Compassionate activism article – Irish Times

May 22, 2012 at 9:38 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Below is the full version of today’s article in the Irish Times. The link is:

Book info is at:


We are in a crisis of care. This is affecting not just professional social carers but everyone.

Social care practice in Ireland is reeling from the reality exposed by numerous recent reports into the quality of our childcare, the care of the elderly and how we treat our prisoners, asylum seekers, mentally distressed and physically disabled. In addition, the loss of essential resources is undermining much-needed services. There are also the pernicious effects of ‘managerialism’ with its often crude focus on demonstrable performance targets.

However, far more broadly than that, we have a crisis of care manifested in growing social inequality, deepening global poverty and worsening ecological decline.

Why is this happening and what should we do? The beginning of an answer might lie in recognizing that we have been living out of an incredibly narrow conception of what it is to be human. We have come to believe the socially constructed myth that we are only rational self-interested actors concerned with maximizing our own personal well-being.

In fact, care and compassion is central to our humanity. There could not be any human social world without these fundamental features. This is manifested continually, and is made particularly apparent when we are faced with human vulnerability and need. We cannot but respond to the suffering of another. Crisis, therefore, such as the one we are in, may provide us with the opportunity to lay aside foolish myths and re-connect with deeper realities. Part of this involves recovering this more hopeful vision of ourselves as beings orientated towards mutual care and support.

In response to these overlapping crises we urgently need a revitalized theory of social care. This would include placing humanization as the goal of care, that social care is a project for all of us not just for a cohort of professionals and that social care practice, to be comprehensive, needs to include both the inter-personal and the socio-political dimensions of the person. In short, for care to be effective, it involves personal and political transformation.

At the interpersonal level we need to recognize that each of us are interchangeably care-givers and care-receivers. Thus, we need to meet on the plain of our common humanity and set to one side our temptation towards professional-client power dynamics. This allows us to recognize our shared vulnerabilities and needs. At the political level we need to recover our democratic dreams of social equality, freedom and inclusion for all and not apologise for these humanistic values. The world is always constructed so let us construct it in favour of our shared humanity.

How can we do all this? One way is through centralizing a practice of dialogue in our caring and social-political institutions. We need to re-orient our institutions towards authentic dialogue with those affected by issues – whether they be children in need, the elderly in nursing homes, the mentally distressed, people in communities and so on. A dialogic practice rests on the assumption that those who are affected by issues are most often the best judges of how to address those issues. So, let us give to those people, in each of their settings, the power to define and solve their own problems. We need to regain our democratic belief that people can be trusted to make the right decision. In dialogic practice problems are turned into questions (what is it that we need to do in order to …?) and questions are turned into dialogue in which professionals and those with resources become part of the collective and genuine search for solutions

Does this sound too simple? Perhaps but amazingly it works perhaps because it is so accessible. As the Finnish psychologist Jaakko Seikkula says: ‘It is so simple that we cannot believe that the healing element of any practice is simply to be heard, to have response, and that when the response is given and received, our therapeutic work is fulfilled.’  It requires time (our most important resource), honesty, and the willingness to enter into a meaningful, open engagement with others where no-one is the pre-selected ‘expert’. I think we can designate such practitioners as compassionate activists in order to capture the exciting and dynamic possibilities thus opened up.





Leave a Comment »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: