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Friday, August 10, 2012

A Man for All Seasons

Thomas More (1478-1535)
The title [A Man for All Seasons] reflects 20th century agnostic playwright Robert Bolt’s portrayal of More as the ultimate man of conscience. As one who remains true to himself and his beliefs under all circumstances and at all times, despite external pressure or influence, More represents "a man for all seasons". Bolt borrowed the title from Robert Whittington, a contemporary of More, who in 1520 wrote of him:

"More is a man of an angel's wit and singular learning. I know not his fellow. For where is the man of that gentleness, lowliness and affability? And, as time requireth, a man of marvelous mirth and pastimes, and sometime of as sad gravity. A man for all seasons." (Source:

Tonight I ended up thinking about the movie A Man for All Seasons and its title when considering the different approaches required (if any) when one is before a friendly audience as contrasted with a hostile audience. Once I had to speak before an audience and was nervous about it. A person I much admired (and who was an accomplished speaker himself) said privately to comfort me “Just remember, you will be in front of friends.” That is, I could count on the audience pulling for me, wanting me to succeed, always giving me the benefit of the doubt. Contrast this with the situation when one is before a dubious or downright hostile audience. Then, the audience can be condemnatory, wanting the speaker to fail, and questioning—even more—cynically sure that all the speaker's motives are bad. In the first instance one is called upon to flourish in an environment of goodwill. In the second, one is called upon to turn away wrath while undergoing the active siege of ill will.

How does “a man for all seasons” speak under each of these contrasting conditions. Surely and inevitably, there will be some differences between the two. Yet, the core of More's character was his adherence to conscience. No doubt, he assiduously would let “conscience be his guide” in both situations. Jesus gave the following advice: “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say” (Luke 12:11-12 NIV). In a sense, all speeches are impromptu even when prayed about and considered in advance. The important thing to keep in mind is not the attainment of some phony, disingenuous harmony perpetrated by the speaker or the audience, but that both audience and speaker follow the leadings of their conscience even if disagreements occur. It is roundly to be hoped that this understanding “to agree to disagree” will in its own way make for respect and goodwill. This largely depends upon the willingness of both sides to respect integrity born of conscience. In the end, God does not judge us en masse, but individually. Largely, tolerance requires a measure of humility (as, indeed, any contentment of soul depends upon it). When Henry VIII had More beheaded, he mistook himself for God. Thus, a matter of what should have been limited contention was inappropriately escalated to absolute rectitude.

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