Understanding the “with” in “for and with others”

Understanding the “with” in “for and with others”

Most individuals with any affiliation to a Jesuit institution recognize the call to be people “for and with others” as a foundational part of Jesuit education. Yet few people our age are able to trace the history of this phrase back to an address given by Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., the former Superior General of the Jesuits, to the Tenth International Congress of Jesuit Alumni of Europe in Valencia, Spain, on July 31, 1973. In his historic address, Fr. Arrupe’s fervent call to action was marked by an insistence on change within and beyond Jesuit institutions. Although Fr. Arrupe used the phrase “men for others” since he delivered his address at an all-male institution, the language of his address has since been edited to reflect a more gender-inclusive message. Thus, co-educational Jesuit institutions have replaced “men for others” with phrases such as “men and women for others.” In a similar vein, and in order to move beyond gendered language to include all members of our community, I will use “people” in place of “men and women.”

The modifications that colleges and universities have made to Fr. Arrupe’s phrase extend beyond gender inclusion, though. Some institutions, including the College of the Holy Cross, have added the word “with” to Fr. Arrupe’s phrase as well, calling us to be people for and with others. Although all 28 members of the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities have some variation of the Arrupe-inspired phrase as a central part of their philosophy and mission, only 12 of the 28 institutions explicitly convey the importance of being “with” others in their language surrounding this phrase.

Thus, the inclusion of “with” is not merely an addition of a common preposition. It is rather an intentional invitation to move beyond a service-only mindset and to consider how to exhibit a radical presence and a profound sense of solidarity with others. An Australian artist, activist, and academic named Lilla Watson wrote, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time, but if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.” Watson’s insight is a critical bridge between traditional service (“for”) and interpersonal engagement (“with”). So what does being “with” others in this mutuality entail? Additionally, why is is important that we include this word in our Holy Cross mission?

I propose that at the heart of being “with” others is a willingness—an eagerness, even— to “enter into the chaos of another,” as Fr. James F. Keenan, S.J. writes. I would argue that, as Jesuit-educated students, we have the responsibility to “enter into the chaos” of everyone, from a seemingly overwhelmed student whom we get to know through a Holy Cross seminar to an individual experiencing homelessness whom we get to know through community engagement in Worcester or an immersion trip. Moreover, we are also called to “enter into the chaos” of everyone in between.

Alongside “entering into the chaos” of others is reflecting on their experiences in a manner that propels future action and engagement. A critical element of Jesuit education is the “well educated solidarity” that can come from learning both within and beyond the walls of a classroom. Fr. Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, S.J., former Superior General of the Society of Jesus, described the goal of Jesuit education in the following way:

When the heart is touched by direct experience, the mind may be challenged to change. Personal involvement with innocent suffering, with the injustice others suffer, is the catalyst for solidarity, which then gives rise to intellectual inquiry and moral reflection.  Students, in the course of their formation, must let the gritty reality of this world into their lives, so they can learn to feel it, think about it critically, respond to its suffering, and engage it constructively.

These five elements of direct experience—a challenge to change one’s mind, personal involvement with injustices, solidarity, intellectual inquiry, and moral reflection—are ones that can undoubtedly come from interactions with all fellow members of our college community. Yet, these elements come alive in a direct way when students are exposed to the “gritty reality of this world” in marginalized and impoverished communities beyond the Hill. For example, coming into contact with marginalization and injustice in a way that permeates one’s very being can be a catalyst for the critical thinking, genuine responses, and constructive engagement that Fr. Kolvenbach pushes for. Not only is it a privilege to be welcomed into spaces that can allow for this type of formation, but it is also a responsibility to respond wholeheartedly to this call to be people “with others.”  

