The Spirituality Team (ST) provides spiritual guidance and opportunities for spiritual growth to the members of the university community, taking into account the diversity and plurality of their faiths and beliefs.
The ST was founded on the conviction that spiritual development is essential for personal growth and the development of human quality. The ST therefore promotes dialogue on spiritual aspects and religious issues among Christians, adherents of other religions and non-believers. It also offers resources from the spiritual tradition most closely associated with the institution: the Society of Jesus.
The distinctive character of a Jesuit education is derived from its deep-rooted history and from a mission based on faith and intellectual rigour. Since the founding of the first Jesuit educational in Messina, Sicily, in 1548, the Jesuit tradition of higher education remains committed to academic excellence, service, leadership, and care for the whole person, with the aim of forming “men and women for others”.
What does the Spirituality Team offer?
Various personal-growth experiences are offered throughout the academic year
Group prayer/meditation (at least once a month)
Celebration of the Eucharist
Educational and academic activities
Personal guidance / professional coaching
Connections to the Christian communities of Barcelona
Bibliographic resources on spirituality, leadership, and their relationship to management and law
Offering Oneself to the Present
One Saturday morning, in my room, I was doing some Tai Chi. One of the exercises was a movement similar to an embrace. Noticing this, it occurred to me that by practising this exercise I might be able to grow in my ability to reach out to, welcome and help others. But what also crossed my mind was the Hindu idea that we must renounce control of the consequences of our actions.
Yours is the right to perform your duties, but not that to the fruits of your actions. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never become attached to inaction (Bhagavad Gita, 2:47).
So, I continued with my exercises, and tried to stay focused on the movements without letting myself become more distracted.
The thing is, our will and our intellect are both limited when it comes to evoking or anticipating connections between our actions and their consequences. The impact of what we do depends on a series of not fully controllable nor predictable social circumstances or interior dispositions: either ours or those of the people with whom we interact.
On the other hand, by accepting the fact that we cannot control the consequences of our actions we can fall into the trap of “inaction”, just as the text of the Bhagavad Gita warns.
Perhaps the goal is to find a middle ground between inaction and the desire to control the fruits of our activities: we consider whether an action is appropriate, and then immerse ourselves in it without trying to control the consequences. Going back to that Saturday morning, it was a time I had set aside for weekly exercise of the inner life; not for Biblical prayer but for Tai Chi. And that allowed me to focus on the present, and offer myself fully to the present, trusting that my action would be fruitful without my knowing how.
Interestingly, offering oneself to the present gives meaning to every moment of human life. And thus, it is an action that also gives meaning to the lives of people who “have no future”, and whose “days are numbered”. It is an offering that enriches the present. As an example, in the novel The Fault in Our Stars (John Green, 2012), two teenagers with incurable cancer (Hazel and Augustus) live an unconventional love story. They know that their time together is limited, but they offer each other depth. And they illustrate this with a mathematical image: between 0 and 1 there are infinite numbers. Ultimately, in a moment of intimate conversation, Hazel says:
I want more numbers than I'm likely to get, and God, I want more numbers for Augustus Waters than he got. But, Gus, my love, I cannot tell you how thankful I am for our little infinity. I wouldn't trade it for the world. You gave me a forever within the numbered days, and I'm grateful.
“Sacrificing as if present” means sacrificing to the spirits as if they were present. Confucius said, “If I do not personally offer the sacrifice, it is the same as not having sacrificed at all” (Analects of Confucius, 3:12).
One very intimate night, distended with effort,
I said to myself, between dreams and remembrances:
– Eternity is just a Present that expands.
Màrius Torres, “Al present”
[Translated from the original Catalan]
So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do” (Luke, 17:10).
· In which activities, daily or weekly, do I find it easier to focus on the present?
· On which occasions are distractions an indication that I am not doing what I should be doing, or “the right thing”?
As the sociologist Richard Sennett (The Corrosion of Character) says, fewer and fewer careers today are being made within a single pyramidal organization, in which employees gradually ascend the rungs of the professional ladder. This is largely because companies are less pyramidal in general, and because people now tend to move a lot more, both geographically and professionally speaking.
These developments, however, come with a level of insecurity that implies a need for additional support, a safety net, which is what we get from professional networks: relationships of friendship and mutual support that help us in various stages of our working life. Our networks help us to obtain positions of greater responsibility and compensation, to find jobs when we want to move to a new city or country, or to not “fall into a rut” when we're without work.
