Courage's Approach to Sustainable, Relational Compassion

Love is foundational to justice work.

We see care, love and compassion as relational, motivational, responsive stances--not simply emotions--that orient our way of being in the world in harm-reducing and life-giving ways. The use of care is important because it signals that neither compassion--the capacity to be with and attend to suffering, harm or hurt-alone--nor love--the capacity to nurture, build connections and promote life-giving qualities like friendliness and joy--alone are enough. We need to deepen in both to sustain ourselves and also each other in the work.

We can strengthen or develop our capacity for love and compassion through explicit training, by cultivating or practicing those skills or building blocks of care and compassion, like attention, mindfulness, empathy and so forth. But we also learn to become more loving, more caring, more compassionate through the ways in which we are nurtured. Love, care, and compassion are fundamentally relational.

For that reason, we've developed a model for cultivating sustainable forms of care and compassion that relies on what we call the three modes of care: receiving care, extending care and deep self-care.

  • Receiving care practices help us learn to experience ourselves as objects (not just the subject) of care. The more we learn to sense ourselves as worthy of care, the more we can learn to extend that same quality of unconditional love and care to others in more sustainable ways.
  • Extending care practices help us learn to extend our capacity of care more reliably and more sustainably to people beyond our so-called in-group, to learn to recognize the ways in which our capacity for empathy is inhibited or obstructed by the ways in which we think or relate to others, or sometimes by the systems and social structures in place that inhibit our ability to really see other people.
  • Deep self-care involves learning to be completely at home in our own minds and bodies. As we learn to "come home" more and more to ourselves, we learn to extend that same sort of welcome to others. We learn to be a place of refuge and of healing.

Our relational model attempts to reclaim the starting point of many spiritual, psychological, wisdom, and religious traditions, in which the fundamental starting point for learning to love--and even awaken--is in and through relationship. This model offers a critique to the highly individualistic framework of modern society, and of many contemporary healing modalities. On our view, individual approaches to health and healing are recipes for burnout.

The relational frame we offer invites us to come home, and to sense that we are already held in a network of love and care. We are held in community of carers across time and space who have been working to grow and sustain loving, equitable, creative, dynamic systems and communities for the benefit of all. The more and more we wake up to our deep sense of inter-connection, the more we gain a power, a courage, and a confidence to really step on this path in deep ways. In this way love becomes the engine of activism--it is not what makes us soft, but that which makes us powerful.

While this may seem primarily like a psychological intervention or approach, our inquiry into the three relational modes of care invites us also to consider ways in which we have learned that we are worthy or unworthy of care through cultural messages, governmental policies, organizational practices, and so on. In this way, this investigation into love also invites us to consider the work of love not only on a personal level, but also on an interpersonal, systemic and deep cultural level. We invite you to keep these various reflections alive as you move through the course.

This call to strengthen love is not a call to put on rose-colored glasses.

The truth is we have the capacity for love and compassion, but we can also be evil, competitive and violently harmful to one another and our planet. The evidence of this is all around. We are claiming that our essential nature — when we feel safe, held and seen—is caring. When we feel threatened, unappreciated, unvalued and alone, our propensity for selfishness, competitiveness, othering and greed surfaces. (Don't take our word for it -- test this out through your own experience in the course!)

We also emphasise love because we not only see it as foundational, but also as redemptive. Love is the force of healing. By learning to see that we all have the capacity for both love and violence, we can avoid the trap of seeing some of us as good and others of us as bad--we all have the propensity for healing and destruction. A stance of love invites us to embrace and hold all of us, and to call each other into new ways of being. Love speaks to the deepest potential in each of us, and learning to speak to the deepest potential in others is a skill we can strengthen.