Compassion and Social Justice: building connections

I wrote last year when we launched this blog about expanding the field of contemplative pedagogies by building connections across the curriculum. One such set of connections could be between programs on human rights and social justice and those on compassion.

There have been a number of projects recently that have looked at social justice education. Sydney University’s Human Rights Program has recently released some great resources about using simulations to teach social justice and human rights. In this video introduction Dr Susan Banki outlines the principles underlying her approach. She rightly emphasises the structural nature of human rights violations and outlines an applied approach for students to develop strategic approaches to social justice activism.

This structural approach with practical applied learning activities is a great example of how a curriculum can be developed to provide an integrated educational, professional and personal development experience. However from a contemplative pedagogies perspective additional work on the science and practice of compassion would add a further dimension that could complete this experience. This could be particularly valuable from the point of view of self-care and exploration of the links between compassion, social justice and self-compassion. Kristen Neff one of the leading researchers on self compassion has shown that although there are notable links between compassion for others and self compassion, this is not necessarily the case in young people:

Because young adults in college are still forming their identities and understandings of intimate relationships, they are unlikely to have the same in-depth knowledge of themselves or others that comes with greater age and experience. Young adults also struggle with recognizing the shared aspects of their life experience, often overestimating their distinctiveness from others (Lapsley, FitzGerald, Rice, & Jackson, 1989). Thus, young adults’ schemas for why they are deserving of care and why others are deserving of care may be poorly integrated, so that their treatment of themselves and others is relatively unrelated. As individuals learn more about suffering and the causes of suffering with development, however, they may come to form a more unified understanding of compassion that generalizes to human beings more broadly, the self included. This may help explain why self-compassion was linked to compassion, empathetic concern and altruism for community adults and meditators but not for undergraduates. (Neff & Pommier 2012)

A range of Compassion Cultivation tools have been developed by groups like The  Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) at Stanford University. Roshi Joan Halifax has also developed a detailed enactive model of compassion which has been used extensively in nursing education.