So… what are the connections and values that define a specific network? What is it that allows us to become part of a network?
A powerful network in the early years of professional life could be the alumni association of our school or university: groups in which we share an educational tradition, college experience, friendship and values. Similarly, networks are structured through professional associations (medical colleges and law societies, for example), which offer cooperative services to members and get involved when authorities must legislate issues affecting the practice of their respective professions.
Other networks are those that develop in large corporations that transfer employees around the globe according to the strategic needs of the company. For instance, some consultancies perform this function, and they typically accompany the excessive workload and exhausting schedules with offers of professional support from fellow employees, emotional support, and the “mystique” of belonging to the company, which usually includes actions of corporate philanthropy.
There are also professional networks directly related to religious or ideological groups. Belonging to a religious group allows you to be part of a network that, theoretically, promotes certain values and supports its members. In many cases these networks effectively promote values for the common good; however, and to the contrary, sometimes they become mere platforms for the private interests of members. In Africa, where uncertainty in the institutional environment is widespread, professional networks are very necessary, and religious and magical thinking play significant roles in professional contexts. Associated networks can give rise to sects, with initiation rituals that may include acts of extreme cruelty: for example, the sacrifice of a family member.
Maybe there is no ideal professional network, and the solution might be to join other, non-professional networks that offer open support: family, friends, communities that share common values. These are the environments which give us the strength to make fundamental humane and professional decisions.
Master Zeng said: “A gentleman makes friends through being cultivated, but looks to friends for support in benevolence” (Analects of Confucius, 12:24).
When life is peaceful and smooth, it is difficult to distinguish the true friend from the false. It is only when difficulties arrive that the true feelings of the friend arise. Because in times of crisis real friends will get closer and the false ones will become increasingly scarce (Matteo Ricci, About Friendship, 5).
· Think of a professional network to which you belong. To what extent is it providing support for the private interests of its members? To what extent does it work for the good of society?
· Does the “mystique” of a network include the promotion of the good of society?
· What kind of personal or family sacrifices are required to join a specific network or organization?
· What type of non-professional networks are available that could offer support in fundamental decisions at various stages of my life?
Apparently one day someone asked the eminent urologist Dr. Antoni Puigvert (1905–1990): “Doctor, after death, what?” The doctor replied, “After death, burial.”
Both the question and answer here seem somewhat disingenuous: yes, after the fact of someone's death, one of the events that occurs is that they are buried. But the irony in this exchange is that the subtext goes beyond the facts: the doctor did not believe in any kind of afterlife.
Ultimately, the right way to ask about life after death is quite difficult. Whether we say “after” or talk about “the beyond”, we are using notions of time and space to refer to a level of reality that effectively transcends space and time.
How can we approach this other level of reality, a natural concern for so many nearing the end of their time on earth? One way would be to express our interest in life rather than death. To be in no hurry to “bury” a person who has died. In fact, “to grieve” (both religiously and psychologically) signifies this: to revive a relationship that has affected us deeply. This consists in resurrecting memories.
What memories are left to us? They could be writings, artworks, things that remind us of the person (hats, jewellery, items of clothing, etc.), organizations that he or she may have managed, shared values. But they could also be acts of cowardice, selfishness, or fear... Also, most likely, in any relationship there would have been light and shadow on our part. And it is quite possible that any person’s passing could have been painful for many.
So how best to resurrect memories?
One idea is to establish situations (places, environments, companions, solitude) where it is enjoyable to recover these memories… Passing by or especially visiting a place where I had been with someone, I remember what we did there. Looking at a photograph or reading an old letter, I remember another aspect of our relationship. Remembering how they reacted in different situations we found ourselves in, brings to life some other of their values – or strokes of genius! And little by little, I find growing in me a sense of gratitude and reconciliation. I will be healed, transformed and released to live more fully.
This is in reality what T.S. Elliot suggests in his poem “Little Gidding, I”:
(...) And what the dead had no speech for, when living,
They can tell you, being dead: the communication
Of the dead is tongued with fire beyond the language of the living.
Still, the question to Dr. Puigvert remains: not about our grief and transformation, but about the transformation and grief of the deceased. Here religious and wisdom traditions offer several clues in the form of stories and rituals. In any event, as Buddhist master Shantideva says: “The worship of a living Buddha and a Buddha extinct are identical and bear fruit” (Bodhisattvacharyāvatāra). That is: remember the person (pay him/her worship) regardless of whether you believe they are alive or dead.
