If we are so stuck to what we believe to be true we can never learn anything. Are you engaging with the material negatively or positively?
When I’m facilitating a training, I frequently provide examples of whatever it is that I’m talking about. So if I’m talking about microaggressions based on race, I may provide some examples that I’ve overheard or witnessed (Where are you really from?) Another example that I’ve used to talk about privilege is the relative privilege that faculty have over staff at an institution of higher education. I think examples of concepts (in this case, a specific microaggression) highlights the reality of the concepts that I’m training on. It allows people to “see” a real life example and use that to fully understand the concept.
That’s the purpose anyway.
Most of the time it goes to plan with some quick conversation on the validity of the example. Sometimes the dialogue goes completely off the rails because people apply their critical lens to the example instead of using the example to critically consider how their experiences or thinking may be limited and then to learn using the example. Those are the times that I want to discuss for a brief moment.
If we are so stuck to what we believe to be true we can never learn anything. That means that hearing an example of a microaggression or privilege and then trying to find ways to dismantle the example is avoiding learning. What it does is misdirect the conversation to finding ways in which the example is somehow flawed. What this means is that we’re applying the same knowledge or lens (which could be inherently flawed or informed through privilege) that we’ve always had to the example instead of understanding how the example can change our perspectives and knowledge.
I’ve seen this play out in conversations where a person telling a story about how they’ve been the target of a microaggression is told that must not be what the other person meant. Which essentially is defending the person who said something ignorant. And while it isn’t necessarily the microaggressors’ fault that they said a microaggression (because privilege usually prevents those with it from understanding what they’ve said is harmful), it is harmful to defend the ignorance of a statement once it’s been defined as inherently ignorant.
Or sometimes it’s finding ways that one small piece of the conversation may not fit entirely within the conversation. I’ve heard one conversation about faculty relative privilege over staff derailed by bringing up the fact that some staff members’ salaries are higher than some faculty salaries. While this is true for a few cases, overall staff are at a disadvantage and using a small example erases the other issues in the different treatments that staff and faculty receive.
All of this is to say that when we’re in a space designed for us to learn, we need to critically reflect on how we’re engaging with the material. Are we asking questions that poke holes in examples? Or are we using the examples and the dialogue to poke holes in our thinking? Those are important self-reflective questions to consider within the context of social justice education trainings that if we do not answer for ourselves we can end up learning nothing and preventing the learning of others.
I started writing about mindfulness in the context of social justice work back in February and thought that it would make a good series as there is always more to learn in both social justice and in mindfulness because there is so much personal work (self-discovery, whatever you would like to call it) to do. This post is a continuation of that irregular series, but focusing a little more on background of why I had the thought to link them and some resources I’ve found since thinking of the idea.
Mindfulness and meditation are becoming more visible in the mainstream eye (see Time Magazine and the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks). Both of these linked articles reference the power of being present and the Seahawks leveraged that concept and applied it to focusing in football. I’ve been working on growing in this area through a regular yoga practice and through regular meditation (that’s been more irregular recently) and one day as I was reading An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life by the Dalai Lama I realized how interconnected my work to deepen my understanding of mindfulness is to my work as a social justice educator and I began to see connections as I continued to read books about both mindfulness and about social justice. This really opened up some new pathways for me that helped me become a more effective educator.
I started to think about the ways in which I try to sit back and listen to others when having a dialogue about social injustice. I actively listen and try to understand, as best I can with my combination of social identities,other perspectives and other experiences. I pay attention to how I’m feeling and try my best not to let those emotions steer my contributions to conversations. I pay attention to the emotion in others and make attempts to be supportive. I pay attention to how much space I take up in the conversation. Mindfulness helps me do all of this critically because I’m paying attention to what’s happening around me. I’m absorbing it to understand the dynamics of the room. (I’ll also say that I did some of this prior to my attempts to be more mindful because I’m an introvert).
I’m currently reading Diane Goodman’s Promoting Diversity and Social Justice (I’m reading the first edition. A second one was published in 2011) and chapter 9 is focused on “Issues for Educators.” Goodman writes about increasing educational effectiveness part of which is doing our own personal work to fully understand our own backgrounds and where we are in understanding our identities. It means working through the issues that may get us caught up in responding to an unruly participant rather than focusing on educating/training the whole room. Goodman writes about using mindfulness as a strategy to avoid some of these common issues. “In situations in which we feel we are not being conscious or are immersed in negative reactions, it can help us return to a more centered way of being and depend our understanding of what is really going on” (Goodman, 2000, p. 183). By using mindfulness, Goodman argues that we become more effective educators. We can more holistically recognize what’s happening within ourselves to develop a better approach to the training/workshop. We can also be more effective in listening to others’ perspectives and understand what kind of support that someone may need. We can aptly discern the vibe of a room from a negative or resistant vibe to one of true curiosity. These are all huge in helping us move ourselves and our participants/students forward with the difficult concepts and conversations that comes with social justice.
Goodman, D. (2000) Promoting diversity and social justice: Educating people from privileged groups. Sage Publications. Thousand Oaks, CA.