Relate to People as Persons by Henri Nouwen

Relate to People as Persons by Henri Nouwen

The passages below are taken from Father Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book “Turn My Mourning into Dancing,” published in 2001:

Relate to People as Persons rather than their Roles (84-85)

     Living with others can also break us out of our narrow points of view. When we relate to life (and others) as properties to be possessed or controlled or conquered, we cannot rightly see. Grab a flower and it cannot long reveal its beauty to you; it will wither. If you apply pressure to a friend’s weak spot to subdue, he or she cannot become your friend. Relate to people as a conqueror and they will hide their real nature from you. Violence is the brother and distrust the sister of this way of life. What you relate to in a manipulative way does not reveal itself to you. It closes itself; it hides its real mature; it becomes opaque.

     As long as we relate to one another this way, persons cannot be more than just characters to be defined, labelled, categorised, manipulated. But prayer helps us here. When in prayer we see all of life as a gift, then people become the greatest gift. They are no longer chess pieces to move around or allies in our schemes and ambitions, but persons with whom to form community, from whom to learn. In prayer we discover that people are more than their character; and when we become persons to each other, we “sound through” a peace greater than we ourselves can make and a love deeper and wider than we ourselves can contain.

     When we become persons we become transparent to each other, and light can shine through us, God can speak through us. When we become persons who transcend the limitations of our individual characters, the God who is love can reveal himself in our midst and bind us into a community. We become transparent. Others lose their opaqueness and reveal to us the loving face of our Lord.

     Our society makes it difficult to see people as transparent because we relate to others quite often as characters in a play—different, interesting characters whom we can use for different purposes. “He is good in this,” we say. “She is good in that.” We want to use people. Sometimes, of course, we must relate to people in their appropriate roles. We expect teachers to teach, telephone operators to help us find numbers. But still we remember also that a person is more than his or her roleIf you see me more than my function or job, then I can slowly communicate to you on a deeper level. I can become a person to you.

     And by truly meeting another we come into contact with a great beauty and sense of awe. We are often shining through each other the realities that we ourselves do not see, that we do not even fully understand. A prayerful life, then, is one in which we convert the world from darkness, people from mere roles to persons.

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