And how long should the grieving process be? Wanting to end it, is that not the same as wanting to bury the person? Gratitude and reconciliation with that person give us life: better not to bury them then. Would it not be better if that person could gradually become a silent interlocutor in my present?
The Life forces in me are about to merge in the immortal Prana (the cosmic energy); then this mortal body shall be reduced to ashes. Om! O mind! Remember; your (good) deeds, remember. (Isha Upanishad, 17)
(...) his good deeds will receive him who has done good when he goes from this world to the other, as relatives receive a dear one on his return. (Dhammapada, 220)
Don’t be foolish. A seed must die before it can sprout from the ground. (…) That’s how it will be when our bodies are raised to life. These bodies will die, but the bodies that are raised will live forever. These ugly and weak bodies will become beautiful and strong. As surely as there are physical (self-centred) bodies, there are spiritual (other-centred) bodies. And our physical bodies will be changed into spiritual bodies. (1 Cor 15:36; 42-44)
· In what situations am I working on gratitude and reconciliation with people in my life who have died? How do these rituals transform and release me?
· In what situations am I working on gratitude and reconciliation with those who are living? How do these rituals transform and release me?
· What guides or mentors not personally known to me (religious teachers, writers, thinkers, artists) could make my life more fulfilling? How do I establish a life-giving relationship with them through their works, biographies, words?
Geographically speaking, Europe is a relatively small appendage to the great Eurasian landmass, but for many centuries it has played a crucial role in the history of humanity. Greco-Christian roots took hold in a political, cultural and economic system that ultimately colonized a great part of the world. Over the last two hundred years, a system has developed (liberal democracies and, above all, welfare states), which has brought financial prosperity, political democracy and social justice to a large proportion of the population on the Continent since 1945. Overall, Europe has had considerable influence – for better or worse – on much of humanity.
Recently, we have been celebrating 60 years of the European Union, in a situation marked by the euro crisis and austerity policies; by the slow political, cultural and economic integration of countries of the former socialist bloc; by differences between the north and the south; by the exit of the UK from the EU; by the general ageing of the population; by the challenge of welcoming and integrating immigrants from outside the EU into new communities, and by populist demagoguery.
But it is also a union of states that creatively combines various levels of administration (from local to pan-European); that promoted democracy and human rights (civil and social); that has prevented wars over the past 70 years, and that has given rise to a benefactory Continental consciousness in the younger generations.
Maybe, beyond evaluating the costs and benefits, it is time to recover the best of Europe, to motivate and guide us each day. Time to dream of Europe, as Pope Francis did in his Charlemagne Prize acceptance speech in Rome on 6 May 2016.
I dream of a Europe that is young, still capable of being a mother: a mother who has life because she respects life and offers hope for life.
I dream of a Europe that cares for children, that offers fraternal help to the poor and those newcomers seeking acceptance because they have lost everything and need shelter.
I dream of a Europe that is attentive to and concerned for the infirm and the elderly, lest they simply be set aside as useless.
I dream of a Europe where being a migrant is not a crime but a summons to greater commitment on behalf of the dignity of every human being.
I dream of a Europe where young people breathe the pure air of honesty, where they love the beauty of a culture and a simple life undefiled by the insatiable needs of consumerism, where getting married is a responsibility and a great joy, not a problem due to lack of stable employment.
I dream of a Europe of families, with truly effective policies concentrated on faces rather than numbers, on birth rates more than rates of consumption.
I dream of a Europe that promotes and protects the rights of everyone, without neglecting its duties towards all.
I dream of a Europe of which it will not be said that its commitment to human rights was its last utopia.
When my children have grown up, Athenians, punish them by plaguing them as I myself have plagued you, if they appear to you to be more concerned about money or anything else other than virtue. (Plato, The Apology of Socrates)
Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman. (Galatians, 3:28)
· If I review a day of my life, which social or financial conditions are in play, and are they a result of the European tradition or of the current reality of Europe?
· What is it in my power to promote, in relation to the dream of Pope Francis?
