Saturday, July 30, 2011

Henri Nouwen: Competition vs Compassion

I am reading Michael Ford's Wounded Prophet: A Portrait of Henri J.M. Nouwen. Ford notes that when Nouwen was at Notre Dame, a professor in the newly formed psychology department, he wondered how the apparent obsession with football at the university "connected with the Christian message."

In a book co-written with fellow priest and Notre Dame faculty member Don McNeill (and Douglas Morrison), Nouwen had this to say about competition:
This all-pervasive competition, which reaches into the smallest corners of our relationships, prevents us from entering into full solidarity with each other and stands in the way of our being compassionate. We prefer to keep compassion on the periphery of our competitive lives. Being compassionate would require giving up dividing lines and relinquishing differences and distinctions. And that would mean losing our identities! This makes it clear why the call to be compassionate is so frightening and evokes such deep resistance.

This fear, which is very real and influences much of our behavior, betrays our deepest illusions: that we can forge our own identities, that we are the collective impressions of our surroundings, that we are the trophies and distinctions we have won. This, indeed, is our greatest illusion. It makes us into competitive people who compulsively cling to our differences and defend them at all cost, even to the point of violence.


  1. Thank you for posting this, it is much needed both in and ouside of the Church. I find that competive need, the obession, to win distorts many Christians' view of Jesus, the Apostles, and how to live on their sanctification journey.

    The journey is not about winning, which wouild mean others must lose, but about healing, conmpassioon, and love.
    Semper Pax, Dr. Z