I’ve been reading Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter in concert with a group of folks who have all committed to “Kristin by Christmas!” One passage I particularly loved comes when Kristin goes to stay and be schooled at a convent. Abbess Groa welcomes Kristin with these words:
I have heard good things of you, and you seem to be clever and well brought up, so I do not think you will give us any reason for displeasure. I have heard that you are promised to that noble and good man, Simon Andressøn, whom I see before me. We think it wise of your father and your betrothed to send you here to the Virgin Mary’s house for a time, so you can learn to obey and serve before you are charged with giving orders and commands. I want to impress on you now that you should learn to find joy in prayer and the divine services, so that in all your actions you will be in the habit of remembering your Creator, the Lord’s gentle Mother, and all the saints who have given us the best examples of strength, rectitude, fidelity, and all the virtues that you ought to demonstrate if you are to manage property and servants and raise children.
I love the connection Abbess Groa makes that those who are entrusted with command must be able to learn to obey and serve. In modern, secular contexts, it’s very seldom that I hear obedience and docility cited as prerequisites to leadership or management of others. Kindness, yes, but yieldingness, not often.
The non-specifically religious context where I’ve seen it most beautifully praised is Matthew Crawford’s Shop Class as Soulcraft. Becoming a maker of things, he argues, means being mastered by reality, “The tradesman must reckon with the infallible judgment of reality, where one’s failures or shortcomings cannot be interpreted away.” Or, as he puts it in a longer passage:
In any hard discipline, whether it be gardening, structural engineering, or Russian, one submits to things that have their own intractable ways. Such hardness is at odds with the ontology of consumerism, which seems to demand a different conception of reality. The philosopher Albert Borgmann offers a distinction that clarifies this: he distinguishes between commanding reality and disposable reality, which corresponds to “things” versus “devices.” The former convey meaning through their own inherent qualities, while the latter answer to our shifting psychic needs.”
Kristin’s time at the convent, Crawford’s time with motorcycles both offer the chance to see the limits of our own wills. We are truthful when we are docile to reality, be it physical or moral reality. For her sake and for the sake of those she will command, Kristin must be able to yield to what (and Who) is true, rather than let her will create an alternate reality.
Ooh…this is making me want to re-read Kristin though I don’t know if I can get through the whole thing by Christmas.
“Kristin must be able to yield to what (and Who) is true, rather than let her will create an alternate reality.”
This is the greatest problem that I see among my more modern friends: that they assume that living in “their” reality is a viable course of action.
The distinction between things and devices makes sense. The question becomes whether marriage and sex is a thing it a device. I think artificial contraception did a lot to make people view first sex and then marriage as devices. I am thinking that describing them would not even feel wrong to them. Yet it might show to some how fundamental a shift it is in how we view the beginning of life. That is going to impact how we view human life in total.
SlateStarCodex has a link up about occupations that are more right-leaning vs. ones that are more left-leaning. It pretty much matches up with your writing here, with the occupations that are mundane and concrete having people who are more conservative. Though I don’t think “docile to reality” is the explanation given by most who’ve read that link (though I think you’re on target!)
Interesting! I hadn’t made that connection myself.
Ohhh! I’m excited to hear what you think of the book. I read The Wreath several years ago but then fizzled out for various reasons without finishing the rest. I recently finished The Wife and The Cross and loved it, but I find it incredibly difficult to talk about, because there’s no real plot and “a novel about life, sin, grace, and suffering” is not an easy sell.
I too don’t think I’ve ever heard someone describe being docile as a necessary quality for a leader, but it’s so very Benedictine and I love that way of expressing it.