In the film The Impossible by J. A. Bayona, a family of five – mother, father and three sons – head to an island in Thailand for their Christmas holidays, and a tsunami engulfs the island. Luckily the five of them survive, but they are separated into two groups: the mother and the seven-year older son (Maria and Lucas); and the father and the two younger sons. Neither group knows anything of the other, amid the general chaos. Maria and Lucas are taken to a large hospital, where she awaits surgery for her injuries. She, a doctor, tells the seven-year-old Lucas that the hospital is overwhelmed and that he should go and try to help others; that she is fine and can wait. So Lucas begins to walk about the hospital, not knowing what to do. In the reception area, an older man that Lucas can’t understand is desperately showing around a family photo and pointing to the face of a child, apparently his son. Lucas gets hold of a pen and paper and writes down the name of the child. As he circulates the halls shouting that name, other relatives seeking children give him more names, which he notes down and proceeds to call out. The list of names grows quickly, but initially Lucas does not find any of the children. After a while, a child finally responds to his call. They embrace, and Lucas instructs the boy to wait while he goes to find his father. With immense joy, he looks on as the father and son are reunited.
Perhaps our world is somewhat like that Thai hospital full of tsunami victims. Perhaps the world separates people who love each other, and perhaps we need to reconnect. Through distance and isolation sometimes we can feel as small and useless as Lucas. But we can also listen to a loving inner voice (like Maria’s) that encourages us to leave our corner: without really knowing what we might do, but to help. And then we find ourselves before the faces of those who are suffering, seeking loved ones. At first the problems only accumulate (names to reconnect), but then the connections are made, and we are the joyful witnesses of these meetings.
Trust the inner voice, set out to help even without knowing too much about how, listen compassionately, seek with patience, and make possible the moment that restores joy. It might seem impossible… but it can be done by a child of seven years.
The Master said, “A youth, when at home, should be filial, and, abroad, respectful to his elders. He should be earnest and truthful. He should overflow in love to all, and cultivate the friendship of the good. When he has time and opportunity, after the performance of these things, he should employ them in polite studies.”
(Analects of Confucius, 1:6)
[...] love consists in a mutual sharing of goods, for example, the lover gives and shares with the beloved what he possesses, or something of that which he has or is able to give; and vice versa, the beloved shares with the lover. Hence, if one has knowledge, he shares it with the one who does not possess it; and so also if one has honours, or riches. Thus, one always gives to the other.
(St. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, 231)
Open our eyes to all human suffering; inspire us fair and appropriate word when brothers are alone and helpless; Give us generous and fraternal decision to help the oppressed and defenceless. May your Church be witness to truth and freedom, justice and peace. That everyone can find the hope that does not die.
· On which occasions have I developed initiatives like that of Lucas? What have I learned?
· What noises prevent me from listening to the inner voice that invites me to go out and help others?
· What do we value most in the education of our children: “polite studies” (Confucius) or the capacity for initiatives that make a better world?
Now that relations between the West and China are growing, it might be an interesting time to consider a precursor relationship between these two parts of the world. The Jesuit missionary Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) had some success in establishing links between Renaissance Europe and the China of the late Ming dynasty: in fact, he was the first European to enter the Forbidden City of Beijing. In 1595, he published On Friendship. One Hundred Maxims for a Chinese Prince, which became popular among both the Chinese elite and the Christian missionaries. Maybe because it introduced Western wisdom into Chinese discussions on friendship.
One of these discussions dealt with “wulun”, or the five basic human relationships according to Confucianism: father-child, older sibling-younger sibling, ruler-subject, husband-wife, and friendship. At the time, the Jesuit missionaries were criticized by the Chinese, because they did not maintain any of the first four relationships: they had abandoned their fathers, siblings and rulers in Europe to leave with the missions, and on top of that they did not marry. Hence the balance that Ricci sought to express in characterizing friendship as a relationship (the only non-hierarchical one in this context) that may affect the other four.
Ricci’s maxims describe the relationship of friendship on the basis of various notions:
a. Intimacy: “Friends are closer than brothers because friends call one another ‘brother’, whereas the best of brothers become ‘friends’” (maxim 36); “If one has many intimate friends, then one has no intimate friends” (40).
b. Sincerity: “Someone who comes to see me in my hour of glory only when invited, and comes to see me in my hour of trouble even when not invited—now, that is a friend” (64).
c. Solidarity: “A friend is the riches of the poor, the strength of the weak, and the medicine of the ill” (76).
