Was Jesus a Shrewd Animal?

That was the title of the reflection offered by my friend Dave Bateson at Weekly Manna the other day, which focused on thinking about networking from a Christian perspective.

Dave started by reading an excerpt from David Brook’s’ recent book, The Road to Character. In the portion he read, Brooks talks describes our society as functioning within a merit system the encourages us to treat every occasion and every other person as an opportunity for personal advancement. As a result, Brooks suggests that our meaning of “character” has changed. Instead of using terms like self-sacrifice, integrity, and generosity to describe character, we use terms like self-control, grit, tenacity. In short, a change from characteristics that risk our success in worldly terms to those that make us more likely to succeed – what Dave calls a shrewd animal.

Dave stressed that there is nothing wrong with networking, and recognizes the value to our students in doing so. But, he suggested, there is a problem when our short-term goal (e.g., getting a job) replaces the humanity of the people involved. When we put time only into those people who can give us something and only for so long as they do so. When we make decisions about who we spend time with in stark cost-benefit terms.

And that brought Dave to the question that was the title of his talk. If Jesus had been a shrewd animal, he would have connected with the scribes and Pharisees rather than criticizing them. If Jesus had been a shrewd animal, he would have been the military leader the Jews of his time wanted the Messiah to be. Instead, Jesus chose to connect with people who could do absolutely nothing to advance his earthly interests. Instead, he said and did a lot of things that all but guaranteed his failure in the way the world measures success and failure

If we would be like Jesus rather than behaving as a shrewd animal, Dave suggested, our networking should focus on relationships rather than solely on benefit to ourself (in Catholic terms, we speak of seeing others as ends and not as means) and our goals should be authentic relationships.

Dave had some great suggestions for our students of questions to ask themselves to examine how they are approaching their networking, and made some great comments about how counter-cultural this way of thought is. I am hoping he will write up an full version of his remarks; if he does I will amend the post to include a link to it.