I truly enjoy the CBC Massey Lecture series. I’ve listened to, read, and seen live some of the talks that Canadians give on topics they are passionate about. Becoming Human is Jean Vanier’s series about who we are and how we can, through compassion, love, and forgiveness, become fully human.
I found Vanier’s book to be challenging because it made me see myself and reflect on my own motivations, thoughts, and actions as I read. Vanier wants his readers to see that compassion and love for others are possible, yet we need to become free first and need to forgive ourselves and others. These are not light topics that are easy to shrug off.
This year I have been learning a lot about trying to reconnect the heart and the head in education. The Enlightenment taught civilizations to keep the two separate and that has not yet changed. I like that Vanier addresses this way of Western thought: “We tend to reduce being human to acquiring knowledge, power, and social status. We have disregarded the heart, seeing it only as a symbol of weakness, the centre of love that can reorient us from our self-centredness, revealing to us and to others the basic beauty of humanity, empowering us to grow.” (Pg 78)
Vanier writes that when we start to see people through our heart, we allow a place for everyone to belong. Belonging can be a fearful, negative thing for some because of the way society is set up, they will never belong. Vanier helped to start L’ARCHE, a community for people with intellectual disabilities. Through his work with these communities, he has learned that freedom means loving and seeing the heart and soul, not just the potential for success. He also has a lot of wisdom around forgiveness: “Forgiveness, the act of loving my enemy, like forgiveness of self, is not a sudden event, a rapid change of heart. Most of the time it is a long process that begins with the desire to be free, to accept ourselves as we are, and to grow in the love of those who are different and those who have hurt us or appear as rivals. It is the process of getting out of the prison of our likes and dislikes, our hatreds and fears, and walking to freedom and compassion.” (Pg 161)
Vanier is aware that his way of living–living in love, compassion, freedom, and forgiveness–is not easy and it is not a lifestyle that offers a lot of examples, yet it is a life that leads to becoming human. For Vanier, once we become human, then we find we truly belong.
“To be lonely is to feel unwanted and unloved, and therefor unloveable. Loneliness is a taste of death. No wonder some people who are desperately lonely lose themselves in mental illness or violence to forget the inner pain.” (Jean Vanier)
“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, speak well of those who speak badly about you, and pray for those who abuse you.” (Luke 6:27-28)