Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 69, How Champions Create Problems

Chapter 69 of The Rule of St. Benedict is curious. The chapter is short and entitled "The Presumption of Defending Another in the Monastery."
1Every precaution must be taken that one monk does not presume in any circumstance to defend another in the monastery or to be his champion, 2even if they are related by the closest ties of blood. 3In no way whatsoever shall the monks presume to do this, because it can be a most serious source and occasion of contention.
I find this text strange as, generally speaking, I think it's good to stick up for each other. My best guess as to what I think Benedict is after here is that he's trying to address favoritism. "Favorite ones" in the workplace can be a source of contention as people aren't being fairly evaluated on their merits. Fair criticism is silenced because of the "champion." Another aspect to this is how when we start "taking sides" factions begin to develop with people clustering around the disputants.

In my world I've often seen the champion dynamic play out in student/teacher relationships. For example, I once had a teacher approach the department as an advocate for a student. The faculty member--"the champion"--asked that this student be awarded a scholarship above what we typically give. This student was close to the faculty member and had approached the faculty member to make the request because he was in tight financial straits (tight but not desperate). It was certainly within our ability to give the student more scholarship money, but only by taking money away from other deserving students. (We give everyone the same amount so giving anyone more would have taken away from others.) More, this particular student refused to get part-time employment. Most all of our other graduate students work somewhere at the school or in town.

Anyhow, in championing for the student this faculty member put a lot of pressure on the department in ways that bruised some feelings. Based strictly on need, there were other students who were more deserving of additional scholarship money. More, many of these students were working in part-time jobs where the student being advocated for had refused to do this.

All that to say, this "champion" thing can be pretty messy. Being a "champion" feels good, morally speaking, and it often is good. But it can also blind us to the perspectives and needs of others.

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One thought on “Fridays with Benedict: Chapter 69, How Champions Create Problems”

  1. This makes me think of something C.S. Lewis said (if I remember correctly) - that humans have a dangerous tendency to consider ourselves sufficiently identified with an injured party to take up their cause, but not sufficiently identified with them to forgive.

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