In his recent article “The Rugged Altruists,” N.Y. Times op-ed columnist David Brooks discusses three virtues that American individuals must possess in order to better create successful impacts (from the point of view of the recipients) upon communities around the world that are disadvantaged in areas like education, economic prosperity, and health. Brooks extols personal examples of “altruists” who have embodied the virtues of courage, deference, and thanklessness. In doing so, he suggests that more personable, alternative approaches to the multibillion dollar global aid industry are worth considering.
While Brooks’ critiques and suggestions are nothing new, from a Franciscan perspective he seems to be referring to the act of self-forgetting…a purposeful act of mind, body, and soul that embraces fear (courage), smothers pride (deference), and rejects rewards (thanklessness). Just as St. Francis demonstrated through his rejection of his pampered life, self-forgetting is one key to establishing authentic relationships instead of treating others like commodities. While this type of self-sacrifice may take on many degrees depending on the social context, self-forgetting better opens up an individual to seeing, hearing, and feeling the needs of others. For help, aid, assistance, service, volun-tourism, humanitarianism, relief, making a difference, giving back development, charity, philanthropy …or whatever “it” is called to truly and respectfully satisfy the recipients, the providers (in this case Americans as Brooks suggests) must consider losing themselves just as Christ gave of Himself to us.

FMS missioner Sandra Bradford engaging in the
process of self-forgetting in Zambia.
For Reflection: What are some of your examples of self-forgetting and losing yourself in order to benefit others…particularly those living in contexts that are more difficult than yours? Is self-forgetting always necessary?
Written by: Matt Lorch