Issue Date: February 22, 2008
By UCA NEWS
Fr. Adolfo Nicolás, the 30th superior general of the Society of Jesus, was serving as president of the Jesuit Conference of East Asia and Oceania at the time of his election Jan. 19.
The 217 electors attending the Jesuits 35th General Congregation elected the 71-year-old Spanish priest, who has spent most of his life in Asia, to head their society after Pope Benedict XVI accepted the resignation of Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, 79.
About 16 months before the election, a Jesuit scholastic interviewed Nicolás about his preferred leadership style, conflict resolution, challenges the Jesuits face and leadership values he wanted to inculcate in young members. The following are excerpts from that September 2006 interview.
UCA News: Jesuits are supposed to follow their superiors. What
are your experiences as a superior regarding this?
I personally think obedience can be very creative and very helpful when it is open, when there is inner freedom. This is what St. Ignatius very much supported. If there is no inner freedom, it is very difficult to make the right choices. ...
Blind obedience sometimes is what people think of as true obedience -- whatever the superior says, right or wrong, you have to follow it. However, blind obedience, I think, as a norm would be a disaster, for the Society or anybody. For Ignatius it is an exceptional case, in times of crisis. ... This is very rare.
Obedience without imagination is not good, neither for the church, for people nor for oneself. ...
How do you deal with conflict?
Also the alternative does not mean we always have to find the perfect solution. There is no perfect solution. In this imperfect world, how we can move imperfectly but make sense and make the best of the situation is important -- even in situations where, whether in canon law, Jesuit law or so forth, there are what you call prescribed solutions. But even in these situations, I like to look for other options, because the law does not consider every possible case. ... People are different. Therefore, even if there are solutions in the law, Id like to think outside the law -- not against the law but outside the law. Are there other alternatives?
I am convinced that very often, we have to compromise. Compromise is not a negative thing, to say: Oh, I give up. No, in compromise you dont give up. You accept reality, realizing at this stage this is the best that we can do. Maybe we need to come up with another strategy [to change] the way people think. Maybe at a different stage, say two years from now, something different can happen.
Which leadership style or school appeals to you the most?
Religious life, religious orders are associations of free people. This is not the military; its not the law of the country. ... It is important that people know what they are involved in, and that they consent to it. Otherwise, sooner or later well find an unconscious, and I underline unconscious, sabotage of the decision. We all have experience of people who say, Yes, yes, but because the heart is not there, things dont work out. Either they become sick, or they become despondent, or they dont cooperate, or there is no energy or no involvement. And so things collapse. If we can anticipate that, then we know this is the wrong decision, because it would be sabotaged. ...
We need to ask: What does this imply? Do people know why [they are asked to do certain things]? Do they correspond to our values and priorities? Are we consistent? ...
Does consensus work in the short-term? Or does it require more
What leadership principles or values do you want to inculcate in
The world is changing at a tremendous rate, everything -- communication, [technological] possibilities and all that. In this situation we need a lot of flexibility, and the only way to be flexible is to be imaginative -- to realize that all the possible variations are not just in fiction novels, they are in reality.
The second thing would be ... that we have to live with people and walk with them. Its very easy for us to imitate what has succeeded before. Thats a common tendency: So and so has been successful in Europe, in America, Japan, so we do it here. ...
Take East Timor or Cambodia for example -- we have to see what the real needs of education are, what is happening in those countries. So we need to be very close to the people, our ears close to the ground and then grow with them. Start small, work with them and recreate all the time with them, responding to new needs. Our institutions have done a tremendous service and now they are asked to do something different. Do they have the ability to move with people, to be part of their growth? ...
The third point I would say is connectivity. ... Take for example the Internet. It provides fast communication, but not face-to-face communication. We dont see persons and their needs, and so people are conditioned to act like machines. We become impatient when we work with people and realize they dont function as fast as the Internet or machines. We want people to work in a certain way. We want to impose our values or principles. So when I refer to connectivity, Im referring in particular to human connectivity.
National Catholic Reporter, February 22, 2008
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