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  • David OMalley

Democracy needs discernment


There is no real democracy without discernment. Discernment cannot be delegated to the media. It is the responsibility of each one of us to seriously weigh the arguments for a major choice. It is never enough to swallow a sound byte and echo it back in a ballot box.

With so much sophistication in the media that they could sell sand in the desert it is difficult to see how the normal busy voter can ever come to a balanced choice without suspecting that they have been manipulated or fed false facts. As a voter what can I do? How do I decide?



Pope Francis, in his recent encyclical, Christus Vivit, said that “Discernment has to be born of an openness to listening – to the Lord and to others, and to reality itself, which always challenges us in new ways”. There has been a lack of openness to others in the polarisation of an in or out vote. Instead we have dug in more resolutely to our own positions. Such either or options takes us back to a very primitive form of choice making by tossing coins or spinning bottles. It is inadequate, it leads to division and later to resentment. Instead the aim of discernment is to reach a “both and” way forward that unites the community even if the outcome does not suit all.


In the document of the synod on youth and discernment we read that “every personal discernment puts a question to the community, inviting it to listen to what the Spirit is saying through the spiritual experience of its members. (105) So, the church encourages us to listen to our experience, to recognise the heart-felt convictions of others and not to demonise them. It asks us to follow the age-old pattern of discernment best expressed by the young Christian Workers: “See, Judge, Act.” In the case of Brexit, seeing ahead is very difficult because it is an unknown surrounded by speculation. It is difficult to judge when the implications are not clear but if we are to act, we need to do that together as a community putting behind us the fatal mistrust that undermines discernment. Let us hope this election campaign may provide a new opportunity for such communal discernment.

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