The Personalist Project

Comments (14)

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#1, Aug 22, 2013 6:44pm

Ok, I'll bite. :-)

I can't say I have had much to contribute here, but personalism has informed so much of the way I approach and resolve difficulties in my life that I appreciate the way the ideas here resonate with my experience. 

My understanding of personalism doesn't jive with what you say about being responsible for each person you help, beyond the help you give them. (Maybe Katie can correct me if I am wrong). You are not responsible for what that person you feed does with the meal you give them. But you are responsible to interact with that person as an individual, not merely as an object of what we are accustomed to calling 'charity' (something rather anemic compared to the charity the gospels call for), but as a subject. What that means in practice? Maybe not a lot different. Perhaps a lot. But the value of your act of connection, of recognition to his right to your engagement and human community, stands on it's own feet, I think. The act exists for the sake of the person, who exists for his own sake, whether or not he ever 'gets his act together'. 

Katie van Schaijik

#2, Aug 24, 2013 12:43pm

I agree, Kate.  Since—thanks to your recommendation—I read the book Boundaries, I've been reflecting on the relation between two personalist truths:

1) We are co-responsible for each other.

2) We are only responsible for ourselves.

It's not easy to sort out in the concrete, but we have to try.

You are right that it's crucial (and this ties in with Marie's post on the main feed, as well as with that interview on sex abuse I posted) that when we're "doing" charity, we not regard the other as the object of our beneficience.  Rather, we have to meet the other as subject.  And we have to see the charitable act as an exchange of goods.  

That exchange of goods and that meeting of persons becomes, objectively I think, a bond of love.  So, in a way, you belong to each other ever after.  My expectation is that in eternity (if we get there!) we'll get to meet people we helped on earth even if only fleetingly, and we'll embrace each other with great affection and recognition and gratitude.

In that sense, we're responsible for each other. But we have to leave each other free.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#3, Aug 24, 2013 2:30pm

I think this 'belonging to each other' is at the crux of a lot of confusion, because it's both centrally important to how we love one another as subjects, and, at the same time, the same word we use for a kind of object-possession relationship. I 'belong' to my children in a very different sense than my laptop 'belongs' to me.

Katie, one of the things I most enjoyed about Boundaries is that it never embraces a radical self-reliance or 'island' mentality; over and over it emphasizes finding the limits of our responsibilities to one another and to ourselves, and (my interpretation here), fully acting as persons in our response to others. The person who lacks boundaries frequently takes on responsibility that is inappropriate, and then feels burdened and resentful: they don't freely accept additional tasks because they recognize or freely assume a responsibility for the task itself--they accept them because they have assumed responsibility for the responses and feelings of another person. 

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#4, Aug 24, 2013 2:31pm

I think it is also helpful to think about the construction and meaning of the word 'responsibility'. 

Response-ability refers only to the response we owe to others; it is limited to our actions, interior and exterior; the very word excludes the actions of others. My responsibility is also limited by my abilities; if I am not capable of a particular response, then I am, quite literally, not 'response-able'. I cannot be 'response-able' for identifying the use the beggar is likely to make of my dollar; I am not free to neglect the response I owe my children, employers, and others in order to follow that beggar around or hire an investigator before consenting to give him funds. If my friend asks me for a loan and I already have strong reason to expect that he will use it frivolously and leave bills unpaid, then I might discern that my responsibility to my friend is best satisfied by buying his family groceries, or paying off a bill, rather than giving money. I cannot, however, have the same response-ability to the beggar, because he and I have a different relationship with respect to one another. 

James Barclay

#5, Aug 24, 2013 2:38pm

Dear Kate.  Dear Katie.  Ah, that I am being scolded for what I elicit as setting the nth goal of a personalist concept.  I am quite used to it.  We are indeed co-responsible for each other in so much as we can be.  and we connot be responsible for anyone else if we cannot be responsible for ourselves.  Charity is love.  One doesn ot "do" love.  One acts in love as if "being" of love.  Being a "worker".  Being a "lover".  I think we fall down when we buy the Aristotelean definition of 'objective' for we are not objects.  We are unique and must recognize as such.  I, for one, am not striving to get into heaven or anything like that.  It would be fruitless as either a goal or a means of reason.  Why cannot we be good for the simple reason that we are good and must, if we are to live righteous lives, act and be that way.  Kant's greatest moral standard was that we act righteously because we are inherently righteous and that it is our separation from it that invites immoral action.  Following post will be on Weil.

James Barclay

#6, Aug 24, 2013 2:53pm

Simone Weil's approach to Personalism was based on her thought that true personalism lay with the life of the common worker who works, suffers and shares.  I would not agree that she had a 'Rapture of the Mud".  Rather, I believe she was trying to achieve the personalism of St. Francis and St. Benedict Joseph LaBre.  she wanted to be, as did Dorothy Day, Peter Maurin, Ammon Hennacy, Katherine Doherty and Lanza del Vasto, "Love In Action".  She was not interested in buddying up with classmate Simone de Bouvoire, Michel Foucault or the rest at the E'cole Normale Superieure.  She bcame a schoo teacher to the poor, even a worker at the Citroen plant as a die cutter, all of which she failed at miserably.  So inept was she that her attmept to fight for the Loyalists in the Spanish Civil war ended up her getting sent back home.  And in WII working for the Allies she was inept and, with purpose, starved herself to death.  Her works live.  She did as she lived and was the essence of a personalist.  Peter Maurin was, to the world, little more than a bum.

