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MEN AND WOMEN FOR OTHERS by Pedro Arrupe, S.J. Superior General of the Society of Jesus 1973, Valencia, Spain
Dehumanization of ourselves and dehumanization of others. For by thus making egoism a way of life, we translate it, we objectify it, in social structures. Starting from our individual sins of egoism, we become exploiters of others, dehumanizing them and ourselves in the process, and hardening the process into a structure of society which may rightfully be called sin objectified. For it becomes hardened in ideas, institutions, impersonal and depersonalized organisms which now escape our direct control, a tyrannical power of destruction and self-destruction.
How escape from this vicious circle? Clearly, the whole process has its root in egoism – in the denial of love. But to try to live in love and justice in a world whose prevailing climate is egoism and injustice, where egoism and injustice are built into the very structures of society – is this not a suicidal, or at least a fruitless undertaking?
Good in an evil world
And yet, it lies at the very core of the Christian message; it is the sum and substance of the call of Christ. Saint Paul put it in a single sentence: “Do not allow yourself to be overcome by evil, but rather, overcome evil with good.”6 This teaching, which is identical with the teaching of Christ about love for the enemy, is the touchstone of Christianity. All of us would like to be good to others, and most of us would be relatively good in a good world. What is difficult is to be good in an evil world, where the egoism of others and the egoism built into the institutions of society attack us and threaten to annihilate us.
Under such conditions, the only possible reaction would seem to be to oppose evil with evil, egoism with egoism, hate with hate; in short, to annihilate the aggressor with his own weapons. But is it not precisely thus that evil conquers us most thoroughly? For then, not only does it damage us exteriorly, it perverts our very heart. We allow ourselves, in the words of Saint Paul, to be overcome by evil.
Love: the driving force
No; evil is overcome only by good, hate by love, egoism by generosity. It is thus that we must sow justice in our world. To be just, it is not enough to refrain from injustice. One must go further and refuse to play its game, substituting love for self-interest as the driving force of society.
All this sounds very nice, you will say, but isn’t it just a little bit up in the air? Very well, let us get down to cases. How do we get this principle of justice through love down to the level of reality, the reality of our daily lives? By cultivating in ourselves three attitudes:
Live more simply
First, a firm determination to live much more simply – as individuals, as families, as social groups – and in this way to stop short, or at least to slow down, the expanding spiral of luxurious living and social competition. Let us have men and women who will resolutely set themselves against the tide of our consumer society. Men and women who, instead of feeling compelled to acquire everything that their friends have will do away with many of the luxuries which in their social set have become necessities, but which the majority of mankind must do without. And if this produces surplus income, well and good; let it be given to those for whom the necessities of life are still luxuries beyond their reach.
No unjust profit
Second, a firm determination to draw no profit whatever from clearly unjust sources. Not only that, but going further, to diminish progressively our share in the benefits of an economic and social system in which the regards of production accrue to those already rich, while the cost of production lies heavily on the poor. Let there be men and women who will bend their energies not to strengthen positions of privilege, but, to the extent possible, reduce privilege in favor of the underprivileged. Please do not conclude too hastily that this does not pertain to you – that you do not belong to the privileged few in your society. It touches everyone of a certain social position, even though only in certain respects, and even if we ourselves may be the victims of unjust discrimination by those who are even better off than ourselves. In this matter, our basic point of reference must be the truly poor, the truly marginalized, in our own countries and in the Third World.
Change unjust structures
Third, and most difficult: a firm resolve to be agents of change in society; not merely resisting unjust structures and arrangements, but actively undertaking to reform them. For, if we set out to reduce income in so far as it is derived from participation in unjust structures, we will find out soon enough that we are faced with an impossible task unless those very structures are changed.
Posts of power
Thus, stepping down from our own posts of power would be too simple a course of action. In certain circumstances it may be the proper thing to do; but ordinarily it merely serves to hand over the entire social structure to the exploitation of the egotistical. Here precisely is where we begin to feel how difficult is the struggle for justice; how necessary it is to have recourse to technical ideological tools. Here is where cooperation among alumni and alumni associations becomes not only useful but necessary.
Let us not forget, especially, to bring into our counsels our alumni who belong to the working class. For in the last analysis, it is the oppressed who must be the principal agents of change. The role of the privileged is to assist them; to reinforce with pressure from above the pressure exerted from below on the structures that need to be changed.
Christ, a man for others
Men-and-women-for-others: the paramount objective of Jesuit education – basic, advance, and continuing – must now be to form such men and women. For if there is any substance in our reflections, then this is the prolongation into the modern world of our humanist tradition as derived from the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. Only by being a man-or-woman-for-others does one become fully human, not only in the merely natural sense, but in the sense of being the “spiritual” person of Saint Paul. The person filled with the Spirit; and we know whose Spirit that is: the Spirit of Christ, who gave his life for the salvation of the world; the God who, by becoming a human person, became, beyond all others, a Man-for-others, a Woman-for-others.
What kind of man or woman is needed today by the Church, by the world? One who is a “man-or woman-for-others.” That is my shorthand description. A man-or-woman-for-others. But does this not contradict the very nature of the human person? Are we not each a “being-for-ourselves?” Gifted with intelligence that endows us with power, do we not tend to control the world, making ourselves its center? Is this not our vocation, our history?
Yes; gifted with conscience, intelligence and power each of us is indeed a center. But a center called to go out of ourselves, to give ourself to others in love -- love, which is our definitive and all-embracing dimension, that which gives meaning to all our other dimensions. Only the one who loves fully realizes himself or herself as a person. To the extent that any of us shuts ourselves off from others we do not become more a person; we becomes less.
Anyone who lives only for his or her own interests not only provides nothing for others. He or she does worse. They tend to accumulate in exclusive fashion more and more knowledge, more and more power, more and more wealth; thus denying, inevitably to those weaker then themselves their proper share of the God-given means for human development.
Make the world serve other men and women
What is it to humanize the world if not to put it at the service of mankind? But the egoist not only does not humanize the material creation, he or she dehumanizes others themselves. They change others into things by dominating them, exploiting them, and taking to themselves the fruit of their labor.
The tragedy of it all is that by doing this, the egoists dehumanize themselves. They surrender themselves with the possessions they covet; they become slaves – no longer persons who are self-possessed but un-persons, things driven by their blind desires and their objects.
But when we dehumanize, de-personalize ourselves in this way, something stirs within us. We feel frustrated. In our heart of hearts we know that what we have is nothing compared with what we are, what we can be, what we would like to be. We would like to be ourselves. But we dare not break the vicious circle. We think we can overcome our frustrations by striving to have more, to have more than others, to have ever more and more. We thus turn our lives into a competitive rat-race without meaning.
The downward spiral of ambition, competition, and self-destruction twists and expands unceasingly, with the result that we are chained ever more securely to a progressive, and progressively frustrating, dehumanization.
Forget What You Think