Our society tends to divide us up into winners and losers. Sadly, we don’t often reflect on how this affects our relationships with each other or what it means for us as Christians.
What does it mean? In essence, that our relationships with each other are too charged with competition and jealousy because we are too infected with the drive to out-do, out-achieve and out-hustle each other. For example, here are some of slogans that pass for wisdom today: Win! Be the best at something! Show others you’re more talented than they are! Show that you are more sophisticated than others! Don’t apologise for putting yourself first! Don’t be a loser!
These phrases aren’t just innocent axioms cheerleading us to work harder; they’re viruses infecting us so that most everything in our world now conspires with the narcissism within us to push us to achieve, to set ourselves apart from others, to stand out, to be at the top of the class, to be the best athlete, the best dressed, the best looking, the most musically talented, the most popular, the most experienced, the most travelled, the one who knows most about cars, or movies, or history, or sex, or whatever. At all costs we drive ourselves to find something at which we can beat others. At all costs we try somehow to set ourselves apart from and above others. That idea is almost genetically engrained in us now.
And because of that we tend to misjudge others and misjudge our own meaning and purpose. We structure everything too much around achieving and standing out. When we achieve, when we win, when we are better than others at something, our lives seem fuller. Our self-image inflates and we feel confident and worthwhile. Conversely, when we cannot stand out, when we’re just another face in the crowd, we struggle to maintain a healthy self-image.
Either way, we are forever struggling with jealousy and dissatisfaction because we cannot help constantly seeing our own lack of talent, beauty and achievement in relationship to others’ successes. And so we both envy and hate those who are talented, beautiful, powerful, rich and famous, holding them up for adulation even as we secretly wait for their downfall, like the crowd that praises Jesus on Palm Sunday and then screams for his crucifixion just five days later.
This leaves us in an unhappy place: how do we form community with each other when our very talents and achievements are cause for jealousy and resentment, when they’re sources of envy and weapons of competition? How do we love each other when our competitive spirits make us see each other as rivals?
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection