From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

‘How we survive as a planet depends on how we stand in relationship to each other’

by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the Oct. 24, 2002 edition of the Inland Register)

As Catholics in the workplace, how do we relate to each other? How do we relate with those around us in our family situations? Does this relating have anything to do with what’s going on in the world today?

Those questions were the focus of an inservice on “Healthy Relating in the Midst of a Complex and Suffering World.” The seminar was given by Adrian Dominican Sister Donna Markham of Toronto, Canada at the request of Bishop William Skylstad at Mukogawa Center earlier this month.

All the employees of the Diocese, about 800 people, attended the inservice or its next-day repeat as part of ongoing education regarding relationships in the workplace. Sister Donna said that Bishop Skylstad had asked her to present the inservice even before the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the current sexual abuse/misconduct crisis.

The world today demonstrates what Sister Donna called a “post-modern reality.” She said this era is “fraught with fragmentation, hopelessness, despair and cynicism, and it affects us on all levels, communally, emotionally, and spiritually.

“How we survive as a planet depends on how we stand in relationship to each other, how we embrace a sense of the Sacred, and how we engage in acts of forgiveness,” she said.

Sister Donna developed this idea in the morning part of her presentation, titled “Signposts of Healthy Development.”

First, she said, “We need to listen to each other’s stories, especially to those with great differences and whose perspectives we don’t understand. That’s an act counter to our culture but that’s what it means to live the Gospel. Who do I dislike? That’s who I should be talking to.”

Next, “we need to find common ground to pray from. There is a judgmental separation that comes out of our fear. When we can’t be with one another in faith, that’s dangerous.”

Then “we can attend to the global crisis,” she said “by dealing with small matters in small ways. I will respond to the poor and suffering, even those most reprehensible to me. I will not be like the rest of society. In and with my church, I will act differently.”

Forgiveness is critical to healthy relationships. Sister Donna told about attending a multi-cultural workshop in her home city. She asked an Eskimo shaman in the group his definition of forgiveness. “It’s giving up all hope and expectation for a perfect past,” he told her. To be a reconciling community means to be a forgiving community, to let go of those things that are past, because the past cannot change.

During the second part of her presentation, Sister Donna talked about the five qualities that make up a healthy community: interdependence, leadership and authority, commitment, a mission focus, and mentoring. She explained about relational styles, and how they have an impact on the well-being of a community.

Interdependence, which is very important, she said, means that people relate at a level of mutual respect, even with those over or under them. People with hidden agendas and secrets greatly affect the interdependence of a community.

“We need to be honest, open, and respectful,” Sister Donna said. “We need to share in straightforward ways, and be aware of how we communicate with each other.” To be interdependent in a healthy way allows for an openness to communal discernment.

When a community has a strong mission focus, it tries to “live out of a profound respect and integrity in the way of Jesus. It has a capacity to form the values of the Gospel.”

Leadership comes in many forms in a community and can be found in other people besides the boss. Those who have leadership qualities “can share decision-making, relinquish control and have good judgement,” she said. Another quality of leadership is that the community will strive for consensus.

Commitment is the “ability to lay aside my personal needs for the sake of the greater good,” Sister Donna said. “Parents do this all the time. But we’re not so good at acknowledging our commitments.”

Mentoring as defined by Sister Donna: “When people meet you, they are called to be better. How we do a thing matters more than what we do, and we need to take mentoring seriously. We ‘author’ the next generation by how we live out the Gospel values.”

People in a community that stands “counter to the culture” have a critical need for contemplative reflection. “If they don’t have it,” Sister Donna said, “it can breed fragmentation of the soul. To be countercultural is sacred, awesome and so important.”

Sister Donna ended her presentation with a compliment. “You are a strong local church. There’s a great spirit here that’s exciting. We bring hope and goodness.

“In spite of the harshness... and the fear, we need to remember there is more life than death, no matter what.”

Sister Donna, who holds a doctorate in clinical psychology, is president of the Southdown Institute near Toronto, a multi-disciplinary mental health care facility treating church professionals.

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