HomeSomething to Think AboutThe Triangulation of Desire

The Triangulation of Desire

dark sky over bridgeThe late philosopher René Girard suggested that human desire is “triangular,” meaning that it arises not from any intrinsic value in the object of desire, but rather that we imitate others and experience desire for the same things that they desire. The toddler wanting the toy that another toddler has; the junior executive wanting the same clothes and car that the senior executive has; the lover pining for the same beloved as a rival—these are all experiences of this triangulation of desire. We learn what we want by looking around at what others want.

The saints and mystics teach us another way, a way of rejecting such false desires in order to discover a wellspring of authentic desire rooted in God. Instead of glancing nervously at others, they suggest we should stare lovingly at Christ and imitate him. Instead of looking outward at objects, they suggest we look inwardly at the vast, teeming life God wishes to share with us. Instead of looking upward at those who have more than we do, we should look downward toward those who are poor.

In short, a conversion of heart means rejecting a false triangulation of desire (me, a rival, and an object of competition) for a new triangulation: God, the poor, and my deepest self.

Tim Muldoon
Tim Muldoon
Tim Muldoon is the author of a number of books, including The Ignatian Workout and Living Against the Grain, and teaches in the Department of Philosophy at Boston College.


  1. Hi Tim,
    The triangulation appears just in time for me.
    It describes a model to pivot from earthly to heavenly, from scarcity to abundance, from draining to abundance, from static to flowing.
    My hoarding, pining and narrow focus on impermanent things is no match for the love of Christ, his all encompassing wisdom, his merciful heart, his lifetime of examples I hear and read in the scriptures, and God’s infinite gifts in the present.

  2. I appreciate the new triangulation. It gives a visual of a perfect replacement of the triangulation that we know we should not live by, but we don’t have a suitable replacement for it put into words. You have now put it into words.

  3. Thank you Tim for the new awakening in me to look at the poor and desire something they have. I think I am on to something profound here. Thank you.

  4. Wonderful words Tim. Desire happens and this is a good reminder of how to not be overcome by it. Not always easy, but certainly something to strive towards. This is the kind of post I like to save, and go back and reread, keeping it fresh.

  5. Very profound words said in a compact way. Desire is very complex I’ve found. It can be also not so much about rivalry as a felt incompleteness without the object of desire. Your final paragraph about the new triangulation: God, the poor, and my deepest self – so much beauty and truth in those words.

  6. Hi, Tim —
    Thank you for sharing your perspective on desire. It has been wonderful to experience the slow & welcome change in myself in the last few years when it comes to desire — a change of heart that only God can make happen! It’s by God’s grace that I don’t seem to have a desire for much of anything anymore except for the peace of Christ in my heart & to “try” to emulate His merciful love for others that comes only from above. I had to learn to be open to the Holy Spirit touching my heart. I began to see Christ in others (not everyone, but I’m working on it!). This sort of spiritual “desire” is a feeling that I don’t try to understand; it simply happened & only God knows the reason. I am a late bloomer when it comes to a strong, loving faith. I can actually “see” the many gifts I’ve been given throughout my life, including the trials & hardships that made me stronger in the long run. My change from within, as far as NOT desiring what I used to, has grown so much that I feel like I could burst at times! In retrospect, perhaps only those who have been touched by the fruit of the Spirit will relate to what I’m trying to describe. My life isn’t always a bed of roses, even with a strong faith; but, it sure is a lot easier to give my desires to God & let Him take the wheel! Thank you again!

  7. your reflection sheds new light on Matt 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
    Many people wonder at Christ’s meaning when he says we will receive anything we ask for in his name. Thank you for articulating an explanation!

  8. Tim,
    You successfully answered what’s been a burning question for some time for me: “What’s up with ‘The Bachelor’ and ‘The Bachelorette’ TV programs?” As usual, René Girard gets right to the hidden heart of human behavior to reveal an embarrassing truth–we’re so easily duped and easily (mis)led. But your post gives us what St. Paul promised: “I will show you a better way.” That is, the way of letting our desires grow toward imitating Christ, looking inward for the wisdom awaiting us there, and befriending the poor. You offer us a powerful, life-freeing lesson in a short post. Thank you! Tom

  9. Tim,
    Your reflection was a very specific ‘gifted’ and timely answer to a question I had asked of the Creator (and myself) just yesterday about what was inhibiting me in being able to fully embrace a life and career choice I must make. Your reflection has helped me see an aspect of my personhood which has been hidden from my conscious reflection and which in need of re-ordering. Your reflection has helped point the way to a better pathway forward. Many thanks. Prayers for your success in your important endeavor.


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