Illustration from a video by Association Jean Vanier.
My head is foggy with a bad cold this week, so I have to keep my words rather simple:
I don’t understand bullying.
I don’t understand how we could have elected a bully president. Not only is bullying cruel to the victims but it diminishes us as a community.
Bullying supports the narrative (in this story nobody wins) that becoming rich and powerful is more important than becoming human.
Most of us long to feel loved and connected. Both are hard to achieve in a world where people are sorted and judged, and the weak pushed aside, ostracized, marginalized, or bullied. If we can’t accept the weak, handicapped and imperfect ones around us, how do we accept our own weaknesses, handicaps and imperfections? This isn’t just about “taking care” of the weak. It’s about supporting our own souls.
I found courage and hope this week in reading the words of Jean Vanier, a Catholic theologian, philosopher, and humanitarian who has devoted his life to living in community with people with intellectual disabilities. The L’Arche federation of communities he founded in France in 1964 has spread to 35 countries around the world.
The L’Arche communities, like the Camphill VIllages founded by Rudolph Steiner for the developmentally disabled, believe that the developmentally disabled deserve to live in community, with respect, dignity, and appreciation for the gifts they bring. More than that, both movements know that the able-bodied have much to gain living with those who are developmentally challenged.
When I am with the developmentally disabled, I gain more patience and perspective with my own imperfections. (Or at least, my obsession with “being normal” or “being respectable” becomes something I can laugh at!)
It has been said of Vanier: “In a world obsessed with mastery and control, Jean Vanier demonstrates the deep value of imperfection.” In his interview with Krista Tippett, he said, “We don’t know what to do with our own weakness except hide it or pretend that it doesn’t exist. So how can we welcome fully the weakness of another, if we haven’t welcomed our own weakness?*
If we can’t be with our own imperfections, what can we do? Bullying is one answer.
Vanier wonders, “Will we be always having an elite condemning or pushing down others that they consider not worthy.”*
*(Quoted in Krista Tippett’s Becoming WIse.)
His book, Becoming Human, written ten years ago, is still a salve for our humanity. It’s “about the liberation of the human heart from the tentacles of chaos and loneliness, and from those fears that provoke us to exclude and reject others.” (From Becoming Human)
Becoming Human offers me the kind of hope that does not turn from what is difficult.
Several summers ago, I attended a spiritual conference in Canada. Among the hundred or so participants were two Down Syndrome men, and a couple of men with other developmental disabilities. Although these participants looked clearly different from the rest of us more intellectually-able, their presence transformed the conference. Their participation turned us from being a group of attendees into a living community where all were welcome, and all could contribute.
So this is what bullies don’t know:
They lose the possibility of expanding their own hearts.
As the illustration above states:
“The weakest can activate forces of loving generosity that are hidden in the hearts of the strong.”
And help us to become more human.
(The top illustration is from a video by the Association Jean Vanier from their Living Quotes series.)