Monday, May 14, 2012

What One Individual Can Do

A Korean bishop has consistently shown the readers of his column in the Catholic Times how to select the moral and Christian values that will ultimately change the world into a more beautiful and healthier place.

We have, the bishop said, seen persons who have given their life savings to help the poor, those who take care of their health by a new way of living, those who are helping the marginalized of  society, those who are more interested in being of service to others than in making money. This attitude, he says, is spreading in society.

It is easy to think there is little that can be done by a single individual in our consumerist society, he said. Yet there are many who are living the resurrected life of Jesus in our world. The bishop tells us about a woman in her late 60s who went to the home office of Goldman Sachs, one of the most powerful investment banks in the world, to offer some advice.  Three of the officials greeted her politely. She had three requests: executive salaries should be controlled; there should be transparency in the running of the company; and the poor should be remembered. This woman is Sister Nora Nash, a religious sister belonging to the Franciscan order.

Sister has been watch-dogging  the corporate world since 1974, when she became interested in the by-products of world investment: polluting of the environment, and the low salary of workers. Deciding to do something about the situation, she took some of the money from the sisters' severance pay plan to buy shares in different companies, so she would  have  the right to speak at the meeting of the shareholders.  By doing this, she wielded an extraordinary amount of power. When the companies realized who she represented they had to be concerned.

In 1981, when she attended the general meeting of the  General Electric Company, the president of the company at that time was so impressed by Sister Nora that he went by helicopter to meet her at her convent.  There are CEOs that continue to consult with Sister on her ideas. Sister's movement, in 1979, joined the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility (ICCR), whose principles are based on the teachings of Christianity.

The bishop concludes the column by telling us that it is not only in the United States, but other countries are also spreading the values of Christianity; changing how these enterprises operate will help change the world, he said. The sisters' severance pay was a way of being salt and light to the world.  This is a good example, the bishop reminds us, of an answer to the challenges the world is giving us, and how answers to similar problems in the future should be discovered and implemented by first discerning the underlying moral values of Christianity as they apply to any troubling situation. 

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