I cannot read Chapter 34 of the Rule without falling into immediate conviction. I write this in relation to the context of the American higher-education system. I realize this will not fit many of you who read today’s post. But perhaps you can glean a transferable concept that will apply to your life.
Today’s chapter is a “block buster” for the way we structure much of our life today.
Education today is largely based upon “aptitude” and “economics.” Those who have proved themselves in previous academic work—and—who have the money to pay for (or take huge loans for) their next degree are “eligible” for admission.
These two criteria make access to education a reality for smaller and smaller numbers of people (as we move up the educational ladder), making some of our education only available to “the privileged elite.”
I go through periods of intense conviction about spending my life in a system like this, but I do not know how to go about changing it. It is pervasive.
And then I read Benedict. I think he would know. I think he would say, “Make what you have to offer available to people according to their respective aptitudes and economics. Teach them as they are able to learn and as they are able to pay.”
This would immediately challenge our educational institutions and radically transform the way we admit students and get money from them. It would challenge the students to accept the fact that there might be someone in the class who had “paid less” than they did for the same course. It would test the professors will to instruct those who didn’t fit the stereotype of “the brightest and the best.” It would redefine the way we go about determining the “reputation” of an educational institution. In short, it would overturn the whole system. Everyone would have to think and behave differently.
And for Benedict—that’s the point.
I cannot begin to list the other contexts in which Benedict’s approach “according to need” would have radical consequences. Perhaps you can think of things that fit how you live and where you work. If you can, I imagine you’ll agree with me that the implications are devastating to a lot of our “systems.”
And whether or not my educational model speaks to you or not, Benedict’s final words speak to all of us. The great danger in any reconstructive, renovative enterprise is that the people in it will “grumble.”
Grumbling was one of the main sins in monastic community, and Benedict speaks against it in various places in the Rule. Grumbling is what the ego does when it isn’t being stroked—when it has to “give way” so that someone else can be given what they rightfully deserve. Only an abandoned self will vote to re-organize “according to need.”