Jean Vanier and the Fear Sharks, part ii

Last week, I introduced you to three Fear Sharks, embodiments of possible negative reactions to Jean Vanier’s seven aspects of love as laid out in his book Becoming Human. There are probably other reactions, with their corresponding sharks, but these are the ones I’m most familiar with. Kinda like the way some people prefer Golden Retrievers and others prefer Pugs or Poodles or Pinschers.

Anyway, here are two more hapless pets from my shark tank.

These two react against M Vanier’s fourth and fifth aspects of love:

4. Celebration: manifesting joy in being with another. Whenever we add a “but” in response to another’s happiness, we are feeding the fix-it urge. “Wonderful! But don’t you think you should use a clearer font / tone down the eye shadow / not get your hopes too high?” It’s really hard not to want what we think is the best for another.

5. Empowerment: encouraging another in their growth and self-acceptance. Fear Sharks 4 and 5 drink in the same bar together, but they behave differently. While 4 is always trying to help, 5 is the boss. Period. Self-control is 5’s greatest value, and anything that threatens it riles him. He either stops a loved one’s experiments, or pointedly ignores them.

Eat that foreign fish, or check out the neighbouring lagoon? Count 5 out. He just sits and nurses his pint, and lets 4 do all the talking.

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.