Mindful and Just Parenting: Cultivating the Courage of Radical Compassion
by Teresa Graham Brett -ParentingForSocialChange.com
If we are redefining adult-child relationships in order to parent from a place of trust and respect, we must bring to consciousness the underpinnings of the institutions that we grew up within. We must also understand how the experiences we had within those institutions (including within the family) created a particular view of how the world works. Our families are reflections of the broader culture as well. A culture based on power and control. Fear, isolation, separation, ignorance, and disconnection are all characteristics of a culture that is based on power and control. (Harro, 2001) Power and control are embedded in almost all of the institutions and systems in our culture, including families, schools, religious institutions, the legal system, and the medical system. They are, for the most part, all based on the top down, hierarchical models that operate from a base of power and control.
As individuals grow up in our culture, they are trained within these systems to accept the use of power and control over them.
Individuals grow up and take their place in society and take up the work of socializing younger, less powerful members of our social structures to internalize and accept the use of power and control as normal. Fear, ignorance, and shame are the tools used by the more powerful to ensure compliance. The most challenging part about these tools, is that we all had them used on us and we learned how to use them. Because power, control, fear, and shame are so commonplace in the majority of child-adult relationships, they become unremarkable. This is how they become part of our subconscious. We see them as normal.
If you are an adult, you have more power over children. And because you (and I) learned that these tools are "normal," we have to become aware of when and how we might be using them unconsciously.
What begins as externally imposed fear and shame, quickly becomes internalized during childhood. Children looking to the adults around them for safety, food, shelter, and love, seek to please those adults in order to survive. Children internalize the ways in which the family, group, and society are structured and conform to those structures.
This internalization of shame and fear works to separate individuals from each other.
More importantly as individuals are properly trained and socialized in the cultural norms of power and control, they begin to question their inherent goodness and their humanity. How could we not question our humanity and the inherent goodness with which we are born? We learn on a daily basis that we are not good enough from adults around us. We are expected to perform others' expectations or else face judgment from them. The wholeness with which all individuals are born is fractured and replaced systematically with external authority, fear of failure, and the need to do what others expect in order to be cared for and protected (or to feel "safe").
The normalization of the more powerful controlling the less powerful and the use of shame and fear to control creates the foundation from which oppression and discrimination thrive.
Using fear and shame to control ourselves Even as we seek to reconnect to our wholeness through a practice of mindfulness, we use fear and shame internally to control our own thoughts and behaviors when we deem them unacceptable. We learn that certain parts of ourselves are not "right" or "good," that they need to be hidden because we were punished as children for showing them. As a side note, when I do these workshops, many people only think of punishment as coming from parents. Punishment against those who do not conform occurs in the majority of institutions, groups and relationships in our culture. Additionally, if we cannot hide parts of ourselves we bear the additional burden of systematic oppression. This discrimination is based not just on our status as children or young people but also based on our gender identity, race, sexual orientation, disability, ethnicity, national origin, and language, for example.
Though we may grow up and move into the more powerful role of adult, we still face that oppression based on other identities. A reality for our culture is that we have all faced at least one common experience of oppression and discrimination. We were all once children. And the vast majority of us faced the pain of being treated as less than human. This loss of our humanity, or wholeness, means that we continue to seek love and acceptance outside of ourselves to relieve the pain of the loss of unconditional love in childhood. The common oppression of childhood, of being part of a social identity group that is seen as less than, has created deep shame and emotional harm that continues to haunt us as we grow up. We internalize the oppression of childhood. And we learn to effectively use power over others who are deemed as “less than” in our society.
This compassion begins with internal work. It is about creating compassion for ourselves and our experiences, thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs. We can learn acceptance of all the parts of ourselves, even those that were used as weapons of shame and fear against us. We begin with a journey that invites the unconscious to come to consciousness. Those things we have hidden from ourselves, we must be willing to shine the light of day on. We must begin to accept that those things are still with us. Radical compassion, then, begins with the self.
So many parents who are committed to trust and respect want to be able to offer radical compassion to the children in their lives. But we will have only limited success if we cannot practice that radical compassion for ourselves.
Radical self-compassion opens the door to a more authentic and just relationship to self, which can then lead to more authentic, just, and compassionate relationships with others. As we practice radical compassion it has the ability to lead us to the understanding of the interconnectedness of all the parts of ourselves. The "good" and the "bad." The enemy within us becomes a friend. The internal process can be externalized to others.
This article is an excerpt from "Mindful and Just Parenting: Cultivating the Courage of Radical Compassion" by Teresa Graham Brett -ParentingForSocialChange.com To read the entire article (highly recommended) go to: http://www.parentingforsocialchange.com/mindful-parenting-radical-compassion.html