In the face of the US government shutdown and unprecedented political dysfunction, PBS correspondent and Chicago Public Radio commentator Judith Valente suggests that how we got to this place has very little to do with politics and very much to do with habits of the mind and heart.
The solution? Smhe suggests that embers of Congress should read The Rule of St. Benedict, the sixth-century classic guide to monastic living, for advice on how to extricate themselves from this mess.
“Monastic life has endured for 1,500 years. That’s longer than any modern nation-state or corporation. What has allowed it to survive is its timeless wisdom and practical approach to building community and consensus,” Valente says.
Atchison Blue, Valente’s new book, recounts her regular visits to a Benedictine monastery in the heart of America’s heartland, Mount St. Scholastica, in Atchison, Kansas. There, this journalist, who is also an award-winning poet, made a startling discovery: monastic wisdom isn’t “a hopeless throwback to the past, but a window to a future we desperately need in our society.”
Valente suggests our battling leaders could take a lesson from how monastic life is still lived today. It is a world that stresses community over competition, consensus over conflict, service over self-aggrandizement, quiet over chatter, and concern for others over individual gain.
Valente notes that the very first word in The Rule of St. Benedict is not “pray” or “worship,” or even “love.” It is “listen.”
“St. Benedict takes that a step further and says ‘listen … with the ear of the heart.’ I don’t think it’s more talking that’s needed — as some of our political leaders are suggesting — but more listening,” Valente said.
Valente cites a simple formula she learned from the Benedictine sisters at Mount St. Scholastica: Before you open your mouth to speak, ask yourself if what you are about to say true. Is it kind? Is it necessary?
“I know these approaches will seem counterintuitive to many, but somehow they work. I truly believe we wouldn’t be at this impasse in our public discourse or have suffered the economic crisis of 2008 if more of us took monastic values to heart,” Valente added.
As a poet, Valente says she often likes to come at a problem “slant,” as Emily Dickinson writes in one of her poems. “The problem-solving approaches we’ve seen in the past five years are not working,” she says. “So why not try something bold and creative, something that has also passed the test of time?”