Community Engagement · Education · Liberation

Love: The Heart of Dialogue and Engagement

“To love someone is not first of all to do things for them, but to reveal to them their beauty and value, to say to them through our attitude: ‘You are beautiful. You are important. I trust you. You can trust yourself.’ We all know well that we can do things for others and in the process crush them, making them feel that they are incapable of doing things by themselves. To love someone is to reveal to them their capacities for life, the light that is shining in them.”

Jean Vanier, founder of the L’Arche communities

In Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Paulo Freire lays out an educational model, popular education, that challenges the teacher-student contradiction, but instead proposes that all people are incomplete humans. As we become aware of our incompleteness and also our ability and the necessity of working to be more fully human, we enter into a new form of education that is built upon dialogue. As we encounter situations that limit us, we can choose to respond to such challenges with action, transforming and creating reality in the process. The word, which is both action and reflection, is used not only for dialogue but also to bring about a new reality. And with the new reality, the word is no longer reflective of reality and so dialogue must continue, always leading towards new realities that allow each of us to become more fully human.

Freire lists five essential components of dialogue:

  1. Profound love for the world and for people
  2. Humility that I am not self-sufficient, but must partner with others to name the world — that there are no sages, but only people attempting together to learn more than what we know now.
  3. Intense faith in humankind and their power to create and re-create reality together, the a priori existence of which is a necessity if we are to enter into dialogue
  4. Mutual trust, that which is established as we engage together in action/reflection dialogue
  5. Hope, that which leads us to move out in constant search in communion with others.

Freire’s description of dialogue came to mind today as I read the quote Jean Vanier.

During the holidays, it’s common for us to turn our thoughts to those who we identify as in need and to provide charity to them to bring them out of their wretchedness — “and in the process crush them”. Instead, may we daily remember the importance of love, humility, faith, trust, and hope as the foundations of community dialogue, that is, of action and reflection working to create and re-create a reality in which we all are transformed so as to be more fully human.

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