d. The mutual reinforcement of virtue: “If we tolerate the vices of a friend, then those vices become our own vices” (33); “Once upon a time, there was a man who asked a friend to do something unethical, but when the friend refused, he said: ‘If you will not agree to do what I ask, what good are you as a friend?’ To which the other replied: ‘If you ask me to do what is unethical, what good are you as a friend?’” (96).
e. The importance of listening to one’s enemies: “These days, since friends are speechless, and flatterers have become eloquent, only by keeping my enemies am I able to hear words of truth” (38); “A gift from an enemy is worth less than a beating from a friend” (78).
f. Inner happiness: “When vulgar friends meet, their outward pleasure is greater than their inward happiness; and when they part, they have a lingering sense of unease. When virtuous friends gather, their inward happiness is greater than their outward pleasure; and after they part, there is no feeling of shame” (54).
Making a true friend is a task that should take some effort. More so, because a friendship affects our other human relationships. “The stability of a friendship is both tested and revealed by the instabilities of my life” (26). Worth a try?
Elevate yourself through the power of your mind, and do not degrade yourself. For the mind can be both the friend and the enemy of the self.
(Bhagavad Gita VI: 5)
Now I tell you to love each other, as I have loved you. The greatest way to show love for friends is to die for them. And you are my friends, if you obey me. Servants don't know what their master is doing, and so I don't speak to you as my servants. I speak to you as my friends, and I have told you everything that my Father has told me.
· Who are my true friends? How do these relationships affect my other fundamental human relationships?
· In which daily situations could I recognize behaviour described in the maxims of Matteo Ricci?
· In which situations am I a friend to myself, and in which do I appear to be my own enemy?
Ferran, who knows a lot about Tibetan Buddhism, explains that unhappiness often comes from the fact that we do not know how to properly deal with pleasure and suffering.
With pleasure, the mistake we make is to try to keep it going, when it is a fleeting and ephemeral thing. We get frustrated as it slips away, because we want to maintain it. So, for example, we might enjoy a piece of cake, but after a while the pleasure of it has passed. Trying to maintain that pleasure by eating more and more cake, however, is not a good idea: this would just lead to indigestion and unwanted weight-gain…
The trap we fall into with suffering is that we want it to end no matter what, but our evasions just make it bigger. For example, I may try to turn my back on failure by doing things that distract me: going for a run, consuming certain drinks or nice food, listening to music or watching television. But these activities are not calming because my reason for doing them lies not in the activities themselves (physical exercise, degustation, appreciating music or cinema) but in my need to run from failure. This sets me on a downward spiral (addiction), as I must increase the amount and frequency of the escape activity: running further and more often, drinking more and/or more often, spending even more time engrossed in music or television, and so on.
As Ferran continues to explain, to turn away from suffering is to turn away from a part of life. We need to cultivate a kind of happiness that is so rich, wide and great that it encompasses pleasure and suffering.
To cultivate this all-encompassing happiness, then, we should recognize that pleasure and suffering are “passengers”. But also, that some pleasures are better than others, and some experiences of suffering better than others. Some traditions of wisdom – for example, that of the Jesuits – propose that the better pleasures and sufferings are those which leave better traces.
Traces are what is left behind when an object, plant, animal or person has gone. Like the taste of a meal you have finished eating, the smell of flowers that lingers in a room after they’ve been taken away, or a trail of footprints left by a wild animal in the mud. The experiences we have also leave traces. Thus, an experience that leaves a lasting trace (I still feel it after it is over) and a harmonious one (I feel at peace with my surroundings), is better than an experience that leaves a more short-lived or conflictive trace.
It is all about not trying to retain pleasure or avoid suffering, which are momentary, but becoming aware of the traces left by our experiences. If they are durable and harmonious, then we must expand those experiences, because the better traces make me a better person, and improve the reality that surrounds me.
[…] to kill may be sweet, but to have killed is ghastly in the extreme…
(Thomas Mann, The Tables of the Law)
One who finds happiness and bliss within and who is enlightened within is a perfect yogi. This person attains liberation through identification with the eternal essence.
(Bhagavad Gita, V:24)
We ought to note well the course of the thoughts, and if the beginning, middle and end is all good, inclined to all good, it is a sign of the good Angel; but if in the course of the thoughts which he brings it ends in something bad, of a distracting tendency […] or disturbs the soul, taking away its peace, tranquillity and quiet, which it had before, it is a clear sign that it proceeds from the evil spirit…
(St. Ignatius of Loyola, The Spiritual Exercises, 333)
· What mechanisms do I use most often to escape suffering? What actions do I typically take to retain fleeting pleasures?
