“Don’t get personally involved…”

The great illusion of leadership is to think that man (sic) can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.

Henri Nouwen The Wounded Healer

This week I have been re-reading The Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen to get more of a grip on how I might have 
better responded to a student who had dropped in to see me, the conversation reminding me again of the great thirst for intimacy in the world, and for healing that comes from being truly understood.

The tragedy of Christian ministry is that many who are in great need, many who seek an attentive ear, a word of support, a forgiving embrace, a firm hand, a tender smile, or even a stuttering confession of inability to do more, often find their ministers distant men (sic) who do not want to burn their fingers. They are unwilling to express their feelings of affection, anger, hostility, or sympathy. The paradox indeed is that those who want to be for “everyone” find themselves often unable to be close to anyone…

My reading coincided with Andrew Denton’s interview of Father Des Reid, recently retired Catholic priest, alcoholic and friend of asylum seekers.

At one point in the interview Denton and Reid were talking about his time as priest at Port Hedland’s infamous detention centre for “boat people” during the 80’s.
“You know, we, in training, we were constantly being told, what they tell me is the same in the Medical School, do not allow yourself to become personally involved. But it’s impossible not to. It really is impossible not to.”

But of course it is possible. The price is the loss of compassion and a living denial.

I am wondering, how may one avoid being destroyed in the process of entering into the suffering world of the other?

And if we want a caring University, how may we all offer support to students without burning out?

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