James Barclay

#7, Aug 24, 2013 3:13pm

Basically, what I am talking about is a personalism that can be applied and practiced for today along with writing about it.  To prove the validity of a philosophy I think it must be applied, practice, made mistakes with, had failures and learned actual lessons of life.  To share that and to bring others into it with example and work.  To show that it really does work.  and I found out that, as far as I could commit to it, it worked almost miraculously.  Yet, I did not have to change myself at all or be a slave to someone else's edicts.  the 'get down', nitty gritty, real honest hand work, genuine and 'face of life' personalism.  Its the best I can do.

Kate Whittaker Cousino

#8, Aug 24, 2013 3:17pm

I hope you don't actually feel 'scolded'!  Your post was effective as a springboard for some good reflection, I think.

Certainly our actions spring from our being, so that a "just man justices\ Keeps grace, that keeps all his goings graces". Of course, if we are conscious that we are not interiorly inclined to be righteous, we are even more impelled to act righteously, to form our interior being by our exterior actions. ...and in the end, the man who judges harshly in his mind, but knows himself to be in error and consequently acts with an almost exaggerated mercy, is, in the end, a merciful man. But in that case, I think I am probably assuming that his motivation lies in recognizing that mercy is good in itself and desiring it.

James Barclay

#9, Aug 27, 2013 4:23am

I meant scolded in terms of a touche.  We are intimately responsible for what we do and the consequences just as the Nazi German should have been but was not;  the results being so horrifying.  Mercy is indeed at the crux of the dicussion;  I have been reading Emmanuel Mounier's Personalism.   He makes some definite distinctions in the degradation of modern society and certain definitions asd it would apply to the  personalist philosophy -or philosophies.  In order to correct these incorrect definitions the personist must reflect inwardly and think radically as in the mathematical reference to the root;  the base number.  Beginning in the 15th Century intelligence has been reduced to intellectualization, the heroism of quiet and devoted sacrifice to glory and success, spiritual force to simple endurance, love to eroticism and lust and passion to shallow sincerity.  And true meditation to a type of narcissistic introspection.  Mercy does not excuse, but may be the prime ingredient of the individual's salvation.  But Soren Kierkegaard wrote that "...he must come out of his inwardness if he is to keep his soul alive."  This is where the seven spritual and seven corporal works of mercy come into play.

James Barclay

#10, Aug 27, 2013 5:48am

I am enlisting some help to keep my thoughts focused., Joshua Castel House, Alliance, OH, has a good explanation of their practice of personalism which follows, among others, Peter Maurin, Dorothy Day and Emmanuel Mounier.  Also, I will ask my old friend, Dr. Michael Boover, Ret. of Anna Maria College in nearby Paxton.  Peace and Justice is his specialty and also the writings of Dorothy Day.  Another resouce is Dr. Michael True, Prof. Emeritus at Assumption College.  (His son, Dan, wrote that famous "Commit Random Acts of Kindness" and others.)  Mike has written several books and has a very critical mind.  I borrowed my copy of "Personalism" from Our Lady of the Elms in Chicopee, but cannot find a free download of it anywhere.  amazon wants a arm and a leg, of course.  "Sometimes voluntary poverty makes limits we don't like." -Fr. Bernard Gilgun RIP and a great beacon of the Catholic Worker Movement.

James Barclay

#11, Aug 29, 2013 4:19pm

Just another day and what do I find.  I just found my copy of Peter Maurin's Essays For The Green Revolution, (1949).  Actually, Peter didn't write it.  He made all these notes and things and after he died members of the CW compiled all they could and made a book.  Good, pithy stuff.


What a fine place, this world would be, if Humanists, trid to be human to men.  What a fine place, this world would be, if Personalist Theists tried to, their brother's keeper, as God, wants them to be.  What a fine place, this world would be, if Fundamentalist Protestants, tried to exemplify, the Sermon on the Mount.  What a fine place, this world would be, if Roman Catholics, tried to keep up with St. Francis of Assisi.

Though many of Peter's essays were dated (he died in 1949) he was able to distill the personalism of the Catholic Worker Movement into understadable, clear and even 'bite sized' verses that showed his references to very diverse and surprising sources.  Peter Maurin was truly a personalist.

Katie van Schaijik

#12, Aug 30, 2013 9:23am

I agree with you, James.  I love what I learned of Peter Maurin through reading The Long Loneliness.

At least one of his quotes is in our rotation.

I like the way he saw that thinkers and doers need each other. And the way he called for "round table discussions" between them.

James Barclay

#13, Aug 30, 2013 8:17pm

Katie, his platform was one that included houses of hospitality and farms which would also be univerisites to teach personalism and agrarianism.  And he thought they all be within each other.  He called his personalism "gentle personalism".  His method of doing this, he said, was "blowing the dynamite of the Church."   Kate, I thought about your attitude toward the bum and how that would be a different relationship.  Encountering and living among them I see quite what you mean and I think your perspective is quite valid.  My personality is a bit different in that I would be wasing my time with value judgements.  If on a frozen day a bum comes to me and I have a spare coat I will probably give it to him.  I later the same day a pregnant mother comes to me and wants a coat, the one I gave to the bum, I feel no guilt or shame.  It is the act, not the occasion, that counts.  One does what one can within the limits of space and time.  I see mathematically.

James Barclay

#14, Aug 30, 2013 8:29pm

Kate, I really would like to know more from your perspective.  A parallax view of something is like a jewel's facets which reflect at different frequencies and provide its brilliance.  How dull and unremarkable is an uncut diamond.  I. we, cannot escape our values, our judgements wihtin them and the existential imperative of action.  The Socratic dialogue is essential.

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