To Know Another

What do we mean when we talk about knowing the other?

“Hey, do you know Deanna?” “Yeah, she was my sister’s close friend back in high school and was often at our house.” “I’ve known Rod and Tony for about 5 years.” Or, as I’ve sometimes heard since living in Steubenville: a person get’s introduced to another and the other says “Good to know you.”

But what precisely do we know when we really know another person?

Rockwell-Father-Son-Mentee

To Know Another Person

We are not going to deeply explore the meaning of “know” in this context. Books beyond counting have been written about epistemology-the study of knowledge– and we could get hung up very easily here.

I simply mean that to know a person means you have developed a relationship with the person (to some degree or another) and that you perceive the truth or nature of that person.

So, if I have a relationship with the storeowner, who is friendly and shares me all about his wife and kids, and then later I find out that he was actually a foreign spy with no family I would say I did not know him at all. It was a false relationship, false information about him.

Knowledge is in degrees of course. And this is certainly the case in our understanding of other people.

But what is it about a person that is most true of them?

1. The person’s relationships, especially those that are most foundational and enduring, are constitutive of the person. We have no being at all without relationships and are richly, deeply situated within a whole web of relationships not just with concrete persons like parents, siblings, friends, but with culture, nation, etc. With his God especially.

2. The person’s essential characteristics. General traits they share with others. These help us to know person but bluntly.   To say a person is extraverted or friendly doesn’t say much. Those characteristics most authentic to the person – these are much truer than general characteristics.

Every Life is a Vocation

“In the design of God, every man is called upon to develop himself, for every life is a vocation. At birth, everyone is granted, in germ, a set of aptitudes and qualities for him to bring to fruition. Their coming to maturity, which will be the result of education received from the environment and personal efforts will allow each man to direct himself toward the destiny intended for him by his Creator.” From On the Development of Peoples, Paul VI.

Here we have the Holy Father Paul VI noting how essential characteristics of the person designed by God, given by God are clearly constitutive of his unique nature. Key part of his destiny. He also speaks about how these develop in relationship with “the environment” which obviously includes a whole host of social, cultural, historical factors.

The Human Story

But the place in which the person’s relationships and essential characteristics especially come alive are in what we call the person’s story. In their “story” we see the dynamic between their intrinsic energy to be a certain way in a social, cultural, historical, familial context. We see the dynamic of others acting upon the person and the person in their own self-creative freedom responding to such action and initiating other projects. But the story connects all this dynamic exchange in a holistic fashion.

In common speech we will often say as move to get to know another: “What is your story?”

Much research – much good research – has been done in contemporary psychology about the importance of story for persons to build a strong sense of identity and, of course, a means to share that identity with others.

Much of this work is highly consistent with Catholic anthropology. But I want to close this section not by appeal to a psychologist but one of my favorite teachers in philosophy, Norris Clarke, S.J. Let’s listen:

Paul VI spoke about how we are designed with a set of aptitudes and qualities. Note here that Father Clarke highlights the meaningful pattern of our life revealed by story, a pattern which surely includes the emergence of those latent unique gifts.

Conclusion

Our lives are revealed through story to others, but the very process of formulating story is important, Father Clarke believes, because it also enables us to be fully self-conscious of who we are.

If we as mentors are eager to truly hear the story of our mentees the opportunity here is that they will grow in self-awareness of who they are at the same time as we grow in knowledge of them.

Inscape: The Distinctive Design of Every Creature

The word “inscape” was coined by the priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. The universe was spoken into being by the divine Word, according to Christian theology. Hopkins developed this logocentric understanding of creation – every individual thing in the universe has an inscape, an inner essence that is the stamp of the divine creator on it. It is the distinctive design of each and every thing that characterizes its individuality.

