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Self-Promotion

Thank God the year 2017 was not a major election year and we were spared the barrage of political advertising. Every time I am relieved once the election season is over. Especially these days, political campaigns seem to be unending. More than the endless stream of ads, what irks me is the negative tone of those TV commercials. As the years go by, we are witnessing more negative and more mean-spirited campaigns.

 

In political advertising – as well as in every other type of advertising – we use a special type of language. We use promotional discourse. Every political candidate, whether on the left or on the right, keeps telling the citizens, “Elect me because I am better than the other guy. Even if I am not better, the other guy is worse than I.” The candidates toot their horn and tell people how wonderful they are.

Unfortunately it is not only political advertising that uses promotional discourse. We have to “sell’ ourselves to get into certain universities and programs. In our culture we have to “sell” ourselves to get a job. We are trying to convince everyone how unique we are. Our fascination with Facebook and our constant urge to update our status, all these speak to our need to promote ourselves. Everyone wants to be noticed and everyone wants to be recognized. Our consuming passion to be on camera demonstrates our desire to convince others of our greatness. In his powerful book, The Road to Character, David Brooks bemoans the fact that nowadays we are more concerned about what is on our resume than what people will say in our eulogy.

About twenty-five years ago a Canadian sociologist, Andrew Wernick, published a book entitled Promotional Culture. The author claims that our postmodern culture is obsessed with promotion. This discourse of advertising and selling has entered into every sphere of the American culture. Sports teams are constantly engaged in selling themselves so that their sports arenas and stadiums will be filled. Political parties are more interested in promoting themselves in order to get re-elected than in governing. Universities advertise during games in order to win more students. In our media-obsessed culture, people are convinced that they have arrived if they are on TV or if they have a few twitter followers. Even churches engage in marketing and advertising in order to bring more faithful into the sacred precincts.

While I recognize the valid use of these means in business and industry, I feel that we need to fight the temptation to promote ourselves. Jesus did not promote Himself. When He worked a miracle such as restoring the sight of a blind man, He warned the individual not to publicize it. Speaking of almsgiving, Jesus urged His listeners to give in such a way that “the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.” When we pray, Jesus said, we should do it in secret so that the Father Who sees in secret will reward us. The Master asked us to imitate Him in His humility. St Augustine said that the first, second and third secret of holiness is humility.

The danger of self-promotion is that we put greater emphasis on how others see us rather than who we are. How often we all have been frustrated when people believe wrong things about us? We want to go around setting them straight. In those moments we come to understand that what we are in the eyes of God is far more important than how others perceive us. If we give in to self-promotion we are more likely to be disappointed. We are better off placing our trust in the Lord and live as authentically as we can.

In a little poem, “The Man in the Glass,” the poet pens these opening verses:

When you get what you want in your struggle for self

And the world makes you king for a day,

Just go to the mirror and look at yourself,

and see what that man has to say.

For it isn’t your father or mother or wife

Who judgment upon you must pass;

The fellow whose verdict counts most in your life

Is the one staring back from the glass.

True happiness comes from being authentic. It does not matter whether others applaud us or chide us. How our God sees us and how we see ourselves in the mirror – these are the things that will determine our self-worth and sense of fulfillment. As the English bard, William Shakespeare, said, “To thine own self be true!”

Let us lift up our children in prayer. Let us teach them that how they stand in God’s presence is far more important than their Facebook profile. I encourage all our families to pray daily for our country. May the Lord give us leaders who follow the laws of God and respect the teachings of Christ!

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

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