It’s not very often that I talk about politics or religion when I’m writing in a business forum. There are plenty of other places to go to get that kind of insight and opinion, to which there’s not a lot for me to add. But the outpouring of emotion following the death of the pope has been fascinating to ponder, and I think there are a few connections to business and commerce worth thinking about.
I can’t say I’ve been a cheering fan of what many Catholics refer to as the Roman Party. Like any powerful institution made up of human beings, it has a lot of flaws that bear real scrutiny. But I suspect there’s a profound social value in having in our midst a strong institution that views time in the span of hundreds of years, rather than 4 fiscal quarters, and that places the dignity of life above the pursuit of a dollar.
When I see the images of millions around the world paying their respects to Karol Wojtyla, I suspect it’s not so much about his policies and positions as it is about the legacy of a man who didn’t shrink from power, but had the strength to sustain a vision of human dignity for a lifetime without tripping over the trappings of power. Whether or not you appreciate his policies or his legacy, it’s hard to ignore the integrity and perseverance he brought to a very human struggle with some of the most difficult challenges of our time. We no longer seem to really expect or demand integrity as a quality of our politicians, our business leaders, or our cultural stars. But when we see it, I believe the better part of us remembers its value.
I’ve seen a few of the over-produced media obituaries for Pope John Paul II this weekend. Such a self-conscious sense of having a ring-side seat to history. I think there’s something lost when we reposition the man as superman, so unlike us that his struggles almost seem like a stage device–as if the struggle is more symbolic than real. But I also suspect we need to market virtue to ourselves; we need to distill the essence of integrity, enshrine it, and package it for the masses in a language we all understand, to be consumed as a clear and universal truth.
In a real sense, Karol Wojtyla has become a product. In the coming weeks, his brand will move untold millions of dollars in the name of commemoration. It’s easy to be cynical about this, but if it makes you stop for a moment in the middle of your business life and think about what you stand for and what you’re willing to do about it, it’s worth it.
We could do worse.