· What experiences of pleasure or suffering do I remember that left a better trace? What others have left emptiness and conflict?
· At what times of the day or week do I consciously stop and identify the traces of my experiences?
Francis, a young Catalan father, was in the region of Bengal (in Northeast India) where he oversees an NGO called “House of the Children”. One day, in the middle of the street, to his astonishment he watched as a woman handed over her new-born son to a group of men, who paid her with a wad of cash. He couldn’t help but demand of the woman, in English, “What are you doing?” She, not speaking any English, looked at him, held out the money, pointed to the six boys and girls surrounding her, and raised a closed hand to her mouth. Now Francis held his tongue, getting the message: “With this money I can feed my six children”.
As an enthusiast devotee of Mother Teresa, an evangelical phrase came to Francis: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). And with that in mind, he said no more to that poor woman.
Maybe judging people is a subtle, almost unconscious way of freeing ourselves from the responsibility of caring for them. A way of releasing ourselves from the fundamentally pure and true inner calling, to fulfil our duty to help others.
Judgement can become a reflex action, and can ultimately build a wall between me and the people I am called upon to help. We become adept at finding reasons – the bricks in the wall – to distance ourselves from the fundamental call to help those in need. But the response to this call is not words or reasons: it is action. Father Opeka, an Argentine missionary in Madagascar, put it succinctly:
[At the Antananarivo garbage dump] I saw, as I arrived there, children of three or four years old fighting with dogs and animals over a piece of rotten garbage. I felt, in that moment, that I had no right to speak; only to act. That night I knelt by my bed and asked God could we not do something for those children (La Vanguardia, 3/12/2016, p. 68).
This inner call is so basic that it remains beyond any form of judgement: we do not wish to blame that Indian mother, or that Francis blame himself for not doing anything.
The point is that we need to be able to look people who suffer in the eye.
And be silent.
And kneel to regain hope.
And pay the price of our actions: Francis has returned several times from Bengal with health problems.
And, ultimately, think about it. Put reason in the service of responsibility: look for more effective ways to help, to make a better world.
May I be the medicine and the physician for the sick. May I be their nurse until their illness never recurs.
With showers of food and drink may I overcome the afflictions of hunger and thirst. May I become food and drink during times of famine.
May I be an inexhaustible treasury for the destitute. With various forms of assistance may I remain in their presence.
For the sake of accomplishing the welfare of all sentient beings, I freely give up my body, enjoyments, and all my virtues…
(Shantideva, Bodhisattvacharyāvatāra, III, 7-10)
Afterwards the Lord asked Cain, “Where is Abel?”
“How should I know?” he answered. “Am I supposed to look after my brother?”
Only the smile of God knows the depth of human lives.
· What judgments do I tend to put in between my responsibility and the problems of the world?
· What human situations leave me speechless?
· How do I regain hope when it seems that I am powerless?
· How can I construct reasoned arguments in the service of responsibility?
Good and evil
In a recent debate with a group of university students, we began discussing human goodness and evil. Soon enough, Hitler and incarcerated criminals were raised as examples of bad people, as well as the legitimacy or not of the death penalty.
I recalled the testimony of an African-American from a documentary I had seen by Yan Arthus-Bertrand, called Human (vol. I).This young man explained that when he was little his stepfather used to beat him, and tell him, “If I hurt you, it’s because I love you”. In turn, the young man became used to doing harm to everyone he loved. Until in prison, where a woman named Agnes showed him love. In fact, Agnes had every right to hate him, because he was in prison for murdering her daughter and grandson, but somehow, she did not. “She gave me love and [silence… tears…] and told me what it was to love.”
Maybe good and evil are not just ‘out there’, as destinies imposed on us and to which we must resign ourselves. They partly depend on me, they depend on my approach to life: if I decide to treat people with goodness, I am helping the goodness to grow within them; if I treat them with contempt or I think in my heart that they are bad, it becomes much more difficult for them to embody kindness.
So, good and evil are not simply ‘out there’. But perhaps evil does not become so ‘inside’ someone that we can declare them to be a ‘bad person’. I believe that there are not bad people: there are people who do bad (and good) things. And that those who repeatedly do bad things can still change: they can grow goodness within themselves. Surely, they can do this more easily if we have faith in them, if we believe that goodness can grow within them, if we give them some credit.
