The Rabbit and the Giraffe: Jean Vanier, Part 2

"Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world." Jean Vanier, who founded the L'Arche movement in 1963 for people with profound disabilities, quickly learned that "normal" people have much to learn about being human by watching those we perceive as weak. Now in his 80's, Vanier has spent a lifetime watching and learning and writing.
Jean Vanier (Philip Coulter/CBC)
Listen to the full episode53:58

"Community is a sign that love is possible in a materialistic world." Jean Vanier, who founded the L'Arche movement in 1963 for people with profound disabilities, quickly learned that "normal" people have much to learn about being human by watching those we perceive as weak. Now in his 80's, Vanier has spent a lifetime watching and learning and writing. **This episode originally aired September 19, 2016.

Jean Vanier is fond of saying "change the world one heart at a time." The question is: why does the world need changing, what's the problem? 0:54


 


In 1964 Jean Vanier invited two men with developmental needs, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux, to live with him in a small house in the French village of Trosly-Breuil. He named their house "L'Arche," after Noah's Ark. Bit by bit their little family grew, as new people arrived, looking for a home, and more houses were needed in the village. Other helpers arrived too, and now, fifty-something years later, L'Arche is an international organisation, with communities in thirty countries.
 

"We're coming back to that initial reality -- that we are vulnerable, that we are poor -- so the reality of the human being is that we are all terribly vulnerable people.
 
There's a lot of garbage between me and the well, and in order to drink from the well I have to get rid of the garbage. So what is that garbage? It is the garbage which is the garbage of culture: we have to conform to what people want of us."
-- Jean Vanier


And Jean Vanier is still around. The little house where it all started was sold a while back, but the village is still the heart of L'Arche, where Jean Vanier has a small cottage on rue d'Orleans. He's 88 now but he still thinks and talks and writes about the great ideas that have shaped both his life, and the lives of thousands of people who are off the charts of what's considered normal. More important, perhaps, Jean Vanier changed all of our lives, because his radical ideas about mental and developmental abilities have, to use a cliche, changed the conversation all over the world about what it means to be normal, where among us there are gifts we overlook, what the Good Society should look like, and how we should regard each other.

Jean Vanier is a practical man, he was at the forefront of the group home movement, but he's also a visionary, a philosopher and a theologian. Jean Vanier likes to talk about the rabbit and the giraffe: the giraffe sees what's off in the distance and goes there in great strides; the rabbit, however, just sees what's directly in front, and proceeds by nibbles. Jean Vanier sees himself as the rabbit. So we've called our programme The Rabbit and the Giraffe. Ideas producer Philip Coulter went to Trosly-Breuil to record this conversation.


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Jean Vanier in Trosly-Breuil, France

La Ferme, a community in L'Arche at Trosly started by Jean Vanier's spiritual advisor Pere Thomas Philippe. (Philip Coulter/CBC)

Rue d'Orleans, where Jean Vanier lives in the 18th century village of Trosly-Breuil, in Picardy, northern France. (Philip Coulter/CBC)

The Val Fleury, largest of the eight L'Arche homes in Trosly, and the original asylum that Jean Vanier took over soon after starting L'Arche.

Jean and a lunch guest; at 88 he still has a busy life, and the phone is always ringing. (Philip Coulter/CBC)

Producer Philip Coulter with Jean Vanier, setting up for the first day of conversations. ( Philip Coulter/CBC)

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