“In appearing again before you after the great events that have taken place,” Frédéric said in a classroom lecture in 1848, “I am happy to say that, looking back over six years of lectures, I do not recollect one word which I shall have to unsay today.” [Baunard, 261]
For a man of so many words, both written and spoken, to be able to say this is testament to our founder’s embodiment of the virtue of simplicity – frankness, integrity, genuineness. [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] Always saying in the first instance exactly what we mean relieves us of the need to “walk back” statements we have made.
In serving the neighbor, we should never avoid frankness; frankness builds trust. At the same time, we are called to act always with gentleness, and to judge the need, not the person. Vincentians “do not judge those they serve.” [Rule, Part I, 1.9]
Imagine a neighbor who just can’t seem to hold on to a job for very long, and constantly calls for more assistance. Would it be truly honest, truly simple, to say, “we can’t help you anymore”? After all, if the same neighbor were to call next year, having fallen a little short despite keeping a new job for a year, wouldn’t you need to “unsay” that statement in order to help again?
For that neighbor who can’t hold on to a job, we rarely know the reason, although we might suspect. But as St. Vincent reminds us, “Suspicions are often deceiving.” [CCD IV:85] Rather than walk away, or make an accusation based on our suspicions, why not ask, “Why do you think you are having trouble keeping jobs, and how can I help?”
It is rarely true that we really can’t help, but it is often true that we are not sure how best to help. Rather than avoid this truth, perhaps simplicity and friendship call us to explain that we are struggling to find the best way to help. By being honest, we keep the door – and our hearts – open; we show our trust, and hope for trust in return.
The best way to help is not always financial, so we “should never forget that giving love, talents and time is more important than giving money.” [Rule, Part I, 3.1] And there is no better way to offer our love than with simplicity.
How can I be more simple in talking to my neighbors in need?