By Edward Kendall in THE TABLET, 14 September 2018:
Jean Vanier, the Canadian philosopher and theologian and the founder of L’Arche communities, turned ninety this week.
To commemorate the occasion he released a YouTube video laying out his “ten rules for life to become more human” by sharing his thoughts on life and on growing older. He speaks about success, vulnerability, listening, fear and love.
1. Accept the reality of your body
Vanier says, “For a man to become a man he has to be at ease with his body. That body is fragile, like all bodies. We are born in weakness (as a little child); we will die in weakness. And when we get to a certain age – ninety – we begin to get weaker.” He adds, “I have to accept that I’m ninety. I’m not fifty, or forty, or thirty.”
2. Talk about your emotions and difficulties
He acknowledges that men in particular “have difficulty expressing their emotions.”
3. Don’t be afraid of not being successful
Vanier adds, “you have to discover you are beautiful as you are” regardless of whether or not you are successful.
4. In a relationship, take the time to ask “How are you?”
“Has he married his success in work, or has he married his wife? What is the most important? Is it to grow up the ladder in promotion?” asks Vanier.
5. Stop looking at your phone. Be present!
To young people he says, “You are people of communication.” But then he asks, “Are you people of presence? Are you able to listen?” “To be human is to know how to relate,” he adds.
6. Ask people “What is your story?”
Vanier emphasises the importance of relating to people and listening to them. He says, “To meet is to listen: Tell me your story? Tell me where your pain is? Tell me where your heart is? What are the things you desire?” He adds, “I need to listen to you because your story is different to my story.”
7. Be aware of your own story
“You are precious. You have your ideas: political, religious, non-religious, you have your vision for the world. Your vision for yourself,” says Vanier. He acknowledges that when we fear our identities, worldviews, and cherished opinions are being taken away from us we are liable to become angry. He adds, “we have to discover where our fears are because that is the fundamental problem.” He asks, “Maybe in your story there is a story about fear?”
8. Stop prejudice: meet people
Vanier says, “The big thing about being human is to meet people.” We need to “meet people who are different” and “discover that the other person is beautiful.”
9. Listen to your deepest desire and listen to it
Vanier says, “We are very different from birds and dogs. Animals are very different.” He says that unlike with animals there is a “sort of cry of the infinite within us. We’re not satisfied with the finite.” He asks, “Where is your greatest desire?”
10. Remember that you’ll die one day
“I’m not the one who’s the king of the world and I’m certainly not God,” says Vanier. “I’m just somebody who was born ninety years ago and will die in a few years time and then everybody will have forgotten me. This is reality. We’re all here, but we are just local people, passengers in a journey. We get into the train, we get out of the train, the train goes on.”
Vanier set up his first L’Arche community in 1964 by welcoming two mentally disabled men into his home in the town of Trosly-Breuil in France. Today, L’Arche has grown into an international organisation of 147 communities in 35 countries. Its aim is to create homes, programs and support networks with and for people who have developmental disabilities.
Vanier, the author of over 30 books, suffered a heart-attack in late 2017. He is said to have been resting in his home in France.
Jean Vanier’s most recent books ‘A Cry is Heard: My Path to Peace’ and ‘We Need One Another: Responding to God’s Call to Live Together’ are available from Amazon.