Canadian philosopher and humanitarian Jean Vanier (1928-) is the founder of 149 L’Arche homes in 38 countries around the world.[i] In these homes people with intellectual disabilities (the residents) live and work side by side with the nondisabled (their assistants) as peers in “mutually transformative relationships.” Jean Vanier emphasizes the great discovery of his life, “Above all, I have discovered how people with a disability can be a source of peace and unity in our terribly divided world, provided we are willing to listen to them, to follow them and to share our lives with them.”[ii] Among his over thirty inspiring books, Becoming Human (1998) [iii] is one I keep coming back to at various stages and roles in my life. The inclusivity Vanier proposes is a powerful reminder of the value of the heart, of wisdom and of spirituality in leadership. Jean Vanier is one of Canada’s most inspiring and influential leaders. His quiet nature, insightful wisdom, deep faith, and humble yet radical hospitality have made a deep impact for peace in our world.
Similar in her selfless dedication to the vulnerable, Dorothy Day’s life demonstrates a disciplined and purpose-filled way to promoting peace. Born on November 8, 1897 in Brooklyn, New York, Day was a social activist involved in women’s suffrage, free love, and labor unions. For 50 years, Dorothy lived with the poor, conducted conferences, and published a newspaper while being a single mother, devoted grandmother and loyal friend. She lived a gritty and hard life dedicated to advocating for justice for the homeless in New York City and establishing the Catholic Worker Movement. Seventy-five houses of hospitality were established during her lifetime. She was an avid peacemaker and a prolific author who was accepted by communists, bohemians, non-religious and religious people. She was also shunned by many but this did not deter her, though the tension and fear did lead her into depressions at times. She felt the burden of leadership saying: “Few there are who will accept authority and exercise it. And plenty to taunt and criticize, to tear down and discourage.”[iv] She carried on despite the challenges and lived radical inclusivity right up to her death on November 29, 1980 in New York City, where she spent her final months among the poor. Today there are 245 Catholic Worker Communities committed to fostering peace through nonviolence, voluntary poverty, prayer and hospitality for the homeless, exiled, hungry and forsaken[v].
Vanier and Day are peace leaders whose lives illustrate how leadership benefits when grounded in wisdom and spirituality. Their thinking and actions demonstrate how leaders can foster peace in the world through acceptance and inclusion of the marginalized. Finally, their personal dispositions focused on the dignity of the human person, the value of community and the need for justice can be emulated by other leaders wanting to privilege relationships and striving to foster peace in their organization.
In my next post I’ll focus on what leaders can learn from Vanier and Day’s philosophies so stay tuned!
[ii] L’Arche, 2014: 1.
[iii] Vanier, 1998.
[iv] Hennessey, 169.
Hennessy, K. (2017). Dorothy Day: The World will be Saved by Beauty. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Inc.
Vanier, J. (1998). Becoming Human. Toronto: ON: House of Anansi Press.