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Official Newspaper of the Catholic Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin
February 15, 2002 Issue

Difficult people make schmoozing fun

Catholics can schmooze evangelize by reaching out when entering a room


By Tom Rinkoski

photo of Tom Rinkoski
Tom Rinkoski

Schmooze. (Schmooz) Slang from the Yiddish shmuesn. Verb: 1. to converse casually, especially to gain advantage or make a social connection. 2. To deal with difficult people with style and grace without losing composure. 3. Catholic evangelization.

Being a Catholic schmoozer suffers from an overly simplistic equation between holiness and wholeness. Life is difficult. The record shows that holiness does not erase any of the difficulty. Many an adult's theories about parenting end with baby's arrival and subsequent development. Quality schmoozers thrive on differences and difficulties. We live in a middle class society that places a high priority on balanced diets and healthy living. As a result, a Gospel that presents Jesus as seeking the desert, not eating for 40 days, and then having to deal with the devil can only be reduced to a movie for us to be able to make sense of it.

Amazon.com has 21 books on "dealing with difficult characters." Here are a few of the more colorful titles: Dealing with People You Can't Stand by Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner, Since Strangling Isn't an Option, Dealing with Difficult People, Common Problems and Uncommon Solutions By Sandra Crowe, Thank You for Being Such a Pain, Spiritual Guidance for Dealing with Difficult People by Mark Rosen. There's plenty more.

I lament the disappearance of "characters," the eccentrics of my youth. Where are the clowns, the misfits, the devils in disguise? We classify them as ADHD and a host of other categories our culture finds easier to swallow. The Bible, like my family, is chock full of characters. Consider screaming Amos and crying Jeremiah. I religiously listen to Click and Clack on Wisconsin Public Radio every Saturday morning precisely because they are characters. My best friend, Frank, is a character of the first order; a custodian with a Ph.D. who speaks three languages. We are both fans of Dr. Science.

Catholic schmoozing isn't difficult because we might have to schmooze some difficult people; it is the difficult people who make schmoozing worthwhile.

Have you ever considered that Jesus might have gone out into the desert deliberately to find a little action? We fear Catholic schmoozing because of two things. One, we might have to confront our own devils. And, two, we fear losing. Ironically, when it is at its best, Catholic schmoozing is not about winning or losing. Jesus did not go into the desert to win over the devil. Read the story again. If anyone is out to win points, it is the devil, not Jesus. Jesus remains cool under pressure. I give the same advice to parents of teens and teens: Stay cool. Parents who begin their parenting by trying to win over their kids are doomed from the start. In his book, Gonzo Marketing, Christopher Locke says, "If I set out to sell you my product, I'm already hosed right out of the gate." It is a schmoozing principle of the first magnitude. The "profit" in the schmoozing goal of cultivating "profitable" relationships has nothing to do with converting enemies.

Notice, Jesus did not use many words. Although I luxuriate in a banquet of banter, some of the best schmoozers are those of not many words. Consider the dictum of St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words!" The Home School Association at Ss. Peter and Paul in Kiel schmoozed me when they gave me a home-made apple pie after I spoke there.

This week, at the Sign of Peace at Sunday Mass, don't be in a hurry. Catholic schmoozing is not efficient, nor does it seek efficiency. We believe in eternity. Begin with the Woody Allen proposition that "80% of all success is just showing up." You have to believe from the moment you walk into the room that you have the advantage. Reach out with intention and attitude. Convey schmooze. Surprise yourself and others by reaching across two pews to practice resurrection of the Catholic schmooze. Practice at home with your wife, your brother and sister, and your children.

A good way to prepare is to consider three additional words or actions you could use as you meet, greet and complete each other while schmoozing. "Hello!" is always a good way to begin. A smile is equally important. Ask yourself if a firm handshake is in order, or an affectionate bear hug? Calling someone by name, or introducing yourself by name (first) is also good. The aim is to reach out and touch, not to preach, or impress. Schmooze away!


(Rinkoski is the Green Bay Diocese's Family Life director.)


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