John VanBerkum, Staff Writer
I’m sure the image of wrapping paper immediately draws to mind the merry season of Christmas. The living room is decked out with holly and ivy, and the Christmas tree is the center of attention, ornaments reflecting the colored lights hung among the branches. On Christmas morning, gifts are nestled under the tree cocooned in brightly colored wrapping paper. Your little sister, anxious to open all her presents, grabs a box, rips off the paper, throws it aside, screams with delight and moves on to the next parcel. It is a joyful time of year, but this analogy extends beyond Christmas: It’s about every single day.
There’s wrapping paper in every day of our lives. In fact, we are the brightly colored paper containing a gift, cast aside without a thought: enthusiastic people containing the gift of love for our neighbors, willing to be cast aside and ignored so that others may experience and live the true gift beneath. The wrapping paper is the way we live our lives; we must be bold and brilliant so that others can see us and wonder what lies beneath.
But it is not about their recognition of us. We are only wrapping paper, thrown aside. We live so that others may wonder what drives us so that they, too, can figure out who is the secret of life for themselves. I stumbled upon this beautiful image in a writing by St. Josemaría called The Furrow (288). His message is one of humility, a virtue much-needed in today’s society.
In the last issue of the Rover, Domenic Canonico reported on professor Patrick Deneen’s talk on the culture of autonomy. Canonico writes, “Deneen criticized the self-seeking ways of individualistic society for creating what he calls a ‘culture of discontent,’ in which human actions are primarily benefit-driven… Like the establishment of government, relationships are evaluated based on their utility to the individual.” Deneen argues that individuals are being shaped by society to work only for themselves without any regard for others, past, present or future. Society is contrary to a life of meaningful relationships and virtue, as espoused by the ancients and Scholastics. Aristotle argued that the human person is social by nature, a being that is defined by interacting with others. This part of man’s nature, however, is being suppressed, as seen by the increasingly individualistic trends in society today (eg, high divorce and abortion rates).
How is the problem fixed? At the very base level: wrapping paper, our individual actions and character.
Every person must be an example for every one of his or her friends, classmates or even complete strangers. This wrapping paper can’t be gaudy and out-of-place; your example can’t be self-centered and cocky. Your example and your character, which makes your example shine even brighter, are only present to make other people (like those down the hall from you) question their own character.
By no means are your actions for showing off. Rather, your sole purpose must be to inspire others to live a virtuous life. When your friends have learned what they can from you, you must want to be cast aside like wrapping paper. Because wanting recognition isn’t humble, and besides, your goal was to make your friend into a better person, not to make yourself feel like a hero for helping someone. Being humble is often misconstrued as being a pushover or being someone who is at the periphery of a group of people and is very quiet. But a life of humility is the exact opposite. How can you be truly humble unless you are serving others? A life of humility, therefore, is an active life, one in which we are involved in the lives of our friends, putting ourselves last.
If you need some practical tips to live the life of humility, pay attention to the words of St. Josemaría. You aren’t living humility when you speak badly of yourself so that others may form a good opinion of you or contradict you; when you mention yourself as an example in conversation; when you want to be singled out; if you are hurt that others are held in greater esteem; or, if you feel satisfaction when praised (Furrow 263). It is the ultimate show of humility when we live our entire lives for someone else. We work hard and diligently—yes, to improve ourselves—but more importantly to help those around us become closer to fulfilling their true end.
It is a radical lifestyle, one all but forgotten in a society shaped by individualism. Professor Deneen presents a grim world view based on current trends, but a lifestyle of humility embraced by each person will change current American culture, resulting in a country that truly can be defined by the words “We the People.” This radical transformation starts with us. Be the wrapping paper we are called to be.
John VanBerkum is a sophomore political science and philosophy major living in O’Neill Hall. He has no idea how to wrap presents, so email him at email@example.com if you can provide lessons.