Jean Vanier: Another Voice for Professional Social Work

I’m reading an article in the Journal of Religion & Spirituality in Social Work. It’s entitled, Jean Vanier: An Alternative Voice for the Social Work Profession.  Vanier is the founder of the L’Arche communities around the world that provide home and community for adults with developmental challenges.  The main thrust of the article is about the value of religio-poetic language in the field of social work — a field that for the last half century has been much more focused on building its reputation as a profession. At one point, the author, Anne Marie Walsh, PhD, writes the following:

Social work is in the often privileged position of realizing some of what Vanier suggests.  The profession works closely with very disadvantaged people, the weak within a competitive capitalist society; even the profession itself tends to be seen as somewhat weak, unable to generate its own funds, women’s work, a pseudoprofession which is not doing the “real” work of building, earning, and producing.  The exposure to the capacities (and not only the challenges) of those with whom we work offers social workers a view of he complex strengths and the dignity of many whom the “real world” might reject.  And of course, our exposure to the lives of others touches our own weaknesses.

Despite the messages we hear so very often — especially in much of what passes for political “discourse” these days — the truth of Jean Vanier’s perspective is so very evident to me in his commitment not just to community, but to community of care. As Vanier says:

That is why we need community, because we can do nothing all alone.  We need to belong. We only know ourselves and each other when we live with our weaknesses.