Downward Mobility

A term coined by the late Dean Brackley as part of his contemporary reading of Ignatius' Meditation on Two Standards, Two Leaders.

Mainstream contemporary culture offers individualistic "upward mobility" as the goal of life. It plays on our human sense of insecurity and fear which with September 11, 2001, became globalized: "a sensation of physical insecurity has now spread to people who once felt safe." While "upward mobility" is not in itself bad, it often carries with it a host of satellite features that must be considered dangerous.

Thus Ignatius presents us with the way of Lucifer/Satan. According to Brackley's contemporary reading, it is characterized by covetousness (the rabid pursuit of wealth in the broadest sense of that word), status symbols (catering to our need to belong), the social ladder (some people are more valuable than others), arrogant pride (contempt for "inferiors" like foreigners, addicts, or uneducated people), the outcast and the paragon (the mentally ill, the homosexual, the prostitute, the person with AIDS, the homeless alcoholic on the one hand and the movie star, the president, the CEO, the pope on the other), competition (that undermines trust and community: "from my slippery rung, I perceive the climber below me as a threat"), the pyramid ("authority and power are exercised as domination to contain weaker groups and keep them dependent, ignorant, and divided"), mistrust and coercion (generating a climate of fear), cover-up (required by inequality, systematic unfairness, and corruption).

In contrast to this way of Lucifer/Satan, the way of Christ is "downward mobility." It is characterized by faith ("by which we abandon ourselves to God's care, [allowing us] to let things go and share what we have"), indifference to honors ("our dignity and our standing before God do not depend on our merits but on God's goodness [providing] a solid sense of security"), recognizing others' humanity; sharing ("Christ addresses us through the outcast, enticing us . . . to recognize the crucified outcast-not the celebrity paragon-as the measure of humanity"), humility as solidarity ("solidarity is the social meaning of humility; humility as solidarity is the foundation of a just society; it leads to sharing the obscurity, misunderstanding, and contempt experienced by the poor"), a community of equals (that "resists pyramids of inequity" and stewards "personal talents for the benefit of all), and cooperation (replacing cutthroat competition). In short . . .

  • Communities of "new human beings" and humane relations must exercise prophetic witness to unmask the great cover-up. They must be places from which to work for a more hospitable world-for a society where . . . "everyone has a place" and where . . . "it is easier for people to be good."

Dean Brackley, The Call to Discernment in Troubled Times: New Perspectives on the Transformative Wisdom of Ignatius of Loyola (New York: Crossroad, 2004).