Loretta Pyles

Transformative Social Practice

I've been writing a book this summer that will be published some time next year by Oxford Press tentatively titled, Self-Care for Social Change: A Holistic Approach for Change Makers. The book is centered around the idea of transformative self-care, a notion of self-care that tries to move us through and beyond neoliberal narcissism, and instead embraces self-care as inextricable from social change making. Transformative self-care is situated in a larger practice, which I call transformative social practice. Certainly, many people have articulated similar ideas, but in the book I outline my take, presenting 6 points of transformative social practice, which I would like to share here. I would love to hear your thoughts and constructive feedback.

1)    There is a synergistic relationship between the personal and political. This idea was embraced in the early years of second wave feminist movements and recognizes that our individual experiences of oppression are manifestations of larger social forces. These systems socially produce who we are, reflecting the existing order, and cementing power for the privileged. Ideas from general systems theory, deep ecology, and neuroscience offer further support for this premise about the interrelationship between self and society. In fact, we are often co-creating or re-producing oppressive systems moment-to-moment. Importantly, the same logic applies to our liberation, namely that we have the capacity to co-create liberatory practices and spaces.

2)    We must work to change the structures and operations of oppressive social systems. Social change is not inevitable, nor is fatalism an option. Transformative practice requires us to do the challenging work of changing political processes, governmental policies and institutions, schools and institutions of higher education, and organizations of all kinds, including for-profit, non-profit, and public. This vision also invites us to take the risks of creating new and alternative ways of organizing ourselves in terms of economic activities, the environment, education, social services, and intimate relations.

3)    Moment-to-moment, we endeavor to de-colonize the spaces that we work, live, and take care of ourselves in. This means that we honestly look at the ways that racism, Eurocentrism, Islamophobia, classism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, fat phobia, and every form of colonization of “the other” manifests in our thoughts, words, and deeds. This requires authentic participation in critical conversations, conducted with as much humility and love as we are able. But, we endeavor to meet each other where we are. It asks us to be willing to be with a wide range of our own and others’ sometimes-uncomfortable emotions and ideas. We also seek to decolonize the spaces where we care for ourselves, attending to issues of cultural appropriation, cultural humility, and inclusion.

4)    Attending to means and process is vital to our collective liberation. Living in a neoliberal order that is placing increasing value on outcomes, performance measures, and the bottom line, we have seen the ways that the practice of “the ends justify the means” have hurt both the people we work with and ourselves as workers. When we attend to process, we are better able to hear and see one another, bring our whole selves to our work, and critically analyze ideas and the consequences of our actions. We also must recognize that there are sometimes limits in our ability and need to attend to process.

5)    Oppression has a negative impact on our bodies, minds, and spirits. Oppression affects not only our minds but it also affects our bodies and spirits. Because bodies, emotions, and spirit are marginalized in the dominant culture, we must bring extra attention to these areas and the ways that internalized oppression and trauma impact these dimensions of ourselves. It is through careful attention to and celebration of these dimensions of ourselves that we can find our liberation.

6)    Personal and collective practices of self-inquiry, self-care, and healing are necessary for both sustainability and transformation. In order to transform oppressive systems, we must transform ourselves. This means we must bring compassionate understanding to our families, communities, and ourselves, and deepen our connections. We can learn about our habitual patterning and our strengths and orient toward our personal and collective growth and transformation. We can do so both privately, and in community, using methods that resonate with our personal intuition, as well as our culture and communities of birth and/or choice. Transformative self-care practices also help us to sustain ourselves and the organizations we work in, preventing burnout and promoting wholeness.