Excerpts from a presentation given by Frank Hanna at the Conference, “Human Ecology: Integrating Business and 125 Years of Catholic Social Doctrine,” March 17, 2016
Prosperity is a state of flourishing, and we all know that human flourishing can only truly be flourishing if it’s indeed a spiritual flourishing, but even when we’re speaking about our own Catholic social teaching, I think there’s a constant temptation to get caught up in discussions and considerations of material prosperity.
Material prosperity is not the same thing as spiritual prosperity, and thus, material prosperity is not true human prosperity. By the way, if that’s true, and I believe it is, we need not look to the social teachings of the church and to various encyclicals as guides to producing material prosperity, but rather, as guides to cultivating our spiritual prosperity.
As a businessman, I can give you examples of how building virtuous relationships with various folks with whom I’ve done business have led to material prosperity, but the honest truth is, some of the more materially lucrative endeavors that I’ve had, they weren’t relationships of vice but I don’t know that I really thought of them as relationships characterized by great virtue. They were relationships of integrity and respect and honesty, and I know those things are virtuous, but my point is, the relationships themselves were mostly transactional and that kind of relationship, in fact, can produce material prosperity. But in a world, that for the last century, has become more materially prosperous, for almost everyone in the world, almost continually for a hundred years, with some exceptions for World Wars, I don’t think material prosperity is our biggest challenge. I think spiritual prosperity is. As compared to the gains that world has made in material prosperity, many in our society not only have not gained in spiritual prosperity, but instead, have lost it.
As a business man, when I’m advising young people, I advise them that it is not a matter of which virtuous relationships lead to prosperity, but instead, that only virtuous relationships will actually allow us to truly prosper. Not only that, it’s only through relationships themselves that we are able as human beings to prosper and to flourish. In other words, I maintain that prosperity is a function of virtuous relationships. Now, the two components here, first, one must have human relationships to prosper and second, if those relationships are not virtuous, they won’t lead to prosperity.
Let’s address the virtuous necessity first. Does this mean that we only have relationships with virtuous people? Of course, not. I mean, we all know Christ dying with the sinners, and yet, his relationship with them, they may not have been virtuous, but his relationships with them was virtuous. If indeed only a virtuous relationship allows us to flourish or prosper, how do we ensure that our relationships are virtuous if the other party is not virtuous? Well, our purpose for the relationship has to be virtuous. How do we ensure our purpose is virtuous? We have to be seeking to bring to the other person that which is good for them, that which makes them more fully human, and that’s more virtuous. Stated another way, we must have purity of heart.
Must then everything about every transaction in which we enter be noble? Ideally, yeah. It may not always be evident on the surface. When I do into McDonald’s and order a hamburger and there doesn’t appear to be a lot of virtue going on in what’s taking place, but you don’t notice, when you order a Chick-fil-A. They’re a deliberately Christian company, so when you order and thank them for your food, they’ll respond as they hand you your food, they don’t respond with, “No, problem.” They’ll respond with, “My pleasure.”
They’re indicating to you that the simple act of handing you a chicken sandwich is something that is good for them as they brought value to you. There’s a trace of virtue there. In the commercial world, as effort to embue virtue into our dealings with others, does indeed promote our prosperity. The notion that we must be constantly seeking to provide value to others is indeed critically important in the world of commerce in which I operate. Business school studies that show that a focus on delivering value to customers and employees can indeed create material prosperity. Virtuous relationships create more humanity, not more humans, of course, but more humanity. They truly lead to human flourishing.
I want us to think about the degree to which we make the formation and cultivation of virtuous relationships part of our daily purpose. I also want to make two suggestions as to how we might do that and how we might encourage others to do it.
My first main suggestion to all of us here is that we think about our relationships and how we can make them less transactional. Rather than transactional, I wonder if we might make them more trinity-like. Imagine, if I behaved toward those I care about like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit treat one another. I know that may sound extremely ambitious, even naïve, but when we see human beings act heroically and in a sacrificial manner, that’s essentially what they’re doing. A mother is not rocking and singing to her child for an exchange. The relationship is trinity-like.
The second suggestion I have has to do with a repartization of our concerns. Am I concerned about our culture? You bet. Am I concerned about our political environment? You bet. But am I much more concerned about the state of the families I see in my neighborhood and my parish? You bet. I actually think that of all the places where to use a financier’s term, which is what I am, of all the places where we might get the most leverage and teaching people how to be less transactional in their relationships and how to create virtuous relationships. I don’t think there’s a better place in the world for learning how to do that, the marriage and the family.
Marriage and family are most important elements of our human ecology. They’re the best source of joy and happiness, but within our church, we spend hardly any energy, relatively speaking, preparing for it. I travel all over the country, and outside of weddings, I don’t ever hear a homily about the blessings of marriage and how marriages might be security. I don’t blame Father. I blame us for not encouraging Father to speak about these things, and myself for not speaking about it enough.
Pope Benedict said, “The two greatest apology for the faith are her beauty and her witnesses, her saints.” Pope Francis is asking us to view prosperity, not as something that’s material, but as something that’s spiritual, and I think, I’m becoming convinced that it in the end, the world moves toward credible witness. In other words, the arc is bent with the greatest gravitational force. Those of us in this room, starting with yours truly, have an obligation to be those witnesses, and at this point in history, I think we can most effectively serve that witness by asserting, prosperity is not real if it does not lead to human flourishing. Such flourishing can only occur in virtuous relationships.
We should all seek to have relationships that are less transactional and more donative, more based on the notion of gift, that the best way to train ourselves, the best way to train ourselves for such relationships is through how we act within our own families, and that with the exception of our communion with the Lord, the relationships that are most likely to lead to the prosperity of society are healthy marriages. If we order our own lives toward these realities, we have a chance that society will take note and be persuaded by our witness.
Right now, I’m not sure we have the credibility to lecture society, for we don’t even teach to ourselves and our own communities, but we can if we decide to.