There is room for understanding when we look beyond what we see

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“Look, Mom, It’s you!” ~ Ayden said! At MacEwan University Tuesday, March 31st (Spring Break bring your son to work day field trip).

“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my years of research and teaching is around the evolution of the word understanding,” she says. “It used to be about intellect and cognition; ‘Do I get it? Do I have the knowledge and can I pass it on?’ I still hold onto that essential piece, but now understanding for me takes on a real emotive quality.” (MacEwan University Discover Our People Joanne Minaker). Thinking about the meaning of understanding brings me back to my roots in interpretive sociology and my childhood questions – why? what? how? when? where? why? why? … Now, with my own children, I’m often on the receiving end of these questions.

Max Weber (German Sociologist and Founding Father of the discipline that informs my life and my work, Sociology) spoke of Verstehen. A rough translation is “meaningful understanding,” which requires an empathic connection. To deeply understand, we must do more than think, we must feel by attempting to put ourself in the shoes, stilettos, moccasins, or runners etc. of another to see things from their perspective. We can never completely understand someone else. It is when we try and open ourselves up to the vulnerability of not knowing that connection happens. With connection, we can work to understand together. I sat, in awe, when I listened to my son poignantly respond to a question in my class in front of post-secondary students with ease and wisdom. We learn from each other. We care for each other.

It all comes back to care.

To what extent are we caring about others? How do we practice caring for other people and for ourselves? What is the relationship between self-care and caring for others? Oftentimes we focus on receiving – more money, more love, more education, more…

Humans are meant for receiving and for giving care.

“Well-being, wisdom, wonder: All are critical to redefining success and thriving, but they are incomplete without the forth element of the Third Metric: giving. Giving, loving, caring, empathy and compassion, going beyond ourselves and stepping out of our comfort zones to help serve others – this is the only viable answer to the multitude of problems the world is facing. If well-being, wisdom, and wonder are our responses to a personal wake-up call, service naturally follows as the response to the wake-up call for humanity” ~ Arianna Huffington, from Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-being, Wisdom, and Wonder, 2014. page 225.

Through care and giving we can be agents of change. Learning and practicing care are lifelong pursuits.

Ever since my volunteer position back at Manitoba Youth Centre back in the mid 1990s I’ve been concerned about youth crime and issues of power justice for young people. The other day in a box of keepsakes I found a Valentine’s card one of the female inmates gave me. It said: “Thanks for helping me with my math. I’ve never been very good at fractions.” Reminiscing on my time there was another reminder that the youth behind the crimes are kids – still learning, growing and often need another chance to try again to care. I’ve taught the course, Youth, Crime and Society ever since my arrival at MacEwan University back in 2002 and published with my partner and colleague (Dr. Bryan Hogeveen, University of Alberta) the book, Youth, Crime and Society: Issues of Power and Justice. My journey of understanding the troubles youth face and pose began before I became a mother myself. Our oldest son (see photo above) is on the brink of adolescent and entering grade 7 in the fall!

I’ve taught a course called Gender, Crime and Social Justice for almost a decade at MacEwan, which focuses exclusively on understanding criminalized women. Women are the fastest growing prison population worldwide and most are incarcerated for non-violent, poverty-related offences. Of these women, two thirds (at least) are mothers and many of their crimes are linked to a lack of resources for caring for their children. In the book, Criminalized Mothers, Criminalizing Mothering, two distinct areas of my work – critical criminology/socio-legal studies and sociology of mothering and care – are aligned. Another collaboration with Bryan, this book is aimed at bridging the divide between “criminalized” and “non-criminalized” mothers and supporting all women to bold with their care. Edmonton and surrounding area friends please watch for information about our book launch. Copies are now available through Brunswick Books.

My most recent project is a new edited collection called Mothers in Disasters/Mothering Disasters with my colleague from Mount Royal University Dr. Caroline McDonald-Harker. We are accepting abstracts until August 31, 2015.

I’d never be able to accomplish any of this by myself. I am so grateful to friends who support and encourage me. In fact, my next speaking event is all about friendship, Care, Compassion, and Community: The Power of Female Friendships. Tickets for the Goddess Network‘s event, April 19th 6:30-8:30 are available now. Sara Hiebert (Co-Founder, along with Dawn Southey Hills, of the Goddess Network) wrote this wonderful blog post about Being BOLD, Being Enough, re-reading it this morning I’m reminded how essential community is for our well-being, for us to continue to wonder, and for gaining wisdom and understanding.


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