A couple of months ago I joined a discussion group of Jean Vanier’s book Becoming Human (2014). This is how I found out about — indeed, discovered — his project L’Arche (The Ark), an international chain of communities, where people with intellectual and other disabilities and those who assist them build a life together — to put it in Becoming Human-terms, they learn Vulnerability to each other, and Belonging.  Today L’Arche spans more than 40 countries. The first of these communities was founded in Trosly-Breuil, France, in 1964, where Vanier is reported to reside at present.

Son of George Vanier (19th Governor General of Canada), sucked into World War 2 as a naval cadet at 15 and squeezed out of its monstrosities wounded for life, Jean Vanier gave up a professor of philosophy career at St Michael’s College, University of Toronto, to pursue what I’d call humane-philosophy-as-a-way-of-life. He is the originator of multiple Change-The-Human-Condition projects, and recipient of high-ranking awards.

His official website greets us with a quote on Fragility :

“We are born in extreme fragility,
and we die in extreme fragility.
Throughout our lives we remain vulnerable,
and at risk of being wounded.
Each child is so vulnerable, so fragile
and without any defenses!”

The way I read him, this is a persistent notion in Vanier’s writings, which, far from wallowing in powerlessness or justifying weaknesses and missteps, invites, indeed obligates, one to take compassion as a doable, honourable [anyone remember that word???], and Self-and-Other-uplifting project. How’s that for a life-long career?


A quick www sampling of quotes from Vanier’s books:

We are first and foremost HEARTS

The person who is hungry, abandoned or in need is first of all a heart who needs to find another heart; someone who will listen, understand and love. Above all, they need friendship: friends who love them and are willing to do things with them.

An Ark for the Poor: The Story of L’Arche  (1995, p.57)

Non-violence

[Prophets of peace] have lived and proclaimed a path of non-violence. They have been able to do this because they received support and lived with a community of men and women of like minds and hearts. “When I despair,” said Mahatma Gandhi, “I remember that throughout history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end they always fall. Think of it always…whenever you are in doubt that that is God’s way – the way the world is meant to be. Think of that and then try to do His way.”

Finding Peace, 2007, page 74

Nurturing Love

Our hearts, spirits and intellects need to be awakened and fed. When people discover their own capacity to give life and hope to others, then they want to give more. There are forces of selfishness and fear in each of us, but where there is good spiritual nourishment, the power to love rises up. At L’Arche, we recognize that if assistants are not sustained and helped to see the meaning and value of their daily lives, apathy sets in and their ability to listen and pay proper attention to others flags. But if they are well nourished, they give life.

Our Journey Home: Rediscovering a Common Humanity Beyond Our Differences, 1997, p. 150

A good description of what he terms in the book “the to and fro” of relationships

It is because we belong with others and see them as brothers and sisters in humanity that we learn not only to accept them as they are, with different gifts and capacities, but to see each one as a person with a vulnerable heart. We learn to forgive those who hurt us or reject us; we ask forgiveness of those we have hurt. We learn to accept humbly those who point out our errors and mistakes and who challenge us to grow in truth and love. We support and encourage each other on the journey to inner freedom. We learn how to be close to those who are weaker and more vulnerable, those who may be sick or going through crises or are grieving. As we accept our personal limits and weaknesses, we discover that we need others and we learn to appreciate others and to thank them.

Becoming Human, 2014, p. 59

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The www search for this “HEART-quote” got me started on the present post

The heart is never “successful.” It does not want power, honours, privilege, or efficiency; it seeks a personal relationship with another, a communion of hearts, which is the to-and-fro of love. This opening of the heart implies vulnerability and the offering of our needs and weaknesses. The heart gives and receives but above all, it gives. The heart goes out to those who are humble and who cry out in their weakness and their need for understanding and love. It is the human heart and its need for communion that weakens the walls of ideology and prejudice. It leads us from closedness to openness, from illusion of superiority to vulnerability and humility. Because of this, instead of finding security in the group, we find it in our hearts, which have found a new inner strength, a real maturity.

Becoming Human, 2014, pp. 63-64

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B.T.W., Becoming Human reshuffles (I mean this in a good way) a number of prominent passages from his earlier books — just look at the quotes featured by GoodReads where I have linked the book titles above. Well,  he himself indicates this in the preface.

B.T.W. one more time: GoodReads generates a number of books titled Becoming Human, or having the phrase in their titles — from the evolutionary-scientific outlook to social justice-oriented texts, to inspirational-spiritual ones: http://www.goodreads.com/search?utf8=%E2%9C%93&query=becoming+human

Perhaps we have not yet given up on ourselves, after all?