Becoming one’s true self through Manaakitanga

Language, love, laïcité and violence

Many young people generously offer themselves for volunteer service and are actively involved in movements for social justice and care of the planet.

This involves both personal sacrifice and personal satisfaction.

There is a direct link between what we personally become and what we do to help others become.

Our own existence is a gift – wasn’t owing to us.

And so we are most truly ourselves by being a gift, i.e. by self-giving.

This echoes the Gospel teaching that the grains of wheat that fall into the ground and die to themselves become a harvest; the grain that doesn’t ‘die’ to itself remains alone, (John 12:24).

We experience this truth especially when we are helping troubled or needy people: that’s when we can discover depths of healing, joy and meaning we didn’t even know we were missing!

Brother, sister, let me serve you,
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
to let you be my servant too.

We are pilgrims on a journey,
we’re together on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the load.

Practical concern for others is not enough if it aims only at individuals. It needs to spill over into social life and economic planning.

Compassion, mercy and forbearance belong in public life, not just in private life.

This is hardly what happens when business practices pursue profits by making other people feel inferior and needy.

Business and advertising work relentlessly, even unscrupulously, to heighten people’s sense of need so that they will keep turning to the markets to offset their needs and wants and anxieties and fears.

It is not in capitalism’s interest for people to be content with sufficient.

Making people feel they have to compete with neighbours can even lead them to measure their own worth by how well they can keep up, or be useful, or not have to depend on others.

The market sells them that idea.

But that’s not how the Gospel values people.

I will hold the Christ-light for you
in the night-time of your fear.
I will hold my hand out to you,
speak the peace you long to hear.

The economic system of our country and others is based on the premise that “the business of business is business”!

On that basis, business and industry give first priority to maximizing profits. The needs of others are addressed afterwards, e.g. through the various ways tax revenue is distributed.

Over many years, this system has resulted, and continues to result, in a still widening gap between rich and poor.

Greed and exploitation are at the root of the terrible suffering of many people, families and nations.

A root problem requires root surgery: without a vision we are only tinkering. Something other than just tweaking the present system is needed.

As Pope Benedict XVI has said: “Our world has grown weary of greed, exploitation and division, of the tedium of false idols and piecemeal responses, and the pain of false promises. Our hearts and minds are yearning for a vision of life where love endures, where gifts are shared, where unity is built, where freedom finds meaning in truth, and where identity is found in respectful communion. This is the work of the Holy Spirit”. (To young people, Sydney, 2008).

A different economic system is needed.

A country’s economy needs to be strong, and there is a proper place for self-interest. But the underlying premise must be that the business of business is people.

As the Maori proverb has it: he aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata! (What is the most important thing in the world? People, people, people.)

On that premise the needs of weaker members of society would be factored into economic planning. That is different from giving market forces free reign and then trying to redress imbalances afterwards!

The needed alternative would have to be based on the meaning of human dignity.

Present policies simply take it for granted that the fruits of industry and commerce belong to those who provide the finance, and not to those who provide the human labour.

The problem with this is that workers and their jobs can be perceived mainly as cost items – and costs are to be minimized or eliminated for the sake of maximizing profits.

This leaves workers, their families and livelihoods very vulnerable.

I will weep when you are weeping,
when you laugh I’ll laugh with you;
I will share your joy and sorrow
till we’ve seen this journey through.

An alternative system, based more on human dignity, holds that by providing their personal labour, workers contribute even more significantly to the enterprise than do those who provide finance, which is impersonal. And so the fruits of the enterprise/industry/business properly belong to the workers as well. And more equitable ways of sharing those fruits need to be worked out.

Similarly, trading relationships, industrial law and commercial practices would make room for what Pope Benedict called “gratuitousness”.

In other words, compassion, giving, and forgiving are factored into these relationships and practices.

National policies and international law would include the needs of the world’s poor, and migrants and refugees as a matter of right, not just of charity or goodwill.

There are many other examples of social inequity and social injustice.

These examples might suffice to show how they derive from disregard for human dignity and the common good – and perhaps alert you to ways your own becoming and society’s well being can be linked.

After all, it is our Christian faith that gives us the greatest reasons of all for respecting human dignity.

Nakau te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi – With your basket and my basket the people will live.

When we sing to God in heaven
we shall find such harmony
born of all we’ve known together
of Christ’s love and agony. (The Servant Song – Richard Gillard.)


  • +Peter Cullinane was the first bishop of the Diocese of Palmerston North. Now retired he continues to be a respected writer and leader of retreats and is still busy at local, national, and international levels. Here he shares his reflections on sciences and Christian faith. To conclude the introduction of this series he quotes Albert Einstein, “Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”
  • This is the seventh in a series of chapters from his letter to senior students
  • Image: Manawatu Standard
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