A World in Violence: Eruption to Hope?
The Empire Club of Canada Addresses (Toronto, Canada), 11 Feb 1971, p. 250-263
Vanier, Dr. Jean, Speaker
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Item Type
Ladies Day. Some of the speaker's feelings which come from the fact that he has had occasion to visit many psychiatric hospitals and in many ways is linked to the marginal ones of our society. Speaking to men in penitentiaries, and other experiences by the speaker. His role as "ambassador" of the afflicted ones. Relating a particular experience at the home of the handicapped in Bombay. Offering a vision of the life of the "afflicted ones." The need for respect, not pity. Entering a new era in the history of humanity. Our incapacity to progress and to match morally and spiritually and fraternally and lovingly those fantastic discoveries in science and in techniques. Our individual responsibility. Not being surprised if violence does break out, and why. The need to take a new and radical form of action to become men of peace. How to change our hearts. Letting the spirit of God come into us.
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11 Feb 1971
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Full Text
FEBRUARY 11, 1971
A World in Violence: Eruption to Hope?
AN ADDRESS BY Dr. Jean Vanier
Ladies Day
CHAIRMAN The President, Harold V. Cranfield
GRACE Father Kelly, President St. Michael's College


Ladies and Gentlemen the man that you are to meet has for the best of reasons given me not one word about himself. Perhaps the identity of those you have just received at this Head Table tells you all you need to know about our speaker without any descriptive prose from me?

Some others who came to address this club were not necessarily prompted by immodesty when they presented the chairman with twelve pages of curriculum vitae but may have been motivated only by a spirit of helpfulness. (A tiny minority, of course, do read and believe their own flattering press notices.) Occasionally a speaker may sit here with a selfconscious blush of pride on his cheeks which reflects the warm glow of gratitude from within him, evoked by this discerning chairman who recognizes genius! Such a one is like some of my own profession, for it is said that our collective vanity is such that half a dozen doctors living and practising in a neighbourhood cannot resist forming a Medical Society in order that once every six years as his term of office comes up, each of them will rejoice in being called "President". Indeed, an Irish wag declares that whenever these six doctors are from Scotland they form a Medical College so that, as they instruct one another, they have the pleasure of hearing themselves addressed by their colleagues as "Professor".

Our speaker knows that it is not a flattering description of himself that you came to hear, but you did come to share in the message that has been revealed to him. I do have, however, a few words to give you from the dust jacket of one of his widely read books. It is from the volume that he wrote out of respect for a man he knew better than any of us, his own father. We recall him as General, the Right Honourable Georges P. Vanier our beloved 19th Governor General whose many honours, so well deserved, were worn with such humility that he took office with these words of prayer. "In exchange for His strength, I offer Him my weakness." As the author of In Weakness, Strength our speaker had to "render unto Caesar" by responding to the plea of his publisher with some basic facts to establish an identity as his father's son.

We learn from this meagre source that he was born on September 10th 1928, was educated in England and Canada. After training in the Royal Naval College of Dartmouth he joined the Royal Navy towards the end of World War II and was only 17 when he went to sea! In 1947 he transferred to the Royal Canadian Navy from which he retired in 1950 and went to France to work in a Students community near Paris. He then began his studies in philosophy and theology and holds his doctorate from the Catholic Institute in Paris. So much from the record.

It is not until now that we learn of the real man. I use the word "real" to mean "spiritual". Our speaker sought out those, whose.genetic benefactions were least with whom he shares the many talents and gifts of his own inheritance. To do this he established a village for the retarded near Paris. To these people he acts as a shepherd. It is not by coincidence that we have at our Head Table two gracious ladies whose husbands both discovered a similar answer in life. Each man served in his sphere of provincial and federal influence with the same total spiritual unselfishness right to the very end of his life.

In 1964, as I said, a village for mentally deficient adults was founded near Paris by our speaker. Here he lives and carries on his work of sharing. We need him less it seems, for he comes to Canada but once each year when it is our wonderful privilege to partake of his presence. From this parent unit in France there is now a satellite home in Toronto which I am told is similar in spirit and in purpose and is known as "Daybreak". Here it is being proved again, as Dr. Vanier established at L'Arche in France, that all of us have untapped potentials. Farming in the old fashioned manner, and craftsmanship of a variety of types, permits these people to develop work habits and create products of worth. In this way they achieve the dignity of satisfaction from toil and creativity.

