Templeton Prize for an Advocate for People with Disabilities

At a joyful and moving ceremony last night at St Martin-in-the-Fields, the extraordinary Jean Vanier accepted The Templeton Prize. I have heard a number of people say that after meeting him they wanted to become a better person. I now understand why.

Over a half century ago, he visited a horrid psychiatric institution in France, and a resident with intellectual disabilities asked him “Will you be my friend?”.

What would you have done in this situation? I think I would have engaged in an awkward interaction and then moved on. Vanier in contrast invited two residents to come live with him, initiating a movement that now includes 147 communities in 35 countries. In L’Arche communities, people with and without intellectual disabilities share their lives. Perhaps the most striking — indeed radical — aspect of the Vanier’s vision was his expectation that those without intellectual disabilities would benefit as much as those with them. It’s a complete departure from the typical medical model in which designated experts apply clinical techniques to designated helpees.

At 86, Vanier remains a marvelously eloquent, funny and inspiring speaker. This is his answer to the eternal question: What does it mean to be fully human?

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College Lonon. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over ten thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.