Moving from Blame to Compassion for Social Justice

Over the past year Rachel Wagner, Tracy Davis, & Eric Mata and I have been in conversation about how those who work toward social justice move from approaches that blame and shame to cultivating compassion to create more effective social justice work. We see this as a critical step forward in creating more justice and equity in this world and also very complicated and complex. This year at ACPA Rachel, Tracy, and I were able to present a session based on some of these conversations (Eric wasn’t able to attend). Here are some of the resources we wanted to share that have informed our conversations.

Calls for Better Social Justice Work

bell hooks provides an excellent description of this shift in her own work in this excellent talk at the University of Oregon, especially relevant to this conversation is 20:00 – 29:00.

Cody Charles wrote two excellent pieces on this that go very well paired together.

Ten Counter

This blog post on the ACPA Commission for Social Justice Educator’s blog by Amer Ahmed got lots of folks talking.

campus, social justice, culture
The Culture of Campus Social Justice Elitism by Amer F Ahmed

This About Campus article makes perhaps the strongest case for the trouble with blame and shame approaches to social justice and calls on Buddhist approaches to be more socially justice in process, not just in outcome.


Not just notes, but 10 tips on how to move forward and engage in self-care to be more sustainable in social justice efforts.

These conversations, my own reflections, and inspiration from a former student pushed Keith to pull these thoughts together last December.

After weeks of being self-righteous about the UC-Davis policeman, this articles title grabbed Keith’s self-righteous attention and then pushed me to consider this from a much broader perspective. In the past year, I keep coming back to this as we villainize individuals and let the systemic aspects go under-noticed.


Challenges to Whether or Not This Is a Big Issue or Not

Guante makes the point that these issues are not as common as some make them out to be.

Guante, social justice, progressive movement
Maybe Progressives are Too Critical of Each Other quote

Spiritual Aspects of Justice Movements via OnBeing

Krista Tippet’s On Being podcasts are all wonderful but these particularly focus in on the wisdom of life long lessons from working toward social justice.

Lewis, Art, Discipline, Non Violence
The Art & Discipline of Non Violence

Zen, Mindfulness and Contemplative Practices

Tracy reflects on learning from Pema Chodron, Garden State, and his own social justice learning and teaching journey.

Davis, Anti-Oppression, Pedagogy
Contemplative Practices for Anti-Oppression Pedagogy

Beth Berila, curator of the blog above, has pulled this thinking about mindfulness, yoga, meditation, and anti-oppression teaching and learning into a book.

More from Beth Berila in this blog post.

A more academic article in making the case for this.

Orr, Mindfulness, Anti-Oppressive, Pedagogies, Philosophy, Praxis
The Uses of Mindfulness in Anti-Oppressive Pedagogies: Philosophy and Praxis

Tools and Strategies

Kathy Obear has done great wholehearted work on navigating triggers in this very accessible and useful book.


Tracy and Laura Harrison outline approaches that focus on learner centered approaches rather than teaching centered approaches.

social justice, pedagogies, strategies, tools, campus
Advancing Social Justice by Tracy Davis and Laura M. Harrison

Brian Arao and Kristi Clemens have helped so many of us switch from seeking to create safe spaces to brave spaces.

Arao Clemens

In this post, Keith outlines the difference between guilt and shame in social justice work, pulling from Brené Brown’s distinctions and research.

Eric Mata pointed us all to this essay on muscular empathy by Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Coates, muscular empathy
A Muscular Empathy Article

The idea of calling in vs. calling out has been misunderstood and perhaps even appropriated, but this initial essay makes a good case theoretically and in practice.

Your turn. What would you add, challenge, critique, or contribute?

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