For Whom is the Meeting the Message?

Meeting the Message

Just a couple weeks ago, the grand imam of a major Sunni University, Ahmad el-Tayeb, met Pope Francis at the Vatican for a peaceful conversation. The pope sat facing the grand imam beside his desk instead of with the desk between them as a gesture of equality. More awkward than fraternal, if you ask me–unless you account for the cameras. It definitely looked good as a featured image for online articles.

Which brings me to the most interesting part of the story, reported by the National Catholic Reporter: “‘The meeting is the message,’ the pope told Ahmad el-Tayeb, the grand imam of al-Azhar University, as the religious scholar approached him just inside the door of the papal library.” Once again, that’s a good line, but it’s almost too good. It only makes sense if the cameras are present. Without the cameras, he probably would have said something genuinely more touching, like “welcome, brother” or something like that. But this line is almost a preemptive commentary on the sure-t0-be mediated event. It’s like the pope is telling the global audience “don’t pay attention to the words we say; the meeting itself is what matters.”

Am I crazy, or was Marshall McLuhan right when he said to Edward Wakin, “…when things speed up, hierarchy disappears and the global theater sets in. [Today] the Pope is obsolete as a bureaucratic figure. But the Pope as a role-player is more important than ever.” And if, hypothetically, pope Francis has been reading McLuhan and taking his role as role-player seriously, does that make him more or less powerful? As we know, “the people” are disenchanted with bureaucracy and politics–even to the point of electing a businessman for president on the basis, for some, of his lack of political experience.

If this is true, then pope Francis isn’t the only global leader working as a role-player rather than a bureaucratic leader. Obama fits that category too. This could be the future (and by “the future,” I mean the present) of leadership in the 21st century.

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About the Contributor

James Ogden Sharpe

James Ogden Sharpe is a black belt from Texas pursuing a Bachelor's in interdisciplinary studies combining anthropology, psychology, and media studies. Were the world's economic, social, and political edifices not crumbling, he would study literature or photography or spend more time at the movies. His work has appeared before many professors and has been generally well-received--in the B+ to A- range. 


  1. Howard Wetzel says:

    Effective leaders are often more influential as role players than commander or boss. The led identify with and want to associate with roles; or the Pope could fall back on the absolute fear of damnation. Which approach conveys openness and mercy better?

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