Jean Vanier and the Fear Sharks


It’s so deceptive: “Love your neighbour,” sounds easy, right? Nope. The word “love” must have as many dozen meanings as the verb “run”.

So when I read Jean Vanier’s seven aspects of love (Becoming Human, Anansi Press, 2003), I heaved a sigh of relief. Here, finally, was a clear and logically holistic definition of neighbourly love.

And then suddenly, I visualized the struggles against these aspects as “Fear Sharks.” I’ve grown quite fond of my Sharks. Essentially lazy creatures, they’re fierce only when frightened; they would live quite happily on carrot sticks if they could overcome their timidity.

Don’t tap on the glass.

Here are the first three Sharks, their fears emblazoned on them as on a bread truck, and this is what they’re reacting against:

1. Communication: bringing clarity out of confusion and chaos. There are always parts of ourselves we’d rather hide. We don’t want our past shames known, we don’t want our current feelings guessed, and so we resist communicating anything important. Communication requires vulnerability, and vulnerability is scary.

2. Revelation: revealing the value of another through time, attention, and tenderness. The Boredom Fear Shark actually has a twin sister, Impatience. We don’t want to be rude — but do we have to listen to that same old story again? It seems to come down to equally poor choices of snapping or snoring. Revelation requires patience, and patience takes effort.

3. Understanding: seeking the message behind another’s bad behaviour. Snap judgments and generalizations are handy, but not always helpful. If we understand whether Sweetie’s grumpiness is due to hunger or a sore shoulder, our response may ungrumpify Sweetie sooner. Understanding takes perception, and perception comes only with experience.

Poor little timid, work-shy sharks. They’re almost human.

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