Sunday, June 2, 2013

Jean Vanier: On Community, Compassion and Celebration


My most recent post at Practical Compassion -- Pain:  Our Common Denominator -- featured this quote:

“I am struck by how sharing our weakness and difficulties is more nourishing to others than sharing our qualities and successes.” 


That is a quote by Jean Vanier, and I'm inspired this Sunday afternoon to share more of his wisdom.

I have been a fan of Mr. Vanier since reading From Brokenness to Community.  I feel a strong affinity with his way of being in this world, and how he views our journey as human beings.  His work is steeped in compassion, respect and integrity; it is my intention that Wishadoo! and all of my work are imbued with the same.

Anyone devoted to the work of alleviating suffering can find themselves overwhelmed and depressed.  Indeed, a new term has been coined in recent years:  compassion fatigue.  For many years I have spoken of employing what I call "compassionate detachment" in order to endure this "being human thing"; recognizing when it may be more compassionate to detach rather than engage directly can become a valuable survival skill in this world. Compassionate detachment can help us accept when we have done our best in any given situation and can do no more.  This approach prevents misery -- our own or others' -- from defining us, and prevents us from becoming apathetic and uncaring, allowing our work with others to continue.  It is especially helpful when we ourselves are suffering and struggling as well.

Mr. Vanier is keenly aware of the potential negative effect of the world at large on we as individuals and humanity as a collective.  It is why he stresses repeatedly that we should never lose sight of joy and celebration, no matter how dire a situation may appear, and encourages us to consider what celebration actually means.

"We must learn to celebrate.  I say learn to celebrate, because celebration is not just a spontaneous event.  We have to discover what celebration is.  Our world doesn't know much about celebration.  We know quite a bit about parties, where we are artificially stimulated with alcohol to have fun.  We know what movies and distractions are.  But do we know what celebration is?  Do we know how to celebrate our togetherness, our being one body?  Do we really know how to use all that is human and divine to celebrate together?

Staying mindful of the good that exists and, when possible, pursuing and focusing on positive action to rectify what is causing pain and suffering, allows us to embrace joy and celebration more readily.  There is no need to feel guilty about finding cause for celebration in the midst of sadness and despair.  Indeed, it those who endure the most pain -- people around the world, throughout time -- leading the way by example so beautifully.

Working toward and having hope in the world that can be, rather than become hopeless in the face of the world that is (or appears to be), is the only way I maintain some semblance of sanity and the energy to keep up the good fight.  It's about balance.

I would like to share a collection of Mr. Vanier's thought-provoking, heartfelt wisdom this Sunday afternoon, for your consideration.  I hope his words touch you in some healing way as they have me in recent years.

“This evolution towards a real responsibility for others is sometimes blocked by fear. It is easier to stay on the level of a pleasant way of life in which we keep our freedom and our distance. But that means that we stop growing and shut ourselves up in our own small concerns and pleasures.”  Jean Vanier
“To love someone is to show to them their beauty, their worth and their importance.” ― Jean Vanier
“But let us not put our sights too high. We do not have to be saviours of the world! We are simply human beings, enfolded in weakness and in hope, called together to change our world one heart at a time. ”  ― Jean VanierBecoming Human
“Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.” ― Jean VanierBecoming Human
“Love doesn't mean doing extraordinary or heroic things. It means knowing how to do ordinary things with tenderness.” ― Jean VanierCommunity And Growth
“If we are to grow in love, the prisons of our egoism must be unlocked. This implies suffering, constant effort and repeated choices.” ― Jean VanierCommunity And Growth
“A community that is growing rich and seeks only to defend its goods and its reputation is dying. It has ceased to grow in love. A community is alive when it is poor and its members feel they have to work together and remain united, if only to ensure that they can all eat tomorrow!”  Jean Vanier, Community And Growth
“We discover that we are at the same time very insignificant and very important, because each of our actions is preparing the humanity of tomorrow; it is a tiny contribution to the construction of the huge and glorious final humanity” ― Jean VanierCommunity And Growth
“When we love and respect people, revealing to them their value, they can begin to come out from behind the walls that protect them.”  ― Jean VanierFinding Peace
“Happiness comes when we choose to be who we are, to be ourselves, at this present moment in our lives.”  ― Jean VanierFinding Peace
“True peace can rarely be imposed from the outside; it must be born within and between communities through meetings and dialogue and then carried outward.”  ― Jean VanierFinding Peace
“We work for peace every time we exercise authority with wisdom and authentic love.”  ― Jean VanierFinding Peace
“A society which discards those who are weak and non-productive risks exaggerating the development of reason, organisation, aggression and the desire to dominate. It becomes a society without a heart, without kindness - a rational and sad society, lacking celebration, divided within itself and given to competition, rivalry and, finally, violence.”  ― Jean VanierMan and Woman He Made Them

Thank you for reading.

~ DenaAbout Me