Episode 19: Face of a Franciscan
Today, in episode nineteen, we will reflect on Face Work, a social science discipline that mediators often study and apply. In this context, “Face” refers to our need to be perceived in a positive manner. We want people to like us. We want them to respect or even to admire us.
Face Work consists of helping parties honor each other’s need to be admired, appreciated, and valued. When parties honor each other’s need for respect and esteem, they are helping each other Protect Face or in some cases Save Face. In contrast, when a party ridicules another party, they cause Face Loss. The party who loses Face suffers embarrassment, confusion, and damage to their self-image. This halts the mediation process.
Thus, mediators must constantly be helping parties Protect Face, Save Face, or Restore Face. Mediators must be mindful of a party’s image concerns — and realize that people have a substantial need to maintain a favorable self-image. A party who does not feel respected is unlikely to come to mediation.
Sometimes that respect must come from the mediator. The other party may not be ready to give them the respect that they need. For this reason, Face Work becomes an important part of the convening process. In order to get the parties to the table mediators must often restore face.
In contrast, when person’s self-image is undamaged, they have the confidence needed to sustain quality relationships. However, when they suffer Face Loss, they shut down their interactions with others. The threat of Face Loss causes them to abandon all attempts to resolve conflict.
Sometimes, parties seek to Save Face by avoiding any discussion of a conflict. They do not admit a conflict exists. They assume unresolved conflict is a sign that they have lost control. Or they may consider it is not acceptable to fight — they must always be seen as loving and caring. Their need to Protect Face does not allow them to even admit a conflict exists.
Thus, an unwillingness to convene mediation may signal the parties suffer a strong need to Protect Face. Mediators must help them remedy previous Face Loss by Restoring Face. Mediators Restore Face and Protect Face by framing conflict as normal — there is no stigma attached. Conflict is not a cause for embarrassment. And the conflict resolution process is a normal pursuit — for people with good social skills.
When mediators show parties respect they do a lot to Restore Face —and sometimes that is all that is needed to get the process on track. In any event, mediators should also propose process guidelines that Protect Face. When Face concerns are addressed, parties feel safe and their willingness to participate skyrockets.
Faith-based mediation takes Face Work a step further. This is best understood with the help of a phrase that Friar Murray Bodo coined in his book The Threefold Way of St. Francis. That phrase or concept is “the face of a Franciscan.” In essence, it means greeting others with a gaze that sees the divine in all creatures.
Friar Bodo captures this act of giving Divine Face when he writes: “Everyone wants to know if she or he is good, beautiful, has something to give. The Franciscan gift to them is affirmation of the light, manifest or hidden, of their true face.”
Saint Francis taught his followers that the value of their gaze arises from nothing more than their humble presence. Franciscan Richard Rohr expressed this idea in Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality. He wrote the following:
“There is nothing you need to ‘think’ or understand to be present; it is all about giving and receiving right now, and it is not done in the mind. It is actually a transference and sharing of Being, and will be experienced as grace, gratuity and inner-groundedness.”
In our reflection, we can imagine how the gaze of Francis affected those he encountered as he traveled the countryside. Friar Bodo explains: “The Franciscan charism is to reveal to the world its essentially good and holy face.”
Bodo continues and notes that the world is “so often masked with false faces that twist God’s image into something unrecognizable except to the saints among us who remind us, as St. Francis does, that we are more good than bad.”
The gaze of Francis cuts through the False Self and lights up Divine Self. The “Face of Francis” acknowledges those besieged by conflict are good people. His gift of Divine Face lifts them up and gives them hope. They become willing to mediate.
Peacemakers must become skilled in giving this gift of Divine Face. Before mediation they will want to engage in prayer that fills their hearts with divine love. They will want to turn to the example of Francis who spent the entire night in prayer before he traveled to meet the besieged people of Gubbio, where he tamed the fierce wolf with his prayerful presence.
Friar Bodo explains this prayerfulness when he writes: “This dynamic of focusing on the Other who draws me out and thereby frees me from my own limitations is the very center of what Franciscan prayer is.”
Bodo continues: “Spiritual exercises, silence, solitude – these are not for making me more self-conscious, but for making me aware of the one who made me, loves me, redeems me.”
Thus, once again, we see that peacemaking is grounded in the presence of the Holy Spirit. It involves seeking the path to the Peace of Christ.
After peacemakers become familiar with the Face of a Franciscan, they will want to coach the parties in how to prepare for mediation. They will want to encourage parties to engage in prayer that allows them to see the divine in others. They will want to encourage them to practice giving the gift of Divine Face.
Friar Bodo shares a fascinating story of an experiment he conducted in an airport terminal while waiting for a flight. He writes about greeting the world with the Face of a Franciscan:
“I tried to make eye contact, whispered to each face, ‘I love you.’ It made a difference to me, lifted my heart, and apparently did the same for some of those I passed, who halted briefly on their headlong rush and turned to look at me again as perhaps someone they knew, someone remembered. Some even smiled.”
You may want to conduct this experiment as part of your reflection on the Face of a Franciscan. Go to a shopping mall or an airport or a park and practice seeing the divine in others. With the Face of a Franciscan, lift others up — touch their Divine Self, if only for a moment.
When we practice giving the gift of Divine Face, we impart new vitality to our Face Work. We go beyond Protecting Face, Saving Face, or Restoring Face. When we turn our gaze to see the divine in all others, we transform relationships and bring peace.
Let us conclude this episode by reflecting on another quote from the Threefold Way of Saint Francis. Friar Bodo writes about what happens when Divine Face is shared:
“Awareness of the Other draws me out of self-preoccupation into the loving gaze of God whose countenance absorbs me, makes me forget my own problems or preoccupations, lost as I am in God’s love. It is like the experience of falling in love, when we forget our own blemishes because someone loves us, someone makes us forget about ourselves.”
May God bless you and bring you peace.