Some people read the writings of the saints and they think, “What’s up with these guys? Do they want me to walk around miserable and unhappy all the time? Do they want me to be “that guy” who always makes things uncomfortable?”
This can especially happen when we read the following from St. John of the Cross:
“First, try to act with contempt for yourself and desire that all others do likewise. Second, endeavor to speak in contempt of yourself and desire all others to do so. Third, try to think lowly and contemptuously of yourself and desire that all others do the same.”
So what’s up with this? Consider the following:
I have think we all have met people whose egos are so fragile that they need constant praise and attention. The first few times you compliment such people, they respond well and seem to show improvement. However, in time, we start to notice a pattern. When the person is praised and supported, their ego is puffed up and they begin to show all manner of behaviors which sabotage their ultimate goal; which is to love, be loved, and be more effective in the work they are called to do.
Then when there is not praise, or when the work becomes tedious and dry, they flee from the challenge and fail to push through the hard times. Let’s take this a step further and apply it to our prayer and meditation.
When we see our strengths and achievements, when we experience consolation, our ego can be inflamed in a way that prevents us from working with God’s grace. Instead of relying upon the comfort of pleasant emotions, we need to develop a deeper reservoir from which we draw our strength. What St. John of the Cross is teaching us is to cultivate that confidence that comes from an invisible source, namely Jesus Christ.
The person who learns to acknowledge and work with their faults soon finds a much richer font of motivation and inspiration. Instead of waiting for the pat on the head or the attention of others, such a person looks to constantly improve and adapt because they have discovered that recognizing our faults and limitations is the best way to grow.
Even a step further, when we encourage this kind of feedback without any weird attachments or undo emotional baggage, in time we build around us networks of open communication and innovation. These are the keys to healthy families, healthy workplaces, and healthy institutions.
Heck, maybe St. John of the Cross has something to offer the entrepreneur in all of us!