You who have read Dr. Jean Vanier's beautiful poetic, "tears of silence" may well anticipate the type of message that lies behind his title: "A World of Violence; (is it an) Eruption to Hope?"


It is difficult maybe to talk about serious things in a rather carnival atmosphere. I am not used to the elections of Prime Ministers and/or the heads of parties, and so there is a sort of emulation and excitement when one comes to them and sees the girls and the boys and the bands; but it remains that through this carnival atmosphere we have to penetrate to this other atmosphere which is perhaps a little bit more dignified. As we have the carnival outside it remains maybe a little difficult for me to call up some of the problems I would like to evoke with you, and which may be difficult problems and problems which may have caused each one of us some suffering.

I would like to speak to you about some of the feelings I have, feelings which come from the fact that I have had occasion to visit many psychiatric hospitals and I am in many ways linked to the marginal ones of our society. I received a great honour a few days ago to appear before an audience which was similar in size to this one but all the men that I was speaking to were in the penitentiary. Some times it is easier to communicate to men who are in penitentiaries, to men who are prisoners of our society and of our social conventions and of our economy; because they were men who were and had been deeply wounded, wounded because when they were young they had been born to squalor and lived in very difficult situations. There was a fantastic openness as I was able to communicate to them what I felt about the world.

I have had many occasions to visit psychiatric hospitals, occasions to meet and to be asked to go and visit people who were in homes for rehabilitation, for drug addicts and for prostitutes. I have had many occasions to visit homes for the handicapped, homes for the physically handicapped spastic children or mentally handicapped.

Just recently I have returned from India where not only did I have the privilege of meeting men and women in the slums of Bombay but visited the psychiatric hospital of Bangalor and also I had the great privilege, through the help of the Canadian government, CIDA, to help gain a home for the handicapped in Bangalor. Just three months ago we welcomed our first three men, one from the psychiatric hospital and two others from the city of Bangalor, and one who will be coming shortly from the slums of Bangalor.

In many ways I feel before men who are the masters of our economy and of our organization somewhat of an ambassador of the afflicted ones, those who really have voices to be heard, be they from those many thousands that I have visited in the slums of Bombay. I would like you to visit some of those slums, not so that your pity might be excited because a man is earning twenty dollars a month and he has to feed a wife and six children and that the price of rice is only half the price it is here in Canada. Make your calculations and you see how much rice per person per day this comes to! I would like you to go there to have your pity excited and for you to become embarrassed because of our culpability but more to be amazed by the eyes of the children or by the wife of this particular gentleman who sent his little son to go out and buy me a Coca Cola. I am not that crazy about Coca Cola but that Coca Cola was good because it had been bought by somebody who was giving the widow's mite. I don't know what percentage it was of the income but it was quite high.

I would like you to share the occasion that I had. I am thinking of the home of the handicapped in Bombay and I think of these eighty men. Not again that your pity be excited or that you gush out your gifts because your conscience is not too clear but that you might discover in the eyes of these men who have been wounded by disease the fantastic inequalities, the peace.

I remember this lad with a beautiful face. He was from U.P. in the north and here he was in this home, a Cheshire home in Bombay. He said to me:

"You know, I am not unlucky like the others for I have not travelled and I came from a small village and I realize that those who have done more than I have, when they are sick like I am, they suffer; but I do not suffer and I like to be here and I like to hear people talk and at nights I can pray."

He said this with such fantastic peace and such quiet docility and purity in his eyes.

It is much more than that, I would like you to feel when I talk about the marginal ones of our society and try to, maybe, give you a glimpse of this society of the marginal of the slums of Bombay, of the suffering ones in the psychiatric hospital and all those who are condemned to prison, all those who have been bruised. There are a lot of bruised people in our society. I do not have to mention the numbers of unemployed in our country. I do not have to mention the numbers on welfare in one of our provinces and it is difficult to be on welfare and not to have the possibility to express oneself and to work. I do not have to mention the numbers who are alcoholics, who are on drugs for various reasons, the broken people and the lonely people of our society. In their many ways, as I say, I would like to be humbly their ambassador, though doing it badly, to those who possess power and riches and intelligence and capacity to transform populations.

