Empathy, Ethics, and Compassion Meditation: Practices in Fighting for Social Justice

PWR 194DH/CSRE94: Empathy, Ethics, and Compassion Meditation: Practices in Fighting for Social Justice

It’s hardly controversial to say that partisanship is a problem in the US. The Pew Center reported in 2016 that, “For the first time in surveys dating to 1992, majorities in both parties express  … very unfavorable views of the other party. And today, sizable shares of both Democrats and Republicans say the other party stirs feelings of not just frustration, but fear and anger.” These partisan beliefs are considered as ingrained and divisive as race. Post-election, “about 36 percent gave it [race relations] the worst rating possible, saying they considered racism and bigotry an ‘imminent threat’ to the country.”

And as you’ve likely experienced, similar divides surround women’s, LGBTQ’s, Muslims’ rights; income inequality; economic systems; abortions; climate change, DAPL and more. But how do we bridge such seemingly stark divisions? What are the right ethical responses, and are they the same as the most tactical?

In this two-pronged course, we will, one, interrogate empathy as a possible mechanism, an ethical position and a rhetorical strategy and practice for furthering social justice. Two, we will practice compassion meditation as 1) a self-care strategy, especially for organizers and activists, and 2) as a means of expanding self-awareness; awareness of and compassion for others within the familial, social and/or the social justice movements with which you identify; and as a way of empathizing with others whose values you do not always or ever share.

Developing or innovating on approaches we’ve explored in class and you’ve researched, you will write an intentional, empathetic letter to someone/some entity with whose views you disagree. Building on this letter, you will create a project you believe might lead to better mutual understanding and communication. This might mean writing an essay; creating a workshop; developing a campaign or movement strategy; producing a podcast, vlog, infographic, Facebook group, syllabus, etc.

Completion of PWR 1 and PWR 2 or permission of instructor required.