Dear Fordham Community,
Today is the Feast of St. Ignatius, when we celebrate our founder, the intellectual and moral genius who left us an extraordinary legacy. But rather than brag about Ignatius himself, we serve his legacy better by remembering his teachings.
Every day at Fordham, we struggle with difficult decisions – the agonizing kinds that leave us so exhausted with decision fatigue we can’t possibly decide what to eat for dinner that night. Most of us, without really knowing it, reach for aspects of the Jesuit principles of discernment, the practice that Pope Francis deems the most important contribution of his Jesuit order.
I can only scratch the surface of discernment here, but I’ll tell you what strikes me most. First and foremost, to make a good decision, you must stop and give it the time it deserves. (By that, I don’t mean forming a committee to talk endlessly about the simplest of choices, but to recognize when a decision really matters and avoid rushing to judgment.)
Second, we also must really dig into the problem itself. Fr. Joseph Tetlow, S.J. (now permanently known around here as Uncle Joe) always tells me, “the solution to the crisis can be found inside the crisis.” It doesn’t work to apply the general principle – the outside answer – to complicated problems. We examine the specifics of our situation and learn from the problem itself, in all its thorny complexity.
In other words, before we can find the answers, we need to seek out more information and insight. To listen, really listen, requires that we:
- stop talking so that we can listen (a struggle for me sometimes);
- seek out information from more than just our usual echo chambers – to bravely reach out to the truth-tellers who will be blunt and honest with us;
- be self-aware – learn the filters and biases that keep us from learning what we hear;
- remain open, try not to let our defenses get triggered and shut down;
- and finally – to seek out different kinds of facts and arguments than we’re used to. If you are an analytical person, listen to the impact on people. If you’re an empath, consider the data and hard facts.
How do we avoid having all of that input create an endless committee meeting inside your own head? How, then, do you decide? Much of Jesuit discernment comes down to this – once you’ve listened hard, gathered insights, and spent time prayerfully considering the options, trust your gut. Try on each possible option in your mind and measure how it feels. Ignatius believed, in a way that was very counterculture centuries ago, that there is real value in the instincts of our hearts. The Jesuits use the word “consolation.” The right thing to do also feels right. It consoles us.
As a community, we make hard decisions for Fordham every day. I hope we can always do it with patience, courage, and wisdom.
Prayers and blessings,