Over the last year, I have been reading and enjoying the James Bond novels. It is good to get beyond the famous movie franchise and see Bond and the narratives as they were originally portrayed by the author, Ian Fleming.
Fleming’s prose is wonderfully visual and crisp. As the story-line in the novels develops, Bond matures: the tightly-coiled 007 of Casino Royale is simple, harsh and unforgiving; but as his friendships grow, he becomes more complex and thoughtful towards the final novelette, ‘The Living Daylights’.
A few months ago, I was reading ‘Moonraker’, the third in the series, written in 1955, when this early passage startled me:
When Bond came through the door, M was sitting at his broad desk, lighting a pipe. He made a vague gesture with the lighted match towards the chair on the other side of the desk, and Bond walked over and sat down. M glanced at him sharply through the smoke, and then threw the box of matches on to the empty expanse of red leather in front of him.
“Have a good leave?” he asked abruptly. “Yes, thank you, sir,” said Bond.
“Still sunburned, I see.” M looked his disapproval. He didn’t really begrudge Bond a holiday which had been partly convalescence. The hint of criticism came from the Puritan and Jesuit who live in all leaders of men. “Yes, sir,” said Bond noncommittally, “It’s very hot near the Equator.”
“Moonraker” by Ian Fleming (p16-17 Penguin Edition)
I don’t know whether Fleming had any strong religious affiliation, but he obviously felt he had enough knowledge of Jesuit leadership to make his point. I smile and half-know what he is getting at, but it is something of a caricature. Heinrich Himmler, more dangerously, thought that unquestioning obedience he wished incorporated into the Nazi SS was a Jesuit trait, but he too was dealing in a (more diseased) caricature of the reality.
We have been are discussing Jesuit leadership in the Aula in recent days. How do we lead, how do we inspire, how do we listen, how do we make appropriate decisions? In a complex world this is a complex issue and simple solutions will fail because the Society is a living organism that needs (in the Ignatian tradition) the ability to adapt to new circumstances.
Good leadership requires good communication and our team at the GC are a blessing in that way. Individually they help us think, they crystallise those thoughts into words, and help us communicate those thoughts so that we avoid the caricatures that might blunt our God-given mission.
They are a gift in other ways as well…
In the movie, Goldeneye, James Bond arrives at a late-night emergency conference in London.
Bond (played by Pierce Brosnan) stands beside M (played by Dame Judi Dench),who is intently watching a big screen where a secret service disaster is unfolding in Siberia.
“Are these pictures live?” he asks.
“Unlike the American government,” she says icily, “we prefer not to get our bad news from CNN.”