Excerpts from Jean Vanier’s book “Becoming Human”

Jean Vanier, Becoming Human (Anansi, 1998, 2008; 166 pp.)

{The following are some of the notable statements the author made through his book, but this is only a compilation of significant sentences, not in any sense a summary of the book or of the individual chapters.}


Vanier declares that “life together” in l’Arche “has helped me become more human” (p. 2). He then explains that “to become human implies two realities. It means to be someone, to have cultivated our gifts, and also to be open to others, to look at them not with a feeling of superiority but with eyes of respect” (p. 3).

He ends this brief introduction by saying that he hopes “that more and more of us will seek this road of peacemaking by living in the reality of mutual acceptance, building places of belonging where each one is helped to grow in freedom from fear and the different forms of egoism that can drive us apart, and where we can all learn to celebrate in forgiveness” (p. 4).

I  Loneliness

Vanier avers, “Loneliness is part of being human, because there is nothing in existence that can completely fulfill the needs of the human heart” (p. 7). He goes on to write that there are five principles that have helped him.

“First: all humans are sacred . . . .

“Second: our world and our individual lives are in the process of evolving. . . .

“Third: maturity comes through working with others, through dialogue, and through a sense of belonging and a searching together” (p. 14). Then,

“Fourth: human beings need to be encouraged to make choices, and to become responsible for their own lives and for the lives of others. . . .

“Fifth: in order to make such choices, we need to reflect and to seek truth and meaning” (p. 15).

Later in the chapter, he emphasizes that the “belief in the inner beauty of each and every human being is at the heart of l’Arche, at the heart of all true education and at the heart of being human” (p. 23).

II  Belonging

One of Vanier’s core beliefs is succinctly stated: “We human beings are all fundamentally the same. We all belong to a common, broken humanity” (p. 37). He amplifies: “Weakness, recognized, accepted, and offered, is at the heart of belonging” (p. 40).

Here is another of his basic ideas: “A society that honours only the powerful, the clever, and the winners necessarily belittles the weak” (p. 46).

In one sub-section in this chapter is “Belonging Together in a Pluralistic Society,” Vanier states, “When religion helps us to open our hearts in love and compassion to those who are not of our faith so as to help them to find the source of freedom within their own hearts and to grow in compassion and love of others, then this religion is a source of life” (p. 63). This leads into his third chapter.

III  From Exclusion to Inclusion: A Path of Healing

Vanier writes, “Fear is at the root of all forms of exclusion, just as trust is at the root of all forms of inclusion” (p. 71).

In an important sub-section titled “The Heart,” Vanier asserts: “To treat each person as a person means that we are concerned for them, that we listen to them, and love them and want them to become more whole, free, truthful, and responsible” (p. 86). And the in the following sub-section, “The Way of the Heart,” he says that “people with intellectual disabilities led me from a serious world into a world of celebration, presence, and laughter: the world of the heart” (p. 89).

A later sub-section is a short one titled “To Become Human,” and in it Vanier states: “As the human heart opens up and becomes compassionate, we discover our fundamental unity, our common humanity.” And then he declares that “people with disabilities have taught me what it means to be human” and they have led him “into a new vision of society, a more human society” (p. 97).

IV  The Path to Freedom

Vanier asserts, “To be free is to put justice, truth, and service to others over and above our own personal gain or our need for recognition, power, honour, and success” (p. 108). And later, “Freedom does not judge or condemn but understands and forgives” (p. 118). He ends the chapter with these words: “This is the ultimate secret of liberation: to forgive and to be forgiven, and thus to become free, like little children” (p. 134).

V  Forgiveness

Continuing what he wrote in the last chapter, Vanier says that forgiveness is the “process of removing barriers; it is the process by which we start to accept and to love those who have hurt us. This is the final stage of inner liberation” (p. 136). The chapter, and the book, concludes: “We are simply human beings, enfolded in weakness and in hope, called together to change our world one heart at a time” (p. 163).

About Leroy Seat

* Born in Grant City, MO, on 8/15/1938 * Graduated from Southwest Baptist College (Bolivar, MO) in 1957 (A.A.) * Graduated from William Jewell College (Liberty, MO) in 1959 (A.B.) * Graduated from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (Louisville, KY) in 1962 (B.D., equivalent of M.Div.) * Received the Doctor of Philosophy degree in theology from SBTS. * Baptist missionary to Japan from 1966 to 2004. * Full-time faculty member at Seinan Gakuin University (Fukuoka, Japan) from 1968 to 2004. * Adjunct professor at Rockhurst University from 2006 to 2014.
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1 Response to Excerpts from Jean Vanier’s book “Becoming Human”

  1. Edwin E Kang says:

    Leroy, I read and enjoy every blog you post. This is a story of wonderful and outstanding man, whose life really shines as hope of humankind. Thank you.

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