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Belonging: Jean Vanier - Community Belonging

Jean Vanier asks us to consider the question, "Where does a broader sense of belonging come from?" The question invites us to consider the relationship between the ideas of community and belonging...


Sometimes we use the word community as a to characterize group interaction on the Internet. We hear, for example, about online communities and social networks.

It is not at all surprising that some of the best ideas about communities come from outside the influence of the Internet. Jean Vanier’s book Becoming Human is a wonderful model for what community building can be both in a literal and metaphorical sense. Maintaining an optimistic and hopeful stance, Vanier clearly points out the potential for freedom as well as possibility of oppression in communities:

Communities can become like clubs for self-congratulation and flattery, status symbols of mediocrity. Rather than opening up to others, such groups close in on themselves.
- Becoming Human


Society is the place where we learn to develop our potential and become competent… Belonging, on the other hand, is the place where we can find a certain emotional security. It is the place where we learn a lot about ourselves, our fears, our blockages, and our violence, as well as our capacity to give life; it is the place where we grow to appreciate others, to live with them, to share and work together, discovering each one’s gifts and weaknesses.
- Becoming Human
One important idea Vanier describes as being a key aspect of building healthy communities is belonging. He describes four critical signs of belonging:
  1. an openness to the weak and needy in our own groups;
  2. groups that empower others to make their own decisions;
  3. remaining focused on what unites us rather than what separates us; and
  4. the community’s ability to recognize its own errors and flaws and to seek help from outside the group.

Ideas about learning are interconnected with his ideas about building communties through belonging.
  • learning to forgive those who hurt or reject us;
  • learning to accept those who point out our errors and mistakes;
  • learning how to be close to those who are weaker, more vulnerable, sick or grieving; and
  • learning to appreciate others. Learning is both a private discourse and a public concourse.
For Vanier the fact that learning is both lifelong and lifewide is an assumption in his thinking.

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