WE have a phrase we used to use in the student movement during my days in the University of the Philippines to describe a tactic or a strategy of winning over people to our cause. It’s called “mass line”. Simply put, it reminds us—yes, student activists—to always be at the people’s level, explain social realities in a way people can understand, tap on people’s concrete situations so they can identify with the imperatives of our cause and therefore they themselves decide to act. For those who held opposing views—even perceived as possible “threats”—the tactic was to isolate and neutralise.
More recently, after a government benefit for fulltime students has been withdrawn from me, it was necessary that I find work. Luckily—and I took this as God’s providence for me—I immediately found one. Work was good and interesting. I got to work on a machine again in a pasta-making factory. But just like any new work environment, one gets to meet different kinds of people—some readily friendly, some aloof, and some manifestly (although may not be intentionally) hostile.
With my new job, I found two people of the latter kind. I was puzzled. Why the negative attitude towards me? Well, towards all of us new workers on that factory.
Initially, my reaction was to go back to an old tactic as an activist: Neutralise and Isolate. Consciously I cultivated friendship with other workers on my shift—especially the new workers. I was always on the alert to any actions of the two. I constantly observe them whenever they come to my machine; suspicious that they might do something to jeopardise or sabotage my work. There came a point that I had to talk to my boss about two incidents with the machine.
But at that point I came to a realisation and I asked myself: “Is this how a future deacon supposed to react?” Deacons, more than any other minister of the Church are supposed to be witnesses of the Good News of Christ in the world; in the streets; at home; and at workplaces. Deacons should always be reminded of the advice of one of its own—St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words.” We should witness our faith and the faith of the Church more with our actions.So I decided, instead of the tactic of neutralizing and isolating them, I should instead be employing the tactic of mass line. Or more appropriately, I should be employing the mass line of Jesus. Facing negative attitudes I should respond with friendship and charity. As my wife said, teasing me: “Kill them with kindness!”
After that I tried to be more positive in reacting to my two co-workers. Instead of stressing what they could do to my machine, I learned to give them the benefit of the doubt. If I disagree with them, I tell them but always making sure to communicate that I appreciate what they were trying to do—that is to help me. After every disagreement I make sure to tell them: “We’re alright.” I also started saying “thank you” every time they helped me with something—whether supplying ingredients, packing products or fixing minor faults. I also try to show them that I am there also to help them—with simple gestures such as throwing the content of their rubbish bins after my work. Furthermore, I try to make an effort to talk to them about things other than work. For example, I asked one of them about their home country; about their language—something or anything about them! And I try communicating to them that I am interested—really interested in knowing them as a person.
It may still be premature to make a judgment but somehow, I am starting to notice small changes in their attitude towards me. They are more ready to engage in small talks with me—with us new workers. They are also more helpful than before—even giving me the usual Italian coffee that I am beginning to love!
Although their sudden change in attitude could be the result of my brief talk with the boss, I would like to think that it is also the result of my effort to be more positive towards them. I’d like to think that kindness, friendship and charity have more effect. Because I believe that the friendship and charity of Christ is more irresistible than any other response. To respond to aggressiveness with equal aggressiveness may lead to more conflict, escalation of negative attitudes, even violence. But who could resist the charity and friendship of Jesus? And because deacons should be icons of Christ the servant, we should reflect Jesus in us.
If the “mass line” tactic of activists is good in winning over people, how many more people can we win over if we employ the “mass line” of our Lord? Besides, being friendly is also good to the health. ###
Post script: Today, I was admitted to the Ministry of Acolytes by our Archbishop together with two other men preparing for the permanent diaconate and five seminarians preparing for the priesthood. Please pray for all of us so that we may be worthy to be God’s servants and the Church’s ministers.