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The Pressure of Competition

Henri Nouwen is one of my favorite writers because he reaches deep into his own humanity and shares his vulnerabilities.

Read what Henri writes about COMPETITION, STUDENTS, and EDUCATION.

-Mary McCool

One of the saddest aspects of the lives of many students is that they always feel pressured. . . . The word school, which comes from schola (meaning “free time”), reminds us that schools were originally meant to interrupt a busy existence and create some space to contemplate the mysteries of life.

Today they have become the arena for a hectic race to accomplish as much as possible, and to acquire in a short period the necessary things to survive the great battle of human life.

Books written to be savored slowly are read hastily to fulfill a requirement, paintings made to be seen with a contemplative eye are taken in as part of a necessary art appreciation course, and music composed to be enjoyed at leisure is listened to in order to identify a period or style.

Thus, colleges and universities meant to be places for quiet learning have become places of fierce competition, in which the rewards go to those who produce the most and the best.


Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer, and theologian.

His interests were rooted primarily in psychology, pastoral ministry, spirituality, social justice, and community.

Over the course of his life, Nouwen was heavily influenced by the work of Anton Boisen, Thomas Merton, Rembrandt, Vincent van Gogh, and Jean Vanier.

After nearly two decades of teaching at academic institutions, including the University of Notre Dame, Yale Divinity School, and Harvard Divinity School, Nouwen went on to work with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities at the L'Arche Daybreak community in Richmond Hill, Ontario.


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