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Issue Date:  October 26, 2007

From the Editor's Desk

Problems without solutions

A year ago, I was attending a talk given by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. She was addressing the options available concerning the war in Iraq and said quite frankly, “There are no good solutions.” Later in the year, I was attending another talk about organizational planning and the speaker said to us, “There’s no such thing as the best option. There’s only the best option given the circumstances of a particular situation.”

Quite often, stories in NCR deal with questions of what we ought to do. If we try hard enough, a solution should become apparent. But often it doesn’t. Whether we are talking about war, medical ethics, church accountability, family challenges or ecological concerns, the dilemmas seem unceasing -- many of the answers have their own set of problems. We console ourselves by acknowledging that our response may not be the best, but it’s the best we can do for now.

This week’s issue of NCR is no exception. Within these pages, you will find dilemmas enough to keep your moral compasses spinning.

While surfing the Internet, I came upon a Web site called the Virtues Project, which is devoted to virtues and the awareness of their importance for our lives. How often do we focus on the question “What ought we to do?” to the neglect of its necessary partner “Who ought we to be?” The two questions are as inseparable as the two sides of a coin.

The nature of my role at NCR forces me to engage difficult questions on a regular basis. It comes with the territory. People ask me how I remain calm in the midst of what seems like chaos. I confess that the reality is more like the image of a duck calmly swimming on the surface of the water while paddling like hell underneath.

No matter how complicated life gets, the only way I get through all of it is by reminding myself of the Gospel imperatives to show compassion, to be generous, to be understanding and tolerant, to be gracious and thankful -- the virtues that are a major part of the Catholic tradition. The solution to difficult problems often needs to start with the question: Who are we called to be as people of the Gospel?

By changing the starting point, our attention goes from one of problem-solver to one of relationship, not just with others but with God and all of creation. With the switch of a word, being instead of doing, the choices we make get grounded in the reality of our own Gospel calling to be virtuous people, to be purposeful and responsible, to be trustworthy and forgiving, to be persevering and courageous.

For example, to care about a perpetrator generates a very different response from simply dealing with the offense. To have compassion requires us to listen. To be creative is to dare to see things in new ways.

The Virtues Project reminds us that language shapes character. “The way we speak and the words we use have great power to discourage or to inspire. It is a frame of reference for bringing out the best in ourselves and in others. It helps us to become the kind of people we want to be.”

The Virtues Project can be found on the Web at:

-- Sr. Rita Larivee, SSA

National Catholic Reporter, October 26, 2007

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