“Giving credit to people” is an expression used by Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize winner and founder of a microcredit bank that helps millions of people create small businesses and rise out of poverty. Yunus does for the poor something that many banks would not do: he gives them credit. In two senses: by lending them money, and (more importantly), by believing that they could create a successful business and return the credit. For many people to whom the Grameen Bank gives credit (above all women), this changes their lives.
It may be difficult to change a person who has done bad things for a long time: it is hard to “give credit” to people to whom society does not. It really is a bet. But from time to time we discover that the bet pays off, and this encourages us to continue betting: even when it seems we are going to lose.
People are more than the worst thing they have done in their lives.
Sister Helen Prejean
(Advocate for the abolition of the death penalty in the USA)
Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.
God looked at what he had done. All of it was very good!
· Which people do I tend to label as “bad”? What could I do to “give them credit”?
· Which social groups need more “credit” in contemporary society?
· What stigmatizing behaviours do I see around me? How could I invite those who engage in them to a change of attitude?
In the context of human psychology, a drive is an “internal force anchored in the biological... that leads to our relationships with people, things and ideas in the outside world” (Jordi Font). A particular drive, then, is an interior force that urges us to relate with the outside world in some way.
Three key manifestations of this force would be the sex drive, the drive for power, and the drive to make money. Respectively and biologically, they urge us to perpetuate life, overcome competitors that may threaten our life, and accumulate wealth to guarantee our survival.
When a person manages these three drives in a self-centred way, this generates predatory behaviour in the outside world (in society and the natural environment), but also within the individual: it can lead to addictions. An addiction is defined as a “pathological dependence in relation to an object one cannot be deprived of without much discomfort, and which must be returned to repeatedly… with increased intensity of possession of the object” (Jordi Font). Let’s substitute, in turn, the word “object” for: “people with whom I am driven to have sexual relations”; “people to whom I am driven to compare myself and better”, and “material goods which I am driven to acquire”, and we have three of the classic seven deadly sins – lust, pride and greed. Consider this image of disaster: the miser Harpagon (Molière), obsessed with protecting the box of money buried in his garden, destroys all his relationships (children, spouse, friends…) due to his obsession.
To avoid falling into self-centredness, some promote the repression of these drives. In repression, “the subject rejects, keeping thoughts, feelings, desires, etc. that are linked to a drive in the unconscious” (Jordi Font). But repression causes inner discomfort: psychological stress and somatization. And it is also a self-centred response: it is guided by a pure image or ideal of oneself.
A healthier and less egotistical solution could be to transform these personal drives so that they are neither predatory nor repressed. Psychologists call this type of transformation sublimation or symbolization: the “displacement of the original object to which the drive is directed, for a new object that represents the old object and also maintains its characteristics” (Jordi Font). So, substitute “object of pleasure” with “loved one with whom to create a family”; “rival to overcome” with “companion in ideals”, and “goods to accumulate” with “material wealth for all”, and we have the sublimation of the three drives in question.
Religions offer practices and ways of life (“monks and nuns”) to transform drives. More specifically, Christianity offers religious communities within which to live out the vows of chastity (love for the unattractive, disparaged and suffering), obedience (humble and selfless love), and poverty (austere and compassionate love). The daily task of honouring these vows is to displace the objects of the three drives for those of the most needy… and for Someone – not reducible to an object – that inspires in us unconditional love for everything and everyone.
Confucius said: The noble man is on guard against three things. When he is a young man and his physical energies are not yet settled, he is on guard against lust. When he is mature and his physical energy is solid, he is on guard against being drawn into a fight. When he is old, and his physical power is weakened, he is on guard not to cling to his attainments (Analects of Confucius, 16:7).
But Jesus called the disciples together and said: You know that those foreigners who call themselves kings like to order their people around. And their great leaders have full power over the people they rule. But don't act like them. If you want to be great, you must be the servant of all the others. And if you want to be first, you must be everyone’s slave. The Son of Man did not come to be a slave master, but a slave who will give his life to rescue many people (Mark, 10:42-45).
· Which drives come into play in the various areas of my life (work, leisure, family…)?
· At work, what resources do I have – or are offered to me – to make work not a repression but a transformation?
· Analyze a cultural product (book, film, series, advertisement…) from the point of view of whether it is encouraging a self-centred or altruistic orientation of the drives.