As founders of internationally recognized communities (L’Arche and The Catholic Worker), Vanier and Day teach leaders how to build community by valuing the human person no matter their background or beliefs, abilities or disabilities, wealth, prestige, poverty or insignificance. Both leaders see unity and the possibility of integration in a pluralistic world. We might readily agree with these principles and aspirations but what is remarkable is that for these leaders, “their inner and outer lives are in accord.”[i]
Leaders everywhere can learn from their practicality, humanness, ability to inspire hope and empower generativity. Vanier and Day are grounded in the real concerns and needs of people and through this, affirmed the struggle and beauty of ordinary life. Just as much as they write and speak about the importance of their work for and with marginalized people, they actually did the work, involving themselves in the complexity and messiness of change with determined conviction and a strength rooted in faith. They had to be very practical to truly help people – both of them lived in community with the people they were helping. They both had their high ideals “but at the same time, never let them interfere with the reality of the present moment.”[ii] They lived life in all its nuances and were with people, getting to know them in their joys and sufferings. Vanier recognized the ‘mysterious potential’ of being able to be with people in their difficulties and why, rather than focusing on the hopelessness of a given situation, leaders are called to greater humanity[iii]. Their leadership was service with not to people. With a sense of humor and strength of their convictions, both leaders demonstrate how to be human – to work through difficult relationships, build understandings with people who have different views, not to be separate from but with others and take the time to celebrate. Both Vanier and Day celebrated humanity and togetherness regardless of challenging circumstances. They foster a sense of belonging and purpose such that each individual brings something to the collective purpose and is included.
The lives and words of Vanier and Day can inspire passion and hope among leaders who care for people and want to use the privilege of their positions to make a social impact for a more peaceful and humanistic world. Vanier and Day are leaders who demonstrate an ability to empower generativity. They equip others to do the work with them and their legacy is evident in the houses of hospitality they established and the many others that were founded subsequently. Their ability to resource through encouragement, mentorship and advocacy allows the impact of their work to multiply. Vanier’s words are a call to action for leaders no matter the context:
It is always good for individuals, communities and indeed nations, to remember that their present situation is a result of the thousands of gestures of love or hate that came before. This obliges us to remember that the community of tomorrow is being born of our fidelity to the present. We discover that we are at the same time very insignificant and very important because each of our actions is preparing the humanity of tomorrow; it is a tiny contribution to the huge and glorious final humanity. [iv]
In summary, leaders focused on peace building can learn from Vanier and Day to: value an involve people, be inclusive, do the work with the people, inspire hope, mentor and equip others and build community.
My next post will focus on why we need wise, spiritual leaders in a secular age. Stay tuned!
[i] Hennessey, XIV.
[ii] Hennessey, 285.
[iii] Spink, 238.
[iv] Vanier, 1989, 152.
Hennessy, K. (2017). Dorothy Day: The World will be Saved by Beauty. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Inc.
Spink, K. (2006). The Miracle, The Message, The Story: Jean Vanier and L’Arche. London: Hiddenspring.
Vanier, J. (1989). Community and Growth. New York: Paulist Press.