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Reflections on Living

Tenderness is Not Weakness: What I’ve Learned from Jean Vanier

Today, a spiritual and intellectual hero of mine has passed away.  Catholic innovator and philosopher, Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arch and Faith and Light communities

Listen to an interview with Vanier on the Podcast, OnBeing

Vanier had also inspired another one of my favorite authors, Henri Nouwen. 

Here’s some critical lesson’s I’ve learned Vanier:


Protective Systems:

“We all have a deep fear of our own weaknesses because my weakness is what makes it possible for someone else to crush me. So I create mechanisms of defense and compulsion to protect myself. We all have protective systems designed to prevent people from seeing who we are.”[1]

What I could do:

“Recently a father asked me to go and see his wife. She was forty years old and eight months pregnant. She was in tears and a bit hysterical–this was her first baby and she knew that the child had a disability. I saw immediately that I couldn’t say a word to her. There are times when you must not say nice words. What I could do was send her to visit another mother who’d had a child a year previously with similar disablities to the child she was going to have. The two women got together and wept.” [1]


On Love:

“If you discover that somebody really loves you, listens to you, then you begin to change. You come out from behind the barriers of fear that you have erected around your heart.” [2]

We seek security in life, but truly how insecure if really is…”[3]

“If God is love, then how vulnerable God must be.”[3]

On Culture:

“It’s the realization of how to create a culture which is no longer a culture just of competition, but a culture of welcoming, where tenderness, where touch is important, and it’s not — neither sexualized nor aggressive. It has become human. And I think that this is what people with disabilities are teaching us. It’s, it’s something about what it means to be human and to relate and to celebrate life together.” [3]


On Community:

“Some people say that communities start in mystery and end in bureaucracy…”[4] “True community is defined by how we treat the weakest.[3]

L’Arche is not a solution but a sign…You see, once I was speaking to a man in a big city in the United States. He said, ‘Give me the formula and I’ll create 300 L’Arches in the next two years.’ I said, ‘It doesn’t work like that. It’s a transmission of a vision and it’s counter culture. But that’s OK.” [5]


Dedication to Psychiatrist Dr Gwee Kok Peng, who also passed away today. May you continue to dance.


[1] Jean Vanier, “Living Gently in a Violent World,” p. 68

[2] Jean Vanier, Encountering ‘the Other’ p 38

[3] https://onbeing.org/programs/jean-vanier-the-wisdom-of-tenderness/ 

[4] Jean Vanier, Community and Growth, p. 114.

[5] Meaningful Work, by Shawn Askinosie and Lawren Askinosie, Location  2156

1 Comment

  1. Rob McNeilly

    May 8, 2019 at 1:42 am

    Thank you Daryl.

    Listening to this amazing human being is like listening to the music of Bach.

    His approach is so relevant to our learning to form a solid alliance, and also for me, an invitation into deliberate practice.

    Thank you again.


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