Discussion Questions for Becoming Human by Jean Vanier
1. Vanier describes the deep loneliness that so many feel: “Loneliness is something essential to the human condition; it can only be covered over, it can never actually go away” (7). Many of us are lonelier than we’d admit. On a scale of 1-10, how lonely do you feel right now?
2. Vanier writes: “We do not discover who we are, we do not reach true humanness, in a solitary state; we discover it through mutual dependency, in weakness, in learning through belonging” (41). Describe a relationship where you feel like you truly belong. What makes the difference?
3. In a “society [that] is not set up to cope very well with people who are weaker or slower” (46), how do we become skilled at listening to the wisdom of those whose life patterns fall outside of the “social norm”?
4. Vanier writes “…people with intellectual disabilities led me from a serious world into a world of celebration, presence, and laughter: the world of the heart” (89). Who has led you into the world of the heart? How so?
5. On page 100-101, Vanier writes that those with social standing and power have subtle ways of hiding “inner handicaps,” and in order to accept another’s disabilities, we must be able to accept our own. Do you consider yourself in a position of social power? Can you think of your own “inner handicaps”? If so, in what ways are you able to hide or downplay them? What keeps you from exposing these inner handicaps to others?
6. In times of change, crises, or unexpected events in life, Vanier emphasizes the importance of an “accompanier.” He defines the accompanier as “someone who can stand beside us on the road to freedom, someone who loves us and understands our life (128),” and as someone who “helps us to be reconciled to our past and to accept ourselves as we are, with our gifts and limits (129).” Who is someone who has been an “accompanier” to you? How did they remind you of your gifts and limits? What is the role of accompaniment in community, according to Vanier (130)?
7. Vanier writes that one step to freedom is to “look for the wisdom that comes from unexpected events: the death of a friend, sickness, an accident that creates a severe disability, or an apparent misfortune that breaks the pattern of our life and obliges us to reevaluate our lives, to find new values.” He continues by explaining that these events “move us from the secure world of the predictable to the chaotic world of the unexpected (128).” Describe an unexpected event that has challenged the pattern of your life or made you reevaluate your own values. Did you find any wisdom through your experience?
8. “A model is someone who demonstrates new ways of living in spite of all the chaos, someone who remains loving and humble in spite of all the violence, someone who does not judge or condemn” (130). With this definition of a model, identify who has been a role model in your own life. How have they shown you the bigger picture of unity and peace, despite struggle and pain?
9. Define the following terms in light of Vanier’s work:
- Being Human
10. Did this book challenge the way you view or interact with people who have disabilities? How so?