My firm belief in the aforementioned call made by Fr. Kolvenbach is grounded in my own personal experiences of accompanying others, which have been made possible throughout my formation as a Holy Cross student. For example, I spent last semester in Córdoba, Argentina engaging in an immersive study abroad experience called CASA de la Mateada, a program rooted in the Ignatian tradition and founded on the pillars of community, accompaniment, spirituality, and academics. During my time in Córdoba, I lived in community with students from other Catholic (predominantly Jesuit) institutions in which we enjoyed and were challenged by experiences of accompanying one another and those we met at the margins of Argentine society. We also spent our time sharing in spaces centered around spiritual exploration and taking courses centered around themes of social justice. Although several experiences have shaped my coming to understand the “with” in “for and with others,” I would like to share one in particular. There was a week of many sequential days of thunderstorms in Córdoba, during which I witnessed and experienced first-hand the devastating effects of thunderstorms in a way that I had not previously. I saw flooded streets with cars stuck, water creeping in under doors, soaked mattresses, clothes left out to “dry,” and containers strewn about in an effort to catch water leaking in. For me, thunderstorms have always been, at best, an excuse to stay inside with a good book and hot tea while listening to the sounds of the storm, and, at worst, a minor inconvenience. For the people I grew to know and love in Nuestro Hogar III, an impoverished area on the outskirts of the city in which I spent two days a week, these storms affected their entire day and had lasting impacts. For example, it was heart-wrenching to sit there on a Tuesday afternoon with six-year old Lara as she cried about not being able to go to school that day because the woman who normally drives her could not get her car out of the flooded street. It was upsetting to walk through their house with Lara’s mother Yiya and see the extreme water damage all around. Yet, I also stood in awe of how, in the face of this damage, they thanked God for having a stable roof when so many others did not. The following day, at the adult literacy center where I helped teach English, it was painful to see the empty seats where Isa and Sara normally sat and to hear from their teacher Adriana that they could not attend class because their children were sick after being exposed to the storm. Although my emotions varied from week to week during my time abroad, this week was a particularly upsetting one.

As I sat with those unsettled feelings that week, I also continued to think about questions swirling around my head. Why am I able to enjoy any more security and stability than these individuals do? How do families who have even less than my friends in Nuestro Hogar III cope with storms? At night, as I lay in my warm bed, I could not help but wonder if Yiya’s family, along with countless other families, would be able to sleep that night. Were their beds too soaked to lie on? Were the pouring rain and thunder keeping them up? Were they too worried and anxious about the damage to their home to fall asleep? As I considered these questions, I also wondered—what are the questions that I cannot even think to ask? I felt so far removed from their reality that I questioned whether my questions were even valid themselves. I can only imagine that the concerns at the top of their minds are ones that would never even cross mine.

I share this experience in an effort to illustrate an element of my Jesuit education that exemplified Fr. Kolvenbach’s message in my own life. In that week of severe storms, my heart was “touched by direct experience” and my mind was “challenged to change.” I went through those days with a sense a “personal involvement...with the injustice others suffer” because I was “with” others in genuine friendship that gave rise to my embodied and reflective experience described above. My hope now is that I can ensure that this anecdote does not merely remain a memory for me. I hope to continue to let the “gritty reality of the world” into my life as it did that week, to “feel it” in an acutely personal sense, engage in critical thinking, and respond to it “constructively” through attempts to counter the root causes of poverty and injustice.

Part of a constructive response, I believe, is recognizing that being people “with” others is not detached from being people “for” others. I believe the interconnection between the two lies in the relationship between trying to save the world and savoring it, as described below by Fr. Greg Boyle, S.J.:

We always seem to be faced with this choice: to save the world or savor it. I want to propose that savoring is better, and that when we seek to ‘save’ and ‘contribute’ and ‘give back’ and ‘rescue’ folks and even ‘make a difference,’ then it is all about you…and the world stays stuck…The good news, of course, is that when we choose to ‘savor’ the world, it gets saved.  Don’t set out to change the world. Set out to wonder how people are doing.

In Jesuit institutions, we often hear about St. Ignatius’ call to “go forth and set the world on fire.” Grounded in Fr. Boyle’s proposal to “savor” the world, though, it seems that “going forth and setting the world on fire” is more about forming relationships with others that we can “savor” and less about setting out to “save” the world for them. Furthermore, as Fr. Boyle writes, it is in the very act of “savoring” that we help “save” the world.

As someone who considers the most fulfilling moments of my college career to be those that have formed my understanding of how I am called to be a person both “for” and “with” others, a person who “savors” the world rather than trying to “save” it, I encourage you to consider the mission of our College and your involvement in it. As you read the following questions, contemplate how you might answer them in your own way. Ask yourself, what does it mean to be a person “for and with others”? Is there a way that you can widen your scope both in and beyond Holy Cross? Can you transcend an intellectual knowledge of the phrase of being a person “for and with others” to reach an embodied understanding of it? What are opportunities that you have sought out or will seek out that allow you to be present with others, particularly (but not only) with marginalized communities? There is a reason that our College has included “with” in a phrase used in other forms by many other institutions. Let us take the time to reflect upon this and to ensure that the phrase “being people for and with others” is a lived reality rather than mere words.

(Overhead photo courtesy of the author.)

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