Excerpt from Becoming Human

By Jean Vanier

An openness to the weak and the needy in our own groups helps us to open our hearts to others who are weak and needy in the greater group of humanity. It is the first sign of a healthy group. A healthy bonding leads us to a greater love for others.

The second sign of healthy belonging is the way a group humbly lives its mission of service to others. It does not use or manipulate other for its own aggrandizement. It does not impose its vision on others but instead prefers to listen to what they are saying and living, to see in them all that is positive. It helps others to make their own decisions; it empowers them. When a community is closed and fearful of true dialogue where each person is respected, it is a sign of death not of life.

As we begin to see others' gifts, we move out from behind the walls of certitude that have close us up, and this is the third sign of a healthy group. A few centuries ago, different Christian churches were fighting each other. Their theologies were calculated to prove that one was right and the other wrong. Today, instead of seeing what might separate us, whether as churches or cultures, we are instead seeing what unites us. We are beginning to see each other's gifts and to appreciate them and to realize that the important thing each one of us is to grow in love and give of ourselves.

Fourth, it is a healthy sign when a group seeks to evolve and to recognize the errors of the past, to recognize its own flaws, and to seek the help of experienced people from outside the group in order to be more true and loving, more respectful of difference, more listening and open to the way authority is exercised. The group that refuses to admit its own errors or seek the wisdom of others risks closing itself up behind walls of "superiority".

Groups that develop with these four signs are, to my mind, healthy groups; they are helping their members to break free of egotism inherent in us all and to grow towards greater maturity and inner freedom.

© 1998 Jean Vanier