Personally transcribed excerpts from “The Wisdom of Tenderness” where Krista Tippett interviews Jean Vanier in October 2007 for the NPR show On Being:
An ethics of desire is good news for us at a time when we have become allergic to an ethics of law.
Pleasure is not something which is just sort of fooling around. …It is the fulfillment of a desire in an activity that you are doing well. …I come back to the reality of pleasure. …Somewhere the deepest desire for us all is to be appreciated, to be loved, to be seen as somebody of value … not to be admired. When you admire people, you put them on pedestals. When you love somebody, you want to be with them. …The cry of God is also the cry of ‘Do you love me?’ …The cry of people who have been wounded, put aside, who have lost trust in themselves … is ‘Do you love me?’
The way that they can come out of that depression is the way we look at them, the way we speak to them. …Tenderness is never to hurt a wounded person. …Tenderness reveals that ‘you are precious.’ …Do not shock or do not hurt or do not wound people who are already wounded. …We have to reveal to them that ‘you are precious.’
We are very fragile in front of the future. …We are born in extreme weakness and will end our life in extreme weakness. …We are a frightened people.
From the point of view of faith, those who are marginalized and considered failures can restore balance to our world. …If you take time with people at the bottom of the pyramid, there are people who relate. What they want is … love, not power.
It’s a suffering body which brings us together. It’s our attention to the body. …What is important is to see that the body is well. …It’s to communicate to them through the body that they are precious. …As the body can become comfortable, then the spirit can rise up. …What they were crying out for was touch. And also maybe what I was crying out for. What I would call safe touch. A touch which gives security and reveals, …the revelation that you’re special.
It’s a realization of how to create a culture which is no longer a culture just of competition but a culture of welcoming, where tenderness, where touch is important. And it’s neither sexualized nor aggressive. It has become human. And I think that this is what people with disabilities are teaching us. It’s something about what it means to be human and to relate and to celebrate life together.
Clearly for you community is a place of healing, community is a place of joy, but you also stress that communities are a place of pain.
To become human means to enter into a relationship of hearts. …I have no desire to have power over you. I don’t want to create mutual dependency.
People can be generous. Generosity can become power: ‘I am superior, so I can give.’ So generosity must … flow into a meeting. …We often believe that our identity is through power or through competence. But instead it is something else. It is to create an identity which is meeting. And meeting is the way we look at people. It’s not just a meeting. But also it’s about honoring what is weakest in the other. …In a true community, we honor the weakest. But that means that we are also honoring what is weakest in ourselves. And if we come back to what is despicable. It’s about our poverty. Even to honor our own poverty, to admit to our poverty. …Weakness can be despised or weakness can become the cement of our bonding. It’s because I’m weak, I can say I need you, I need your appreciation, I need your help. …Weakness is the recognition of who I am. …To be conscious of the anguish and to be conscious of the pain.
Jesus, …you are the most vulnerable of people. And my experience today is much more the experience of how vulnerable God is. You see, God is so respectful of our freedom. And if as John says, “God is love.” Anyone who has loved in their life, knows that they have become vulnerable. …’I stand at the door, and I knock. If somebody hears me and opens the door, then I will enter, and I will dine with that person, that person close to me and I close to that person.’ What touches me there, is God knocking at the door, not kicking the door down. But waiting, will you open, do you hear me. …We’re in a world where there is so much going on in our heads and our hearts. …We don’t hear God knocking at the door of our hearts. …What touches me the deepest is the realization of the vulnerability of God, who doesn’t oblige.
How can God, how can Jesus allow [suffering]? …I just have to honor what I don’t know. There are so many things that I can’t explain. Because explanation is something about headiness and what-have-it in the head. But the whole question is not to understand, but it’s to be attracted to the place of pain [see this song], in order to give support to those who are suffering. …If we try to know to much, it might cut us away from being present. And I believe that the whole mystery of pain, the mystery of people being crucified today, and sometimes being crucified by very good people but who don’t realize it. The whole question is how to be present there. …One thing I know, is that in degree, according to where I am at and how I am, it is vital that I be present to situations.
Conversion is a change of attitude. …In that person who was disfigured and smelt bad there was a presence of God. …If we listen to Francis, he said that when he went and saw these people and stayed with them, he was changed. He discovered a completely new vision of the world. Which was not to become … a knight and to be strong. …He discovered that in those who are the most rejected, there is a presence of God.
The history of L’Arche is the relationship between a vision or a principle and experience. What has experience taught us? …We’re all on the same search. …Sometimes you want to clutch onto principles. Yet experience is saying go further, go further. …The road to peace … can only lie with listening to each other.
Take St. Francis in the Middle Ages. He had a spirit of poverty. And in some ways, one can sense that the institution wounded that spirit. But yet if the institution wasn’t there, we wouldn’t be speaking about Francis today. …It’s very important … to go back and forth. There needs to be structures.
I’m part of humanity. …I’m part of that humanity … of the Hindus who are going to the temples.
If we could come together to hear the cry of the poor, to identify with the poor, we would be unified. …They would lead us to unity and peace.
We are going into a world where the imagination, the virtual, the long-distance, the things far away, appear as close but you can’t touch them so they’re not close. They are close to the imagination, but they are not close to the body. …So I come back to what we were talking about: the body, the incarnation, the bodiness. …So let’s come back to the reality of the small. …With their bodies, their broken bodies. …Yet it seems so small in a world where we are wanting to claim to be big.
The reality of every day is sometimes quit painful in its smallness, in a world where we are being pushed to pretend that they’re big.
We can’t change the world, but I can change.
What I’m learning … at 79 … is that I’m human.
You see, the big thing for me is to love reality. And not live in the imagination, not live in what could have been or should have been or want can be. Reality. And somewhere to … discover that God is present in reality. …That does mean to say that we’re just to be passive to welcome reality. You also have to know how to react in front of reality. …How to live that reality with my own body, my own weaknesses, my own need for greater sleep, …whatever it is, that ultimate reality which is death.
I like you doing it [interviewing], the way you do it.