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Autocorrect is not always correct

It’s almost blasphemy in the digital age, but it has to be said: autocorrect is not always correct. The same goes for spellcheck.

I suppose every profession has its way of discovering these uncomfortable truths. In my case, the near daily contest with such data functions centers around a simple Latin word.

At Benedictine, we talk a lot about our Hallmarks. Every Benedictine school is guided by a cluster of core values expressing the heart of its mission. They serve as the magnetic north for our collective moral compasses.

Some Benedictine institutions focus on five Hallmarks. Some on six. At least one school in our Association of Benedictine Colleges and Universities (ABCU) speaks of twelve.

Here at Benedictine University, we honor ten. They’re found in the ABCU document Education within the Benedictine Wisdom Tradition.

The Ten Hallmarks of Benedictine education include six principles that nearly everyone can understand and embrace: values such as Community, Hospitality, Stewardship, Prayer, Humility, Love of God and Neighbor.

Then there are three more that require some additional unpacking: Discipline, Obedience, Stability.

And then there’s the tenth.

(And here’s where you have to get ready to be autocorrected or at least have your text embellished with a little squiggly line.)

The tenth Hallmark is Conversatio—in all its untranslated Latin glory.

Or as my computer insists: Conversation.

Ever since Saint Benedict and his twin sister Scholastica established their intentional communities some 1500 years ago, Benedictine religious have been taking vows. Voluntary poverty and chastity, along with obedience to a superior, give monastic life its countercultural character. A vow of stability to a particular community adds a distinctive flavor to Benedictine life.

Benedictine monks and sisters also take a vow called “conversatio morum.”

That’s where our Hallmark of Conversatio comes from.

Ask historians of monasticism what “conversatio morum” means, and you’re likely to get any number of different responses.

Thomas Merton, arguably the best known Catholic monk of the twentieth century, christened it the “most mysterious of our vows.” He interpreted it as “a commitment to total inner transformation of one sort or another”—a commitment ultimately to become a new and better person.

Anglican writer Esther de Waal defined the vow as radical openness to change, even “recognition of God’s unpredictability, which confronts our own love of cosiness or safety.”

One thing uniting these explanations is the emphasis on forward motion in the spiritual life, making progress despite risk and resistance.

Another is the conviction that community is essential for the process.

Saint Benedict was a brilliant psychologist before the academic discipline existed. He knew some types of learning take place in solitude, while others—possibly the most important—require a group. “It takes a village” is not too far from Benedict’s decisive insight.

All of which makes me rethink my animus against autocorrect.

And my claim about the simplicity of the autocorrected Latin word in question.

Perhaps conversation is not so irrelevant after all.

What Conversatio really gets at is the dialogue, both internal and external, that advances our moral and spiritual development. There’s something about respectful interaction with other people, entertaining their ideas and critically examining our own, that promotes spiritual evolution.

Luckily, that’s what we major in at Benedictine.

Our entire educational mission, whether in face-to-face or virtual modalities, hinges on meaningful encounter with others and their visions of the world—including, of course, the voices of the dead that speak through books from ages past.

Other people participate in my transformation. And maybe even autocorrect is one of those other people.

I type Conversatio. It says, Conversation.

Neither one of us is infallible. Each has wisdom to share.

That’s how easily Benedictine transformation can begin.


Dr. Peter A. Huff
Director, Center for Benedictine Values

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