I would like to be able, in this short while, to give you their vision of life. I would like maybe to make you feel how they have suffered because we, the wise, the rich, the wealthy and the powerful, have not known how to look at them with eyes that call them forth to life. We have not looked at them with eyes of esteem and respect. We have looked at them with eyes that are of pity or we have done the things under the influence of this pity which are but gushing sentimentalism. A man who is handicapped, who is in the throngs of the slums, when he has an empty stomach, all he wants is respect and that his rights for work, expression, life, and medical aid be respected. This is what he wants, respect; and not gushing pity.

We, today, are entering a new era in the history of humanity. Today we have discovered such fantastic power and we have made such fantastic discoveries that humanity is evolving from an age of childhood to an age of adulthood in the world of technique. Today is the age of moon exploration, of nuclear energy, of television, of electronics, and all the fantastic discoveries that science puts at our disposal.

A terrific stride has taken place but we must begin to be preoccupied by our regression, or at least our incapacity to progress and to match morally and spiritually and fraternally and lovingly those fantastic discoveries in science and in techniques. We all know this full well unless we want to hide our heads in the sand like ostriches. You just have to look at the situation across our globe with rising violence, with disgust amongst the young for the values that we have so long throned, which frequently and admittedly are based on social convention and acquisitions of wealth and ambition and power and the desire to grow richer without looking upon the effects that our growing richer has upon those who are less fortunate than ourselves.

We are moving into a new age, a fantastic progress in the domain of science but this progress has not and is not being matched in the domain of love and universal brotherhood. You know and I know that you should take the pulse of our society and turn your head away from the publicity and other things that are trying to fool you and you will delve into the reality of our universe and the deep tidal wave that is moving humanity towards its destiny. You want to look at the movements which may be small today but will be important and vast tomorrow; you want to see what is happening in the course of our humanity so that you will realize that mankind must take stock of this situation today and look at what is happening, look and speak to the numbers of the despised, distressed, rejected. If we do not take stock of what it means when one country has not enough and another country is throwing away and in that country that is throwing away it is deeply divided amongst the hundreds of thousands who have no work, those that are despised and those that are handicapped, those that are shut up in hospitals; we must take stock of this. This new era is going to show us something fantastic in the years to come and if we, who are in part, the makers of our society do not take stock of this and act, the tidal wave which is taking its movement already, will eventually arise at its plentitude and overwhelm us.

We must not, if we consider ourselves free men, let ourselves just be pushed by the movements or the underlying movements of humanity. Each one of us has a deep responsibility to take stock of the situation and to act accordingly to stop this tidal wave of despising on one side, and on the other despair and the breaking out of violence. There is only one way to match the situation of our day. You know full well that morality and traditional values are not just waning, they are in many ways approaching death, at least in their organized form of our society. We must take stock of this. Maybe it is not surprising for the great prophets were killed, were rejected, spat upon, crucified; be they two thousand years ago or be they in 1947 or be they with other men like Martin Luther King--shot. We must take stock of this in order to understand how we must act in this society of ours where religion and tradition, which held such a deep and important place and which preserved certain barriers, are now broken down.

In front of this breakdown and collapse of moral and religious values some cry "Victory. There is liberation. Man at last is liberated from the taboos of religion and the myths of morality." Others, on the other hand weep because of the decadence of drug misuse or free sexuality. The barriers of religion and morality, the barriers of law, have disappeared. The young question all forms of authority and the rich and the wise are distressed and feel that the young are rebellious and not good. Yet in the hearts of the young a fantastic call exists, a desire for peace, a desire for tolerance, an openness, and a compassion. Undoubtedly frequently lacking a structure, undoubtedly there is a mixed motivation, but it is so easy for the smug to criticize and condemn as laziness and abusive action. Any who have really come in contact with the young feel in them this call to break down prejudice, to meet people as people and not as members of a class or a religion or a country or a race, but to meet people because their name is Peter or Paul or Elizabeth or Guranata, or men just because they are people and because in them they have a call for love and to be loved.

The young have been too long confronted by people who gave lip service to a God that appeared to them as dead, not the living God of love, the God of the prophets, Jesus Christ, and the Beatitudes, who said:

"Blessed are the poor and the afflicted, blessed are the marginal, blessed are those who are meek and merciful, blessed are those who are poor of heart and blessed are you if you are a man of peace and blessed are you if you accept stoning by those who believe in social convention and don't dare come out and speak in liberty concerning the teachings of peace and of poverty."

