Sunday, February 16, 2014

Becoming an "Elite"—Prudence

In May 2010, Seth Godin wrote,
In the developing world, there's often a sharp dividing line between the elites and everyone else. The elites have money and/or an advanced education. It's not unusual to go to the poorest places on earth and find a small cadre of people who aren't poor at all. Sometimes, this is an unearned position, one that's inherited or acquired in ways that take advantage of others. Regardless, you can't just announce you're an elite and become one. 
In more and more societies, though (including my country and probably yours [and I'm including virtually the entire planet here, except perhaps North Korea] ), I'd argue that there's a different dividing line. This is the line between people who are actively engaged in new ideas, actively seeking out change, actively engaging--and people who accept what's given and slog along. It starts in school, of course, and then the difference accelerates as we get older. Some people make the effort to encounter new challenges or to grapple with things they disagree with. They seek out new people and new opportunities and relish the discomfort that comes from being challenged to grow (and challenging others to do the same). [...] 
[Becoming an elite is] because of a choice, the decision to be aware and engaged, to challenge a status quo of your choice.
Source: Seth Godin, "Are You an Elite?," Seth's Blog, May 11, 2010, accessed February 16, 2014,

In more general terms, Godin indicates the option that is available to all regardless of their financial or living circumstances, the option to take responsibility for their actions, their lives, their orientation—and ultimately it will be either towards God or away from God. What Godin is actually talking about, when translated into the language of the Catholic heritage of moral philosophy and theology, is the difference between those with prudence (combined with a certain magnanimity) and those without it.

The Jesuit philosopher Bernard Lonergan called this reflective self-appropriation, a series of actions by which we examine our experience, form an insight regarding it, make a judgment, and then decide to act on our insights and judgments. This process is, really, a contemporary version of what St. Thomas called the steps for acquiring prudence: reflection, judgment, action. It is a necessary step in order to be both a good human as human (for those who are legitimately ignorant of Christian revelation, wherever they may be) and a good Christian. Prudence shows us our proper goals and the right means to attain them. Magnanimity encourages us on to endeavor towards great things, those things worthy of honor, those things which give glory to God.

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