Importance of Compassion and Understanding in Pedagogy of the Oppressed


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Upon reading chapter 2 of Tattoos on the Heart and Pedagogy of the Oppressed, I came to realize that it not “things” that stunt us, but rather our own actions and thoughts. Boyle and Freire both gave emphasized that “dehumanizing” others and viewing them as an “abstract category” is where the biggest downfall of our ability to be compassionate lies. “Dehumanizing” others due to labels and our own conceptions affects our own actions, but it also affects the individuals whom we treat in this manner. Speaking for humanity, once we learn to see past the labels and prejudices we make for others, we can act with greater compassion and stop our negative ways of thinking that stunt us.

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In Tattoos on the Heart, Boyle admitted to his own fault of “dehumanizing” another in the story of Carmen, the woman who struggled with heroin addiction. Boyle had known about Carmen’s notorious reputation, and when she approached him seeking guidance, Boyle viewed her as an “interruption” which would potentially cause him to be late to a baptism appointment. However, once Carmen sat in front of Boyle and shamefully regarded herself as a “disgrace” and her eyes began to tear, Boyle realized it was his own way of thinking that was at fault. Just because Boyle viewed Carmen in terms of her “bad reputation” and as a “interruption”, he had lost sight of her realness and the fact she was choosing to ask him for help.

Not only does labeling and dehumanizing others stunt our acts of compassion, but it also increases the odds that the cycle of doing so will continue. Freire’s quote, “The oppressor is solidary with the oppressed only when he stops regarding the oppressed as an abstract category and sees them as persons who have been unjustly dealt with, deprived of their voice, cheated in the sale of their labor — when he stops making pious, sentimental, and individualistic gestures and risks an act of love” strongly emphasizes the importance of viewing others with an open mind and heart. In Freire’s quote, the words that jump out to me the most are, “..risks an act of love”; how true that statement is! It can be incredibly easy to label others and view them on a lower level, but to stop our self-righteous thinking and look at the world from their point of view is indeed, a “risk” of love. It is “risky”, because it is an action that not many others take- and quite honestly- an action that we are afraid to take because we are not sure how we will be perceived if we care for those who are not usually cared for. But ultimately it is the risk worth taking; not only will a “risk of love” foster growth for our personal compassion, but it could also positively touch the individual who is unfamiliar with being treated as a worthy human being. By placing ourselves on the same level as another, we create an open environment for love and compassion, which can be given and received by both parties.

All in all, Boyle and Freire’s reading stressed the importance of seeing others for who they are- not the stereotypes we create for them. By treating others with more compassion and understanding, we enhance the quality of life for the individuals we interact with and ourselves.

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