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Archive for the ‘Empathy’ Category



Investigating Christian Privilege: Its Time Has Come

May9

by: on May 9th, 2014 | 4 Comments »

As spring peers forth from the soil and tree limbs, the annual Easter Egg Roll, sponsored by the President of the United States and the First Lady, thrills elementary and pre-school age children each year. Also, in school classrooms throughout the country, students and their teachers dip hardboiled eggs into brightly colored dyes, and display Easter eggs of pink, yellow, blue, green, red, and lavender. Some students adhere bunny, baby chick, rainbow, or angel decals to their Easter eggs. Some paint flowers or clouds; some sprinkle glitter of silver or gold. An excitement wafts through the classroom as students imagine sharing their treasures with parents or caregivers, as teachers reward the good work of their charges with delicious gleaming chocolate bunnies. A palpable excitement fills the air in anticipation of Easter Sunday as children adorn classroom bulletin boards with images of the season.

As an educator of pre-service teachers in the university, I am gratified to find that an ever increasing number of Colleges of Education include instruction on issues of power and privilege related to our socially constructed identities. We know that teachers must thoroughly come to terms with their social positions (“positionalities”), the intersectional ways in which they are privileged as well as how they have been the targets of systemic inequities, and the impact this makes on their students.

Depending on our multiple identities, society grants us simultaneously a great array of privileges while marginalizing us based solely on these identities. Inspired by Peggy McIntosh‘s pioneering investigations of white and male privilege, we can understand dominant group privilege as constituting a seemingly invisible, unearned, and largely unacknowledged array of benefits accorded to members of dominant groups, with which they often unconsciously walk through life as if effortlessly carrying a knapsack tossed over their shoulders. A number of researchers have developed extensive lists (white, male, heterosexual, cisgender (“traditional” gender presentation), able-bodied, Christian, adult, age, socioeconomic class, physical size) charting the benefits and privileges accorded to individuals within differing dominant identity categories.

Many people (most likely the majority) consider the Easter events I outlined, played out in Washington, DC and in some schools in the United States, as normal, appropriate, and joyous seasonal activities. Upon critical reflection, however, others experience them as examples of institutional (governmental and educational) (re)enforcements of dominant Christian standards and what is referred to as “Christian privilege,” though presented in presumably secularized forms. They represent some of the ways in which the dominant group (in this instance, Christians) reiterates its values and practices while marginalizing and subordinating those who do not adhere to Christian faith traditions.

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Open the Eyes of My Heart

May8

by: on May 8th, 2014 | 13 Comments »

So begins a prayer that could well be sung while touching the feet of the newest life-size public sculpture of Jesus: Jesus the Homeless. Sleeping on a bench with his nail-scarred feet protruding from the hem of his blanket lies Jesus, adorning the front of St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in the upscale neighborhood of Davidson, North Carolina.

The statue has sparked both commendations and disapproval from Davidson residents, one of whom even called the police thinking the statue to be a live person.

Pointless spectacle or profound statement?

Recently a friend and I were talking about the church as compared with other religions. When most people in the United States think of Buddhism they don’t think of the intolerance expressed in the Buddhist expulsion of Hindus from Bhutan or the anti-Muslim riots in Sri Lanka. They think of meditation. When most people think of Hinduism they don’t think of the Hindu communal riots against the Muslims. They think of yoga. When most people think of Judaism there’s a tension between the powerful Jewish stand for justice through the centuries and the current bad behavior of Israel. “If only Christianity could get to the place where Judaism is!” We laughed.

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From Bullying to Genocides: Reflections on Holocaust Remembrance Day

Apr28

by: on April 28th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

As we observe Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day, which lasts until sundown today, I reflect upon my familial history: two scenarios with somewhat varied outcomes.

When I was a young child, I sat upon my maternal grandfather Simon Mahler’s knee. Looking down urgently, but with deep affection, he said to me, “Varn,” (through his distinctive Polish accent, he pronounced my name “Varn”), “you are named after my father, Wolf Mahler, who was killed by the Nazis along with my mother Bascha and most of my thirteen brothers and sisters.” When I asked why they were killed, he responded, “Because they were Jews.” Those words have reverberated in my mind, haunting me ever since.

We later learned that Nazi troops forced most of my Krosno relatives into the surrounding woods, shot them, and tossed their lifeless bodies into a mass unmarked grave along with over two thousand other Jewish residents. The Nazis eventually loaded the remaining Jews of Krosno onto cattle cars and transported them to Auschwitz and Belzec death camps. The handful of Krosno Jews who survived liberation of the camps attempted to return to their homes that had been confiscated by the non-Jewish residents. No Jews reside today in Krosno.

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No “Honor” or Respect in Colonizing Native American and Jewish Culture

Apr23

by: on April 23rd, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Controversy is swirling around a long-overdue public debate whether to change the name of the Washington Redskins football franchise. On one side, some news outlets, like the San Francisco Chronicle, have announced they will no longer use the word “Redskins” when referring to the team. Recently, the D.C. City Council voted overwhelmingly to change what the original form of the resolution termed as the team’s “racist and derogatory” moniker.

The American Indian Movement (AIM) Twin Cities organized a protest at the game between the Minnesota Vikings and the Washington “Redskins” last November and issued a statement in opposition to the team’s name, arguing:

The continued use of American Indian likenesses and images by sports teams has resulted in widespread racial, cultural and spiritual stereotyping which promotes hatred and disrespect of American Indian people. Using American Indian slurs like ‘Redskins’ is no different than the use of Black Sambo which offended African Americans or the Frito Bandito which is offensive to the Hispanic community.

The press release went on to demand: “Retire the racist attire! Recognize that American Indians are a living people, not mascots for America’s fun and games!”

