For all the talk about Pope Francis’ techno-savvy — and 10 million Twitter followers ain’t bad for a 80-year-old churchman — he doesn’t seem sold on Silicon Valley’s endless promises.
As he wrote in his 2016 encyclical, Laudate Si, all those tweets and selfies and vlogs can add up to a whole lot of “mental pollution” that distracts us from what is really important.
“When media and the digital world become omnipresent, their influence can stop people from learning how to live wisely, to think deeply and to love generously,” he wrote in the encyclical.
It’s not surprising, then, that it took more than a year, and some persistent asking, to get the Pope to record a talk from Vatican City for TED’s international conference in Vancouver on Tuesday evening.
“In this complicated and often confusing world, Pope Francis has become possibly the only moral voice capable of reaching people across boundaries and providing clarity and a compelling message of hope,” Bruno Giussani, TED’s international curator who organized the Pope’s talk, told The Washington Post.
The theme of TED’s conference was “The Future You,” and Francis did what he does best, delivering a plainspoken sermon on the importance of interconnection and tenderness. Essentially, he told the academics and innovators, scientists and techies, there is no “you,” without an “us.”
Like any good preacher (or Ted talker), Francis made his case with three key lessons.
I am a rock (but no island)
The Pope said he liked the title of the TED conference, because it starts a conversation about the future. But, he said, that future is only achievable if we stick together.
“Quite a few years of life have strengthened my conviction that each and everyone’s existence is deeply tied to that of others,” Francis said. “Life is not time merely passing by, life is about interactions.”
The Pope said he often thinks about his grandparents, migrants from Italy who moved to Argentina, and how they would have fared in today’s cutthroat world and “culture of waste.”
“I could have very well ended up among today’s ‘discarded’ people. And that’s why I always ask myself, deep in my heart: ‘Why them and not me?'”
You say you want a revolution?
A good preacher challenges his congregation, subtly criticizing the status quo, while urging Christians to get in line with the gospel.
In his TED talk, Pope Francis said scientific and technological innovation is fine, but not when it blinds us to the suffering of people sitting next to us on the subway.
“How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us,” he said.
Too often, Francis continued, modern “techno-economic” systems put products ahead of technology.
Drawing on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the Pope noted that two men walked by the injured man by the roadside. But one man, the Good Samaritan, stopped. Today’s humanity shares the same story, Francis said.
“People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centered around money, and things, instead of people.”
But all it takes is for one person to stop and help, and change the lives of people around us.
“A single individual is enough for hope to exist, and that individual can be you. And then there will be another ‘you,’ and another ‘you,’ and it turns into an ‘us.’ And so, does hope begin when we have an ‘us?’ No. Hope began with one ‘you.’ When there is an ‘us,’ there begins a revolution.
Try a little tenderness
How many people, besides soul singers, talk about tenderness these days?
To Francis, it’s a key theme in his pontificate. To him, it means more than romance and sweet nothings. It’s a core Christian value.
“Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future,” Francis said in his TED talk. “To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted Earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.”
Tenderness isn’t for the weak, the Pope continued. It takes spiritual and emotional strength to empathize and act on behalf of the neediest. And the alternative, arrogant and out-of-touch leaders, are like fall-down drunks who hurt everyone around them.
“Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.”