When we use a label to comprehend a person, we trade encounter for ease. That is, we substitute lazy thinking for actually approaching the reality of a person.
This is true (whether we admit it or not) even for the labels that we give ourselves a pass on.
It is true that, as we communicate, it is extremely difficult to avoid labels entirely. If and when we do use them, though, let’s be dissatisfied with them, and use this dissatisfaction to tip us toward curious encounter.
When we react, we respond impulsively. We might experience a momentary catharsis, but also, in all likelihood, we make the situation worse.
We respond from our generosity. We perceptively consider what is needed and can shepherd a positive outcome.
With both reactions and responses, though, the process started with someone or something outside of ourselves. The alternative is to initiate.
This takes courage, to begin something new. With initiative, courage, and endurance, though, we can do the important things. We can weave people together to serve the common good.
Psychologist William James once observed that “a great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.” The alternative to this, learning to see the world as it is, is difficult work. But if we are to change our culture to serve the common good, it is the only place toContinue reading “Rearranging Our Prejudices”
Anthony de Mello, SJ once ostentatiously declared in a spoken retreat that he was going to write a book entitled, “I’m an ass and you’re an ass!”*
The point he was making was that it is profoundly liberating to experience one’s own capacity to be petty, selfish, mean, or worse. This realization frees us from our moral superiority before others and opens a world of connection.
And how right he is! Acknowledging oneself as no better than the person we judge frees us from nasty narratives that divide us.
*The retreat has actually been turned into the audiobook of Awareness.
When we consider someone with contempt, we say that they are beneath our consideration. Engagement with them is not worth our time. They receive only our disgust.
And contempt is contagious; as two people pass it back and forth, it grows exponentially. This is even more true within an in-group, a cultural echo chamber, a tribe, until contempt kills any curiosity or engagement of the other. These days, particularly in political discussions, contempt for “those people” is on the rise.
Contempt kills our ability to communicate and work for the common good, and so interrupting the contagion of contempt is an act of courage. This courage begins by naming clearly what we fear and getting close enough to love.
The first sports coach that I remember was a passionate, gruff-voiced, rail-thin, two-maybe-three-pack-a-day smoker named Gary. He coached us soccer and he was the best.
I often recall advice that he hollered at us one halftime.
“You guys are playing NOT TO LOSE. I want you to PLAY TO WIN!”
How often do we play to win? In our work? Our relationships? Our life in the church?
And how often do we play not to lose?
One of the finest gifts that we can offer another is a generous, compassionate space into which they can tell their story.
Perhaps such a space opens up between old friends, catching up after a time apart.
Or maybe it is in the context of a silent retreat, where a director helps a retreatant to deeply perceive the presence of grace and use this perspective to tell again their life’s narrative.
Katie and I were given such a gift recently from the folks at the Notre Dame Alumni Association who run the digital ministries of FaithND when we recorded an episode on their Everyday Holiness podcast diving into our ongoing formation and the creation of Sorin Starts a School. For this generosity, we are immensely grateful.
How we tell our stories matters a great deal for how we live. Let us offer to each other a loving space into which we can tell our stories.
When our 2.5 year old has difficulty with a task, he will exclaim, “I can’t know how!”
He, of course, means that he doesn’t know how, but I have found myself thinking about the comical phrase that he does use.
Too often, we operate implicitly out of the assumption that we can’t know how to do something. (That challenge in front of me… it is… impossible!)
Except, in almost every case, it isn’t impossible. Yes, I might have to change how I dedicate my time. And, yes, I may have to take some vulnerable risks and show up consistently with emotional endurance.
If I do those things, I realize that I can, in fact, know how.
I can often fall into the following trap. Faced with a constraint, I try to overcome it with all of my power. The trickiness of the trap is that the constraint binds how I think about the situation. I focus only on it, and how to attenuate it. The constraint defines my vision.
One day some years ago, as I was caught in this trap, my dad posed a liberating question. He asked, “have you ever thought about how good this situation can be?”
Aha! I had been so focused on how to make a situation less bad, that I had forgotten that it could be good.
By focusing on the possibility, I was freed to think differently. That little question changed the story and, thereby, the situation. It helped me play to win rather than play not to lose.
If, like me, you are ever mired in a battle of wills with a constraint, I wonder if you’ll wonder how good the situation could be?
Steve Jobs died 10 years ago this month. To mark the anniversary, one of his closest collaborators, Jony Ive, reflected on his relationship with Jobs in the Wall Street Journal. Ive remarked that:
“I had thought that by now there would be reassuring comfort in the memory of my best friend and creative partner, and of his extraordinary vision.”
“But of course not. Ten years on, he manages to evade a simple place in my memory. My understanding of him refuses to remain cozy or still. It grows and evolves.”
This type of dynamic, compelling memory is a remarkable thing to consider.
Are we able to say the same about our memory of mentors who made us dream of significant lives? Or of our “favorite” saints? Wasn’t it Dorothy Day who said she hoped she would never be considered a saint because she did not want to be dismissed so quickly?
Let us pray for the grace of memories that compel us to lives of significant generosity.