To love and to be loved

Three years ago, Together For the Common Good hosted the founder of L’Arche International Jean Vanier, pictured above, in the UK Parliament at a special event in which he addressed a group of MPs and Peers. He then took part in a Q & A session alongside the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and Cardinal Vincent Nichols.

The message of that evening – ‘Living Together for the Common Good – Why the Strong Need the Weak’ - continues to resonate in our collection of blogs looking at intergenerational relationships. In this series we explore some of the practical benefits that ‘common good’ thinking can have for both old and young across our churches, neighbourhoods and society at large.

L’Arche advocates community living for people with learning disabilities, where the able bodied and disabled live alongside each other. These transformational communities embrace people of all faiths and none, united in a shared witness that the poorest and weakest in society can teach ‘the strong’ what it means to be truly human. 

Jean Vanier spoke powerfully of how society becomes impoverished when it fails to embrace the gifts of the marginalised, and explains what the strong have to gain by living in community with the weak. Fundamentally, Vanier is concerned with just relationships between human beings, characterised by love. In other words, how we create a common life together. His message is particularly vital now, when we see a culture of individualism driving people apart. 

You can watch Jean Vanier’s full talk, and the Q&A chaired by Sarah Montague, by clicking the image below. You may also enjoy watching an interview with him conducted by Nicky Gumbel in 2017 on our Vanier ‘To Love and Be Loved’ page, here.

Whilst the L’Arche model of Common Good focuses on the relationship between the able-bodied and the disabled, Vanier’s message is universal. It resonates across all human relationships. We might consider what happens to us as human beings if we fail to live a common life with people who are excluded, rejected or despised by mainstream society, in particular if we become estranged from communities of the left-behind

This message also resonates when we consider our relationships with our older neighbours. Addressing isolation among the elderly from a Common Good perspective shows how this approach generates more connected communities, where everyone can thrive and lead a life of dignity together, where the human spirit is valued.

Our recent blogs explore this in practice, not least in the Anna Chaplaincy initiative’s spiritual care for the elderly and in the inspirational work of St. Monica’s Trust bringing care home residents together with nursery school children under the same roof

The lesson that these experiences illustrate is that loving human relationships are the fundamental bond that lift everyone up. These inspirational examples, bringing together people who are different in reciprocal relationship, illustrate how Vanier’s vision of a common life can be transformational for all involved.

A recent landmark study found that it is millennials, not the elderly, who are more likely to admit to suffering chronic loneliness, with one in ten 16-24 year olds saying that they often or always feel lonely. South London Cares, which brings together older neighbours with young professionals in mutually beneficial relationships, echoes the reciprocal relationship approach in a highly successful model being replicated around the country.

These relational models emerging from civil society demonstrate the transformational power of human relationships as the antidote to individualism. Instead of generating social fragmentation, they are generating mutual flourishing, a Common Good.

The young, the old, the strong, the vulnerable: all are needed, all have a valuable contribution to make and all are of equal value in the eyes of God. As Jean Vanier reminds us, the human person is created to love and be loved.


Tom Ketteringham

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