Since all creation is by the Word (divine fiat) human identity in God’s image is grounded in God’s speech and no two creation words are ever spoken alike

Now, human persons, as the highest beings in all of creation, have the unique ability to grasp this inscape of things, but especially of other people, through a process that he called instress. Instress, according to Hopkins, is a thrust of energy (and empathy, we believe) that allows us to see the essence and distinctiveness of another thing or person. This logocentric theology of Hopkins is grounded in the Imago Deithe image of God in every person.

If this is true, then Hopkins himself was a master and exemplar of it.

In his poetry, he is known for capturing the distinctiveness of things, especially in nature, using beautiful language. He had a poet’s apprehension of reality, or the “dappled distinctiveness of everything kept in creation,”, according to biographer Paul Mariani. It was part of Hopkin’s dedication to understanding the thisness of reality.

For Hopkins, his understanding of inscape found its highest expression in the Catholic doctrine of the Eucharist, in which God himself dwells. The “inscape” of the Eucharist, in other words, is the body, blood, soul and divinity of Jesus Christ. By logical extension, Hopkins could deeply grasp the indwelling of God in the souls of the faithful. But it was his abiding devotion to the Eucharist that was the source and summit of his spiritual life, and even his philosophy. Because the fullness of divine life could dwell under the appearance of bread and wine, how shot through with the grandeur or God must all of creation be!

Inscape: Our Inner Landscape

We could think of inscape as one’s inner landscape.

In the 1987 Steven Spielperg movie “Inner Space”, a down-on-his-luck naval aviator is involved in a scientific experiment that leaves him miniaturized and inside the body of a hypochrondriac grocery store clerk, exploring his “inner space”.

Now, none of us (barring a novel breakthrough!) will be able to explore the inner space of another person, but we can certain explore their inscape. Although we can never know it fully (only God can), it is part of the deepest desire of every person to know and be known at more than a superficial level.

The act of instress involves grasping the whole person, which includes his interiority and personal distinctiveness. Most importantly, we must explore our own.

Dynamism

Our inscape is not a static thing, but a dynamic thing. It includes the entire history of our lives, and it is constantly changing as we “enact our selves”. In other words, it’s not enough to see our inner landscape and our basic, unique design – we must also live it out!

A fundamental way to explore our inscape is through our story. When we share our story with another who is open to receiving it – one who listens, empathically, to what our story reveals about who we really are – it allows us to grasp certain truths about ourselves as we make our history present in our memory and in language through our speech. The other person we are sharing our story with can help us to grasp those truths. And he very act of delving into our story is itself a revelatory experience.

Inscape and Holiness

For Hopkins, the uniqueness of a person is directly related to his holiness. A person becomes holy to the extent that he becomes himself – the pathway of holiness is radically unique for each person who is united to Christ in a personal union (of course, it includes the Body of Christ, the Church, but it does not do violence to his personhood).

The Trappist monk Thomas Merton, writing about inscape, explains:

On the contrary, the perfection of each created thing is not merely its conformity to an abstract type but in its own individual identity with itself.

Thus the call to holiness is grounded in God’s creation – the unique, individual person – and not in a Platonic ideal.

Finally, holiness is related to “vocation” in two ways:

  1. God creates each person through the word.
  2. When a person responds to God’s speech by expressing his unique word, he becomes Holy.

We look forward to developing our understanding of inscape, along with you, as we continue to explore our own inscapes and helping other members of the Body of Christ explore theirs.

A Story-Driven Approach

We tell stories because we live stories, and not the other way around.

We believe that narrative realism is critical to becoming who you are. It means uncovering the story at the heart of your life, and how it fits into the structure of the Big Story of creation.

We help you do that. Our approach is to start with your story – unique, unrepeatable, and unimaginable to anyone. Your narrative is sacred ground, and we treat it that way. By listening attentively, we help you uncover the important plot points in your story.  We help you gain an understanding of what they say about who you are truly are at your core.

Truth has a history. When the Son of God took flesh, he lived a full earthly life. He entered into history. And so, as the Truth, we can say that the truth has a history.  The truth of who you are must also, then, be inseparable from your history – the story of your life. We explore it with you, shoulder to shoulder, and help you understand what it means for your past, your present, and your future. This is a distinctive part of our approach.

