I developed the following talk from Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer by Father Thomas Dubay; Ignatius 2006, Chapter 8. It was delivered to the Catholic Business Cafe, a gathering of members of a local business community for a prayer breakfast and Mass.
All of us suffer from hurts of various kinds. Our wounds at the most basic and essential level result from man’s fallen nature. The type of suffering that often first comes to mind when we reflect on this is physical illness, or the emotional pain that results from the loss of a loved one or maybe the loss of a job. But there are many other hurts which cause us pain and suffering. Sometimes these result from our own bad choices and sins. In other words, sometimes we are responsible for inflicting our suffering on our self or on others. But we also might suffer from hurts caused by others.
I have had occasion to speak with people who experience hurts which arise in the workplace. Let’s consider the possibilities.
I may be unhappy in my present job. My job performance might be less than it should be. Maybe my talents and skills not appreciated. Have I been passed over for the promotion I wanted? And when I consider how I get along with others at work, how do I rate my relationship with my superiors, with my peers, with my subordinates, with my customer and clients? If a relationship is troubled, do I know why?
We live in troubled economic times. If I am unemployed or under-employed, am I satisfied with the results my job-search and how I am conducting it? Do I have a productive and healthy network of friends helping me?
Many can testify that all too often, the site of our human conflict is found in the home; within the family. Why is that?
Am I a good husband, wife, father or mother? Can my spouse and children count on me? If not, why not? Do I truly love my spouse and children and show them in real and tangible ways? Not just sometimes, but all of the time? Does my family like me… like to be around me? Do I like them? Do I make time for them? Or do I look for ways to avoid contact so as to avoid tensions and arguments?
Relationships in general…
There are many ways in which we might experience pain and suffering, but in general, you can see that I am looking at human relationships in particular. Am I respected as a human person? Are people unkind, dismissive and belittling toward me? Have I been betrayed by others? Friends I believed I could count on? Do I treat others as I would like them to treat me? The type of pain and conflict we are examining here are serious matters – injustices and blatant disregard for the dignity of the human person – not the day-to-day, occasional disagreements we all experience in life and love.
At the heart of human conflict are the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, avarice (greed), envy, wrath, sloth, lust, and gluttony. To counter these sins (or vices) we must practice the corresponding virtues. Dr. Peter Kreeft outlines a “battle” plan in his book, Back to Virtue where he calls us to live the beatitudes as a remedy. He teaches that the solution to the problems we are examining here lies in personal conversion – a turning from sin and toward God. And he is correct.
Father Thomas Dubay, a respected theologian with expertise in the spiritual life, wrote a wonderfully helpful book called, Deep Conversion, Deep Prayer. In Chapter 8, he writes about what he sees as four critical sources of the suffering encountered in human relationships: ego, illuminism, lack of perspective and lack of shared vision. Let’s look at them.
Ego – self-centeredness…
Each of us, as a result of the Fall of Man, suffers from a disordered attention to self… “It’s all about me… right? WRONG!” Listen to what Fr. Dubay provides by way of example:
- “I won’t be patient with your ways of doing things and your faults, but I expect you to be patient with mine.”
- “You must accommodate my desires and preferences, but I need not accommodate yours.”
- “You should understand my idiosyncrasies, but I need not understand yours.”
- “When we disagree, I need not be gentle and amiable and open-minded, but you must be all of these.”
Do you recognize yourself or someone else here? Living or working with one who displays these traits is difficult to impossible, especially if it is someone you care deeply for and whose respect you want. The only way to overcome these failings of self-absorption is through genuine conversion by the grace of God… dying to self, allowing Christ to live in you. Or as Dr. Kreeft would say, humility is necessary to conquer pride.
Fr. Dubay speaks of what he calls the illness of illuminism and describes it as occuring on the natural and supernatural levels:
- On a natural level – “it is the conviction of some people that their ideas, their opinions, their preferences are automatically superior to those of others.”
- On a supernatural level – it “shows itself in the conviction that ‘I have a special light from the Holy Spirit and you do not. Therefore, I am right and you are wrong.’”
Fr. Dubay points out that persuading one who believes he possesses special illumination is unlikely to be successful, no matter the rational evidence, unless and until that person undergoes conversion – again, humility conquers pride. Do we recognize these traits in our self or someone we know?
Lack of perspective…
This one is simple and all too common. Have you ever reacted out of proportion to the hurt or annoyance? Love and respect for human dignity demand that we not treat slights as if they are major transgressions. We must insure that our reactions are not more harmful, due to a lack of perspective, than the slight that gave rise to them.
Lack of shared vision…
Finally, Fr. Dubay identifies the need to be of one mind if primary relationships are going to succeed. No relationship, whether in the family, the parish or in the workplace, is going to succeed without a shared vision. This is what St. Paul speaks of in Philippians 2:1-4: “If there is any encouragement in Christ, any solace in love, any participation in the Spirit, any compassion and mercy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing. Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but (also) everyone for those of others.”
Jesus, in His priestly prayer on the night of His arrest, prayed that we “be one”. After three years of preparing His apostles, He leaves them with one compelling reminder, “Love one another as I have loved you.” He loved us all the way to the Cross. Are we prepared to do that for one another?
If people in primary relationships are not willing to die to self for the other, to put other’s needs ahead of our own, to love one another as Jesus loves us, they will not attain shared vision. And if a husband and wife cannot even correctly identify, much less agree on the essential ingredients, what hope is there except in personal conversion? Hope comes through conversion by grace.
The purpose of examining these questions is not to beat ourselves up or to reach despair. The purpose is to honestly assess our human relationships, particularly in regards to our final end – hopefully the attainment of heaven. Our thoughts and how we behave, including how we arrive at a shared vision in the home or at work, must be morally sound. Personal conversion is the surest road to sainthood and the avoidance of pain and suffering inflicted on our self or others from our own failings in life.