Pragmatism, AA, and an Unlikely Helper

 Br Joseph Ory

“Technological society has succeeded in multiplying the opportunities for pleasure, but it has great difficulty in generating joy.” (Gaudete in Domino I) Chilling words, not because the Church said it, but because you and I have experienced it. We are part of that technological culture, but Gaudete in Domino does not stop there. “Do people perhaps feel helpless to dominate industrial progress, to plan society in a human way?” (The bold is mine.)

You see, through our work, our progress, our advancement, we are trying to make the world a better place but then we don’t feel better after our work. What gives? Although Pope Francis has talked a lot about the dignity of work as a gift from God, sometimes we work hard and then realize that a robot could do our work better. You see, we were working just to work, just to keep ourselves busy. There wasn’t any meaning behind it.

Now that we have realized that we work just to work, we can call ourselves activists or pragmatists and feel that we have reached a great insight. After all, acceptance of the problem is the first step towards improvement. Remember, our goal is meaning.

But now, how can we overcome our activism and pragmatism? Maybe your first reaction is to make a plan, take note of all the instances that we fall into activism and pragmatism, then outline a set of easy yet concrete resolutions to slowly overcome our problems. That’s probably our standard response to our problems: face them and deal with them with responsibility, fortitude, and perseverance like serious, full-grown adults.

Now another insight: your very plan to eradicate your activism and pragmatism is itself activist and pragmatic. The problem is that we can’t think of another way! If activism is my enemy, I assume that I should take up arms against my enemy. But that’s exactly what this sort of enemy intends you to do. But neither does laying down our arms in surrender seem like a viable option.

Instead, I would like to offer a rather roundabout solution from an unlikely source: Alcoholics Anonymous. As part of their 12 step program, you might think that the next step after you have accepted that you are an alcoholic and need help is to plan a new route home from work that does not pass your favorite bar. But you’d be wrong. The 12 step program is not that pragmatic. Instead, and I take this from the solid authority of Wikipedia, the second step is to “Come to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

It might seem crazy, giving the reigns to this higher “power” hoping that this “power” takes away our pragmatism. However, your previous pragmatic plan wasn’t much good either. You see, our pragmatism/activism is a sort of insanity. It leads us to believe that we are good if we accomplish, if we win, if we produce.

Now for those of you believers out there, surrendering to this “power” could be your chance to grow in the virtue of trust in God, abandoning yourself to his plan to improve your life. But “abandoning yourself to God” isn’t a magic formula, and God is not a coke machine.

Here’s where I’d like to tweak the second step of AA for our context: focus on relationship. Think about it. Relationships are not pragmatic. You spend time with friends not really to gain or produce or accomplish… anything. You just want to be with your friends. And that’s a beautiful thing. Just imagine if you had that kind of relationship with God and how that would transform your pragmatism.

So, what relationships do you have in your life? How are your relationships with your siblings, co-workers, kids, parents, neighbors, spouse? How is your relationship with God? What I propose that you do to beat your pragmatism is stop trying to beat your pragmatism and enjoy your relationships. Maybe your pragmatism might just disappear along the way.


Photo Credit: Naveen Kadam

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Pragmatism, AA, and an Unlikely Helper