Caring as a subversive activity: A study in liberation pedagogy
Depth psychologists talk a lot about love, but very little about its mundane sister-practice of caring. Our silence mirrors the silence in the culture, where our unwillingness to care for each other and our earthly home has reached a state of crisis. Psychologist Carol Gilligan noticed the deadly impact of this silence on personal relationships. In our culture, she wrote, we are “in love with a tragic love story.”
I have extended the reach of Gilligan's complaint from the personal to the cultural/global in order to argue that we are also in love with a tragic story of caring. My question involves how to bring this tragedy to consciousness and creative response, especially given the counterintuitive tendency for discussions on caring to spark into anger and spiral out of control. The issue is not only cloaked, it is cloaked and fiercely defended. People have literally trembled in fury over my attempts to explore the contradictions inherent in the roles of wife and mother.
As a consequence, I had to find a methodology that would allow me to explore the nebulous coming-to-consciousness that must happen before creative responses are possible. The methodology I chose is called critical or emancipatory action research, and its most striking characteristic is a focus on the learning that may emerge through multiple and cyclical applications of action-reflection-action-reflection. I pursued this cyclical process with “invitational” narratives. Three separate times, I wrote an account of what I thought might be happening in our group and gave it to members for reflection and feedback.
Eventually, our dialogue and reflection revealed a particularly poignant paradox: Even caregivers, it seems, host a covert but decidedly individualistic philosophy that sabotages our efforts to care and promote caring. Although it is possible to awaken a sense of this paradox, ultimately this study warns that it does not awaken gently. When it happened for us, the view of Soul was searing. We were neither soothed nor comforted nor inspired to collaborative action. And yet, perhaps, we were changed.