Empathy: An Etymology and Introduction

Effective listening is always empathic listening. And it’s critical in awakening the unique personal vocation in another.

First, what do we mean by empathy?

Oxford dictionary provides a clean, clear definition: “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” So it’s not a pure intellectual act. You “get” where they are coming from. You see the world from their perspective.

The word “empathy” comes from the Greek word empatheia. The root of that word is pathos or feeling.  The Greek prefix “em” means “in” or “to go into.”   So, in empathy we go into the feelings of the other. More broadly, we go into the experience of the other.

Empathy is not Sympathy

Empathy is not Sympathy

This is not the same thing as sympathy. Two word are often confused. “Sympathy,” as Stephen Covey says “is a form of agreement, a form of judgment.” Sympathy assumes that the other’s position is correct.

The Greek prefix “sym” or its variation “syn” means “with” or “together.” So sympathy means that we feel with the other in the sense of agreement. “I can sympathize with coal miners frustrated with poor working conditions.” I agree with their position.

It can also express common feeling that assumes agreement:  “As we left the funeral the sympathy felt by the parishioners for their beloved priest knit their hearts together.”

Often sympathy is right and proper, but it is not the same as empathy.

Empathy does not entail agreement. This is very critical point. It is very possible and indeed necessary for human relationships that we enter into the feelings of others – stand in their shoes, see the world from their perspective – without simply taking on those feelings.

Empathy Expressed in Listening

Let’s turn now to how empathy is expressed in communication and, in particular, through listening.

“The essence of empathic listening is not that you agree with someone,” Covey writes. “It’s that you fully, deeply, understand that person emotionally as well as intellectually.”

The basic disposition of empathic listening is:

  • Not closed or guarded (create wall with hands) but open (gesture of openness)
  • Does not start out pressing a point, making a case, but waits to see the emerging position from the other.
  • Assumes good will unless proven otherwise.

The Human Person Fully Alive

The purpose of personal vocation is the joy that comes from fullness of life.

“These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15:11).

A human being fully alive is a joyful person. If you’ve ever met one, you know that. Sadly, many people have not. We live in a culture where the unique, divine purpose of every life is not recognized or embraced. We want to change that.

Uur mission to help people – especially young people – to know, embrace, and live to the full their unique, personal vocations.

Personal Vocation

Personal Vocation: The Primal Call

Personal vocation is different than “state of life” (married, single, priest, or religious). It’s different from work or career. It’s different from the universal call to holiness.

Unique, personal vocation is your particular way of being, your particular way of living out all three of those definitions of “vocation” above. Personal vocation includes them because it comes before them. It is the primal call of each person. It’s the way that each person was created and therefore the path that each person must walk in order to love and give themselves completely.

Each person’s mission is radically unique. You – and only you – were created to love in the specific way that only you can. You have to understand this first before you can understand and properly discern questions like state of life, career, or in what particular way God has called you to holiness.

Personal vocation means that of of 1,000 priests, there are 1,000 different ways of being a priest. It means that a million mothers will each have a personal vocation to be mother in a unique way. It means that my personal vocation as an entrepreneur is different than the vocation of any other entrepreneur in the world. And your personal vocation as a student is a radically personal one, too.

Who we are determines the way that we make choices. My unique mission in life impacts everything – every day, every hour, every minute of my life. It affects my decisions about the food I eat and drink, the way that I pray, the way that I love.

The Urgent Need to Focus on the Unique Person

Our world is in desperate need of an embrace of personal vocation. It allows us to see past labels – Republic, Democrat, rich, poor, black, white. It allows us to see the person in his or her unique nature, called to love, called to eternal life as we are. In gazing upon the face of another and entering into his life through empathy, we open ourselves up to the transforming power of each encounter.

We hope that you’ll allow us to accompany you on this journey of discernment. Then, together, we can help each person in our local communities and in the universal Church to become who they are.