He said:

"Woe unto you who are rich now; woe unto you who laugh and are replete now."

The young have felt, as so many of us do, that for too long has there been this lip service, that this God of mercy and of peace and justice who loves all men has not been present in the hands and the hearts and the whole being of the peoples who are giving Him lip service. The young have seen too often men and women kneeling on velvet cushions in front of the Man who was rejected by men and had on His head a crown of thorns, the most rejected of all. We have in so many ways given but an exterior lip service to the real profound qualities or the call of the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah and Amos, or Jesus Christ Himself. No wonder that the young have seen and felt this decollage. We talk fraternity, we talk of universal peace but for most of us, by peace we mean is "Leave me in peace. Let me retain my riches, my wealth, my house. I do not want to share. I do not want to give up my peace. I want to remain in my little domain. I want to remain in my luxury. I want to remain in my position, my smugness, my self-satisfaction." On the other side of the road are the wounded, the afflicted, the out of work, those who are in the prisons and in the hospitals, in the homes for the handicapped, and those across the seas and also those not too far away, those in the slums, and the immigrants.

And so we have gone on in this fantastically divided world between those who are calling out for understanding, not for pity; calling out for respect; and those others who are frightened to open their hearts up to the real problems of our time. With the fantastic progress in science, with the discoveries in communication today the oppressed of the world will no longer remain silent. The oppressed of the world will spring into action and we know this and we feel this, not only because in their hearts there is this desire, a well understood desire for revenge. We have to understand what it means.

The other day a man arrived at our door, twenty-six years old, frustrated. He came from a broken home. His father was an alcoholic and divorced and his mother had remarried. He hated his father, he hated his stepfather. He had nothing but his clothes, no money. He had never done any work. Those who are in good position could easily call him, "Lazy. Stupid." If anybody had stopped to listen to him and heard his tale of woe from the early moments of his existence through to the broken family, the squalor in which he lived, the entrances and exits to psychiatric hospitals, from the entrances and exits of prisons in which he had been put for wayfaring. I said to him "Have you a friend?" He said "No, I have no friend." This man in his poverty, psychological and physical, and the deep frustrations of his being called out for affection. There was a light in his eyes and a sweetness in his smile which showed his deep call for affection. What does he see as he goes down the streets of Paris? He sees the wastage from the restaurants and God knows where. Is it surprising that at some moments, his loneliness changes into anguish, his anguish turns into jealousy, his jealousy turns into hatred, and his hatred into violence. Every time he knocks on a door people are frightened and they throw him out and the prisons won't keep him because he is only there for wayfaring and the psychiatric hospital which took him in just four days before I left because he had some attitudes which were strange; they took him in and three days later rang me up and said, "Can you take him? But send two people because he might be violent." Either the psychiatric hospital keeps him because he is sick or he leaves because he is not and is not violent. The psychiatric hospitals cannot keep him, the prisons cannot, and he has no place to go. This is Peter. Peter represents so many others. I could tell you stories of people I met and talked with in India, I could tell you stories of other countries but we know of these, we read of them. Maybe we are submerged by them. Maybe we get too much of it in television and forget perhaps that at my very doorstep there is a Lazarus with his ulcers and with his open wounds.

We must not be surprised if violence does break out in our lands. We must not be surprised if delinquency grows. We must not be surprised if more and more young are disillusioned and go towards drug addiction. We must not be astonished if there are more and more school dropouts unless each one of us take stock of the situation and accepts his own personal responsibility.

I would tend to think that today the front movement of the world, beyond these problems of violence, albeit in the United States, be it in our own country, be it in South America, be it in the other countries of the world, is our inadequacy. Because of the particular situation of our world and because of the breakdown in the morality and because of the fantastic effect of mass media and the discoveries in science and the dangers that are awaiting us in the development of greater and deeper and simpler forms of energy to be fabricated, I would tend to think that unless we wished to enter blindly and get lulled into this world of violence and greater division, we have to come back to the realities, to the prime realities of life. This is no longer the time to give a paternalistic and benevolent gift or to pat one or two children on the head and give them a little blessing. The days of some superficial charity are gone, those which took some little amount of our superfluous wealth, the rest going into superfluous goods which we were buying, those days are gone.

