Georgetown University’s mission statement makes clear that our education is to form “reflective lifelong learners, to be responsible and active participants in civic life and to live generously in service to others.” The university’s location in the nation’s capital and the multitude of programs at Georgetown dedicated to political engagement confirm this mission commitment. Georgetown celebrates civic participation in so many ways, and recently made voting easier for university students by integrating a voter registration portal into MyAccess, Georgetown’s course registration system, and partnering with The Andrew Goodman Foundation on a digital voter engagement website. These efforts have encouraged a culture of civic participation among students, alumni, staff, and faculty.
Political and civic engagement, especially in an election year, can be dispiriting and discouraging, however. Many people turn away from civic life and politics because of the negativity of election campaigns, incessant commercials and advertisements, and the potential that one’s political views can become a source of conflict among families, friends, co-workers, classmates, etc. Despite the messiness of civic participation, which includes voting, advocating for issues and candidates, and encouraging community participation in public policies, this participation is a great good to be pursued. Pope Francis, for instance, describes how “meddling in politics” is virtuous because it is a form of service to the common good. By not voting or engaging in civic life, we run the risk of abdicating our shared responsibilities.
This fall, as we enter more deeply into election season, I share a resource crafted by the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United State. The document, “Contemplation and Political Action: An Ignatian Guide to Civic Engagement,” offers a framework rooted in the discernment tools of the Jesuits and their founder St. Ignatius of Loyola. There are good suggestions in this guide for how to approach the “messy, urgent work of politics” while remaining grounded in one’s personal values and convictions. Different examples of civic engagement from across the Jesuit network–including efforts to confront systemic racism, care for those most marginalized by the COVID-19 pandemic, and protecting the planet against environmental harm–illustrate the diverse ways that we can enter more fully into civic life. An Ignatian Guide to Civic Engagement is intended to be used either in personal reflection or in dialogue with others.
One of the most insightful takeaways of the guide comes from its encouragement to use two kinds of listening in discerning one’s political priorities. Based on the work of Ignatian-inspired author Margaret Silf, dual listening includes the listening of both the “mystic” and the “prophet.” To listen as a mystic is to get in touch “with the invisible currents under the immediate surface of society, and discerning, at this level, what is leading us towards a fuller humanity, and what is diminishing our human-ness.” The prophet, on the other hand, listens by addressing “what the mystic sees, challenging all that is threatening to undermine humanity’s journey towards life-in-all-its-fullness, and encouraging all that is nourishing and empowering that journey.”
These two types of listening about civic participation invite all of us in the Georgetown SCS community to reflect and act on important questions:
- As you live in the world, what social forces do you think are most damaging to human dignity today?
- How are you being called to address these challenges to human dignity, both in your own life and in your collaboration with others in your community?
- Do you take time in your day to notice beauty in the world around you? How does this noticing shape your choices to keep the good of humanity and of the planet in mind?