Friday, August 21, 2009

None of us are free until we are all free

During the short write exercise in class I wrote the following statement: "I have experienced oppression living in a time where war and fear are the underlying prescription for the economic expression throughout the world. I am oppressed by the limited understanding of love and compassion manifested in my world community."

The words seem to come flying out of my hand and I put my pen down, somewhat shocked at the honesty that had come from me.

I feel blessed at my background, which I reflected on my short write about privilege: "I have experienced privilege in my life by being born as healthy, white, male, to educated, loving parents who saw me as someone who is both lovable and important. I was born during a time that was free of war and disease (for me), and where access to information and wisdom have been readily available." I know how much has been offered to me, which is why I was surprised at my writing about oppression.

All of us have developed a strategy to deal with the inequities that exist in our world. Some become bitter or hateful while others are able to find a level of acceptance. Members of the ruling class must come to grips with that fact they have much more than others. It seems unfair to say that their burden is greater than those in the minority, but the point is that we all have some pain associated with the unfair fact that some are born in to wealth and others into poverty. These questions of what it means to feel privileged and or what it means to be oppressed is relevant to all people of our global village, even our children.

The emotions that I became aware of during these practices all surrounded interdependence (empathy, oneness, understanding, acceptance and community). The insights that I can take from these exercises into my classroom all have to do with the idea of fairness and that we all cope with inequality and unfairness differently, given our diverse background. Sexual orientation, race, wealth, gender and political background all play critical roles in developing a framework through which we see the world. As important as the physical traits of the individual, the emotional capacity and wisdom of a person also helps to create one's relationship with their surroundings. For example, someone with a high degree of empathy will have a different reaction to injustice in the world than someone who may share those person’s same physical traits, but differs in their emotional intelligence. Regardless of our personal construct of the world, as teachers, we should encourage the constant examination of students and the world around them. Using the discussions of Labels or what it means to be oppressed is to encourage self-examination and the ideas surrounding equity and fairness. I see these discussions, and the wisdom behind them as part of the set of tools that I am developing to help others empower themselves.

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