Unless we take a new and radical form of action, unless we try to really become, each one of us, men of peace and not just the givers of gifts but really begin sharing, deeply sharing, opening our hearts, opening our doors to the afflicted, to the lonely, to the sick, unless we really take a new mode of action, a drastic, rapid serious action, committing ourselves and radically changing our lives to understand the deep friction of the majority of humanity, we will but continue on this downhill road which opens up the world to conflagration or greater despair.

Our hope is that our hearts of stone will be changed into hearts of flesh. Our hope is that in confrontation to violence we will find new forms of love, non-violence in the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi, who himself lived in the spirit of the Beatitudes. Unless we adopt these new forms of action, unless we share radically and not let our bank balances mount up, mount up, mount up, unless we share, unless we become as creative in the political life and as creative in the social domain and as creative in the domain of creating homes for the handicapped, creative in the ways we can help other countries, creative in our social problems and in finding work for those who have no work, unless we have the same creativity which we use in industry and in publicity, we will continue on the downhill road which will lead to greater violence and greater despair.

But how to change our hearts? This is your problem and my problem. We are all of us deeply handicapped because we take so much for granted and we repose so much in the security of life and position. How to change our hearts, how to change our egoism into universal brotherhood? How to change our desire to acquire and to possess into sharing and oblativity? How to be transformed? How to break down the fear that is in me when I am in front of the afflicted people, the handicapped people? How to welcome them with arms outstretched and without fear? How to change this deep need to possess, in order to dispossess and to give; not in a sort of paternalistic ways but realizing that life is only life if we share? Life is not life if we give and think we are someone. Life is real life only if we share deeply, only if we give and receive, only if we spend time, only if we welcome into our hearts and into our homes the afflicted ones.

This our problem. How are we to break down the barriers of security that we have built around us and open ourselves up to compassion, to tenderness? How can we use our intellectual powers, our creativity, our technical apparatus; not to flee from compassion but to make of this world a world of greater fraternity where inequalities are banished, where injustices are banished and where each man whatever his race, his religion, his country, his class, his birth, his up-bringing might be able to find equal opportunities so that they might progress in love and in truth and in well being?

Here we find all of us extremely impoverished because each one of us discovers himself as poor and we find it difficult to break through these barriers which are built around us. This we know and this I believe, and maybe each one of us here believes that only the spirit of God, the spirit of love, the spirit of peace can break down these barriers in us. Only if I permit the spirit of God to enter into me so that I might become in all reality a man of peace, a peace which is not slumbering in self-satisfaction but a peace which is dynamic, sharing so that our universe might be unified not by technology but by human fraternity and by deep understanding of all people will it be achieved. Only if we let this spirit of God come into us, change our being, break down the fears which are in each, break down the barriers that each has created in himself, then only will each one of us be able, without fear, to love his brother, be he in India, be he in the slums of Bombay, be he in China or in Czechoslovakia, be he in Holland or be he in the slums of Toronto, be he in the luxury apartments of Toronto. We will love each of our brothers and we will try to give hope to the afflicted and oppressed and we will try to help the rich and the powerful, and those who are famous, to discover that life is not possessing but life is sharing and opening oneself up. Only then will our world come gradually to the discovery of a new dimension, the dimension of love, the dimension of fraternal unity. Only then will we begin to taste some of that wedding feast to which we are all convened at the end of our time when each one of us is called to death and when for us all, time dies and gives birth to eternity.

The gratitude of the Club was expressed by Mr. Charles C. Hoffman.

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A World in Violence: Eruption to Hope?

Ladies Day. Some of the speaker's feelings which come from the fact that he has had occasion to visit many psychiatric hospitals and in many ways is linked to the marginal ones of our society. Speaking to men in penitentiaries, and other experiences by the speaker. His role as "ambassador" of the afflicted ones. Relating a particular experience at the home of the handicapped in Bombay. Offering a vision of the life of the "afflicted ones." The need for respect, not pity. Entering a new era in the history of humanity. Our incapacity to progress and to match morally and spiritually and fraternally and lovingly those fantastic discoveries in science and in techniques. Our individual responsibility. Not being surprised if violence does break out, and why. The need to take a new and radical form of action to become men of peace. How to change our hearts. Letting the spirit of God come into us.