As with most of my writing, this post is irregularly timed, but it is part of a series that I’ve been pondering as I continue my exploration of Buddhist teachings and continue to learn to be a more effective social justice educator.
I’m thinking more and more about how the teaching of Thich Nhat Hahn and Social Justice are intertwined. Especially as I read both Thich Nhat Hahn and advocates for social justice (bell hooks, Angela Davis, and many others). Before I get more into this, I want to lay out some definitions.
“Mindfulness is the awareness of what is going on in us and around us in the present moment. It requires stopping, looking deeply, and recognizing both the uniqueness of the moment and its connection to everything that has gone on before and will go on in the future.” -Thich Nhat Hahn, The Mindfulness Survival Kit, page 9
“The goal of social justice education is full and equal participation of all groups in a society that is mutually shaped to meet their needs. Social justice includes a vision of society that is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure.” – Adams, Bell, Griffin, Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice
Our reality is that we’re living in a culture (most of my critical consciousness is US focused but some of these ideas apply globally) in which some people are provided with opportunities that others aren’t. We live in a complex society that privileges some and oppresses others and we know that these are not simple binary situations. We all exist in spectrums of privilege and disadvantage and we have to acknowledge that through the history of our individual experiences but also the experiences that have happened across history. When we’re mindful of our current moment in connection with the histories that have preceded us we can be more aware of how to bring about change.
For example, when I can be connected to my personal experiences with class and cultural capital, which is mixed with privilege and disadvantage, I can understand the ways in which I am both prevented from opportunities by not knowing about them (i.e. investing money) and the ways in which I know about how things work (i.e. traveling and getting a passport). So I’m aware of these particular experiences I’ve had as an individual but I also need to acknowledge how those experiences are shaped by the history of classism in the United States. (This doesn’t even begin to acknowledge the history related to me being white and the advantages that come along with that.)
The two quotations that I’ve used in this post are tied together. In order to be mindful we have to be in the current moment while recognizing how the past and future shapes our present. And Social Justice is a process and a goal. The process is recognizing ways in which privileges and disadvantages have been installed and the ways in which they shapes our experiences. This means being knowledgeable of how we’re being impacted currently as well as how people have been influenced through the ages on the basis of their race, gender, class, sexuality, etc. There is no way to be an effective social justice educator or activist without having a sharp analysis of the ways that history shape our present.
This critical analysis stems from personal work which, in my opinion, is similar to meditation. We acknowledge what we’re aware of and what that awareness is based in. What are our biases and where did they come from? How do they shape our interactions with others and the decisions that we make? What are the assumptions that we make when we do our work and are those assumptions based in oppressive and harmful beliefs that constantly impressed upon us?
To be effective social justice educators and activists we need to be able to answer these questions. We have to be mindful of our present and the way that our histories have shaped us. We have to be mindful of the ways that our decisions in the present shape our futures. This is the social justice process fused with mindfulness and praxis that leads us to our goal of an equitable society.
Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice: A Sourcebook. Edited by Maurianne Adams, Lee Anne Bell, and Pat Griffin.
The Mindfulness Survival Kit: Five Essential Practices. Thich Nhat Hahn.