A reflection on personalism in an impersonal world


Actualizing the Philosophy of JPII

In the era of technology, our generation is increasingly experiencing anxiety and distance from each other. While the typical University of Dallas student is better at feeling connected to the world around him or her than other college students might be, almost every UD student experiences at some point a sense of loneliness, of being lost in a sea of people, unseen. 

Like me, you might think, “I’m at a Catholic liberal arts school, seeking the good in my life, so what could I possibly be missing?” I’d like to propose the duality of the UD lifestyle as a potential danger when incorrectly approached.

As a highly intellectual student body, we tend to swing on our pendulum from one extreme to the other: intense studying and seclusion into intense partying (if you don’t believe me, think of TGIT and Groundhog). It’s a work hard, play hard world at UD, but it’s the middle ground that we are longing for and often miss (Aristotle was really onto something with those means). 

We build up ideas and feelings in your classes and studying, longing for connections to share them with, but ninety percent of those connections are not going to come from the screaming “Stacy’s Mom” on a Thursday night. And so we can end the night or the week feeling a bit let down, confused and longing for something we can’t quite name yet. 

This past summer, UD 2023 alumna Grace Lively unexpectedly and tragically passed away due to injuries from a car accident. Through social media, friends and family joined together to create a GoFundMe to help the Lively family with funeral preparations. The GoFundMe circulated through Instagram stories, binding together friends and strangers alike, eventually raising over $60,000 for the grieving family. 

Although I did not know her personally, friends have asked me about Grace Lively; they want to see a picture, to put a face to the name we were told of this summer. We all have this desire to see her and many of us recognize her despite having never met.

Where does it come from, this desire to know and help a stranger who we can no longer meet in this world? It is the recognition of irreplaceability. 

Grace Lively brought something to this world that no one has ever brought before and no one will ever be able to bring again. Pope John Paul II points out that the more we love those around us the more we cannot say what we love about them. The unique beauty of each individual soul is unrepeatable and irreplaceable, and so we are left looking at the picture of a lovely person who has passed, trying to glimpse that individuality that we missed out on. 

In our fallen human nature we tend to constantly navel gaze, focusing on ourselves without truly understanding ourselves or seeing others around us. We long to connect with those around us, to be seen by them and not feel as though we are drowning in an overwhelming and confusing world of responsibilities and new experiences. 

We seek the recognition and love of others, yet often ignore the surest way to receive this love: by loving others. It may seem paradoxical at first, but the better we love those around us, the happier we will be, the more we will learn to love life, and the better we can see and love God. 

In Gaudium et Spes, John Paul II says man “can fully discover his true self only in a sincere giving of himself”. We are seeking meaningful connections in a world telling us life is meaningless, but when you recognize the unique dignity of each human soul, of its unrepeatability, you realize that every connection you make is a meaningful connection. 

Talk to the person sitting next to you today or standing in line with you for coffee. Smile at that person you make eye contact with on the Mall. Get coffee with someone you’ve always wanted to know better. Recognize and love each person you pass today, revel in their irreplaceability, see them and be seen.


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