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The Challenges of Seder Night

Apr13

by: Rabbi Howard Cooper on April 13th, 2014 | 1 Comment »

Credit: Creative Commons

As we sit down to our Seders – with family, with friends, or in community – we in the so-called ‘First World’, in 2014, intuit that as Jews we are living, historically speaking, lives of immense privilege. While we speak of oppression in Egypt and celebrate the journey our people made from slavery to freedom, we acknowledge the freedoms we now enjoy, unprecedented in Jewish history: freedom to assemble as we want, free to celebrate without persecution, free to speak our minds without fear of a knock on the door, free to express our Jewish selves in whatever style we may choose. The NSA may be monitoring every move we make – but would we want to alive in any other era of our millennia-old history?

Yet the challenge of Seder night is not just to remember the past, not just to recall the extraordinary longevity of our story with its roots in servitude and its mythos of the Jews as a people liberated into a different kind of servitude – servitude to a vision of how things could be, how freedoms of many kinds could be the inheritance of all peoples;  as UK Rabbi John Rayner z”l expressed it: ‘freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom from hunger, freedom from hatred, freedom from fear; freedom to think, freedom to speak, freedom to learn, freedom to love, freedom to hope, freedom to rejoice – soon, in our days’. The Seder night is, of course, all of that. But it is more than that.

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Is There Finally Hope for Challenging Orientalism in Hollywood?

Mar31

by: on March 31st, 2014 | 11 Comments »

Last week the world of American Muslim social media (if there is such a thing) was rocked by an unexpected victory. A proposed ABCFamily show provocatively entitled Alice in Arabia was cancelled after a protest by American Muslims. The reason: this tale of an American girl kidnapped by Saudi relatives and held, veiled against her will in Saudi Arabia was all too familiar as stereotypical orientalism. The question then becomes, with films and television shows preceding it rife with the racist prejudices of our American consciousness, why was Alice in Arabia different?


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The Soul of Medicine

Mar10

by: on March 10th, 2014 | 5 Comments »

Know any physicians or other health care professionals who might want A New Bottom Line in Medicine – one that is more about love, caring and recognition of the humanity of those whom they treat? If so, introduce them to The Network of Spiritual Progressives’ Transformative Medicine Taskforce. Here I offer an idea of what Transformative Medicine could be about. So send this to any doctors you know, post this on your Facebook or other social media, and invite docs (including chiropractors etc.) to contact Cat@spiritualprogressives.org if they are in agreement and want to work with our Transformative Medicine.

There are two dimensions of medicine and health care that will be transformed when the New Bottom Line of the NSP–Network of Spiritual Progressives– becomes the guiding principle for our society: how medical services are distributed and what the content of a spiritually informed medicine will be (that is, how we sustain and repair health).


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5 Big Problems With Compassion-Baiting

Mar7

by: Katie Loncke on March 7th, 2014 | 3 Comments »

Unfortunately, we spiritual-progressive types, including but not limited to dharma heads, seem to be particularly prone to something I call compassion-baiting.

General compassion-baiting sounds something like:

Try having more compassion. If you did, you’d see things my way.

And in social justice situations, specifically, compassion-baiting often sounds like:

You’re more upset / loud / angry about social harm than I, arbiter, deem appropriate. You must therefore be lacking in wisdom or compassion.

F**k that noise, for real.

Why so touchy, you ask? Let’s break it down: 5 major fails associated with compassion-baiting.

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Just Call Me Chief Policy Wonk!

Mar3

by: on March 3rd, 2014 | Comments Off

For a year and a half or so, I’ve been an advisor to a new and exciting project, the US Department of Arts and Culture, which is demonstrating the public cultural presence we need in this country by performing it. Watch Deputy Secretary Norman Beckett explain it in a video clip.

My role is Chief Policy Wonk, a title I love. Today, the USDAC launches a call for 12 Cultural Agents. Here’s how the press release described it: “This move signals an exciting new phase in the growth of the fledgling department. Drawn from a dozen different communities across the country, the twelve new Cultural Agents will embark on a process of training and community-building, culminating in the co-creation of ‘Imaginings.’ These arts-infused events will invite local participants to imagine and enact the world they wish to inhabit in 2034.” More information at the USDAC website: the deadline to apply to be in this first cohort of Cultural Agents is March 24th, and anyone can sign up anytime to join the USDAC mailing list, take the pledge as a Citizen Artist, and take part in other ways.

This locally based work is just part of the USDAC “sandwich.” On one side, grassroots organizing to engage and affect local communities in their own conscious cultural development; on the other side, a national vision of truly democratic cultural policy and intervention, fueling that local development and much more. In between, a vibrant national conversation about culture as the container for national and community renewal, about cultivating the imagination and empathy we need to create a future we want to inhabit.


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Teaching English, Physics and Love

Mar1

by: on March 1st, 2014 | Comments Off

Here are two beautiful, moving and challenging movies about teachers who understand that kids can’t learn in school if everything’s going wrong at home and in the neighborhood. The first is about Jeff Duncan-Andrade’s work in Oakland, CA. All the videos on his site are worth checking out, but here’s one to get you intrigued:

This second one, Wright’s Law, seems very different, as it starts with some fun pyrotechnics, but its theme turns out to be the same: engage with the students’ own lives, and they will engage with what you are trying to teach. Its tagline is “A Physics teacher so extraordinary he can explain combustion and love.” The last part profiles Wright’s relationship with his very disabled son, and is a beautiful example of love in action.

And finally, don’t miss Yes! magazine’s current education issue, but especially Fania Davis’s profile of Restorative Justice for Oakland Youth, which combines the kinds of insights that teachers like Duncan-Andrade and Wright practice with a complete remake of schools’ approaches to discipline, suspensions, so we break the school-to-prison pipeline.

These approaches in schools are the things that give me more hope than anything for our collective future.