questions, and come to the correct conclusion.

If I condition them to just hear and accept what they are told by authority, then what happens when they listen to what they are fed by the media? Well, we can see what is happening now. This is not the case only with our children; we do this ourselves far too often. Take a look at how the media has twisted what Pope Francis’ words. He has only been speaking truths spoken by his predecessors; but by taking quotes out of context, we are fed lies. How many Catholics think that he really is going to change the Church’s teachings on divorce, homosexuality, or any other hot topic? When I don’t trust my students with research projects and when I don’ trust them to debate with themselves and others, I am conditioning them to be fools subject to the loudest voice.

Now they are learning how to think well, and they do need direction. I’m not saying educators should give them free reign. It is our task as men to mentor those who are under our influence and this means giving them appropriate levels of autonomy, and damn is it hard to find the balance.

Each one of our businesses have the opportunity for us to help raise up others to their full potential, and it is our responsibility to make sure this happens. How can you structure your workplace to give others the opportunity to practice problem solving, to come up with creative expressions of their intelligence? Can you give opportunities for workers to grow in skill or understanding? Can you help them find value in themselves and others through their work? Can we give less oversight and more vision to our employees and coworkers? How can we make work a place to develop ourselves as humans?

And this does not stop when we clock out.

For the family man: All of this applies to the family, and really even more so to the family. This is the place of primary influence; this is the place where you have the most control. Does the structure of your household lead to the flourishing of your children? Is it a place where they have and fulfill responsibilities? Do they learn what it is to serve others when it would be easier to play video games or watch Netflix. Do they learn to cook, clean, save money, and tithe? Are you teaching them how to effectively communicate with other people, and more importantly with God? The list could go on. There are so many skills and virtues that need to be learned, and can most effectively learned in the home, and are you and your wife being intentional to pass these things on.

For the single man: This looks a little different for the single man since he may find himself with roommate or two whether in a dorm, a house off campus, or with a couple roommates during your first few years of work. How can you develop good habits and develop a sacrificial heart with your roommates? Listen when you’d rather watch television (and this probably means you’ll have to intentionally ask them how their days went), establish roommate meals once a week, and go hang out with purpose, doing something truly valuable.  Make a commitment to go to Mass together, make a Holy Hour as a household. Be creative in ways to form community and develop yourself with the help of your roommates.

The principle of subsidiarity hinges on this: We need to start small to do something great. The smaller the scale, the greater influence you have and the better you will be able to bring about the good. Is our home, is our work a place that brings out the best in each person present?

Start with your city council, school board, any local governance that you have a passion and talent for. Start with your business, whether you are in management or low-level labor. Start with your family, your roommates, and shape the young that you encounter. Build trust in your local community and help people see how a Catholic worldview can help us create a more just and thriving world. This takes time, but be patient and get to work.

(Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Vocation of the Business Leader, Vatican City: 2012).

  • The Immaculata

    If the Holy Father would speak clearly instead of ambiguously, then the media would have no opportunity to twist his words. At a time when moral confusion reigns both within and without the Church, we need Pope Francis to simply and authoritatively speak the truth. That’s really his most essential job. Let’s pray that he will do this soon, before more souls are led astray.

  • David W. Cooney

    An important difference between subsidiarity and the view more commonly accepted in our society is that the higher levels don’t get their authority from the lower levels. What authority they have is natural to them by their existence. This distinction is important because it is the basis for a true view of what some people call “limited government.”