Conjectures of A Guilty Bystander (excerpt)


Merton, Thomas


Book Excerpt


Thomas Merton (1915–1968) was born in Prades, France. He grew up in France and England before moving to the United States and earning a BA and an MA from Columbia University in New York City. While at Columbia, Merton converted to Roman Catholicism. He eventually entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani and became a Trappist monk and an ordained priest. Merton was also a poet, a prolific social critic, a staunch supporter of nonviolence and the civil rights movement, and a pioneer in interfaith dialogue. His autobiography, The Seven Storey Mountain (1948), became a popular bestseller. Merton died while attending a conference in Bangkok.

This excerpt lends itself to the discussion of the impact of how we accomplish our work. If working at a frenzied pace means that we are "cooperating" with violence, as Merton suggests, what does that mean for the work towards peace we are attempting?

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From Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander (Doubleday and Company, 1966) p. 73, 258


Reading - Short Enough to Read Aloud.


Giving and ReceivingOrganizing and ActivismRoles and BoundariesServing and VolunteeringWork and Vocation

Big Questions

How much should I give? What, if anything, might limit my giving?What does it mean to be an organizer or an activist? What defines this role?Is it important to set boundaries? Why?Is my service effective? How do I know?What is the value of work for me? For my community?


Taking Action

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. How can activism be a form of violence?
  2. Why is it that, according to Merton, we are so ready to succumb to—and cooperate in—this form of violence?
  3. What, according to Merton, is the impact of overwork?
  4. What does the image of ripe fruit falling from the tree illustrate for you?
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