The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move toward freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others. That action is the testimony of love as the practice of freedom.”
– bell hooks, Outlaw Culture: Resisting Representation
Like bell hooks, my worldview is framed by a love ethic. As a social worker, I believe it is my heart that is my greatest asset as a teacher and a leader. It is also the only path I have found toward empowerment. Parker Palmer in his book, Healing the Heart of Democracy states,
Will the heart break open or apart when it encounters life’s demands? Everything depends on the qualities of the heart on which those demands are laid and on how it has been formed or deformed. Is it an experienced heart, a reflective heart, a heart made supple by inner exercise and responsive engagement with life? Or is it a heart grown brittle from being wounded, unattended and unhealed, sheltered and withdrawn, a heart more prone to shattering in the face of yet another demand? (p. 72)
The shaping of my heart (always striving to be reflective, supple) forms the position I take as a professional and teaching leader. Who I am today was forged in strife (I was an exile before I was an immigrant, I was an outcast before I assimilated to America) and it rose from the admiration I had for my mother (a woman raised in the promise of the feminist movement, who cleaned houses while studying for her bachelor’s degree when our family first came to the US).
My position as a leader is not based solely on my age, gender, ethnic/religious identification and other cultural/familial dimensions: my position as a leader is crafted on the intersection of all of these dimensions. Intersectionality is the overlapping of multiple social locations and identities within specific contexts. It is the paradigm to understand how individuals and groups “negotiate systems of privilege, oppression, opportunity, conflict and change across the life course and geography” (Few-Demo, 2014, p. 170).
Following this paradigm, I can list all the “things” I am: white, Hispanic, woman, single mother, living in South Florida. But the deeper truth is that I consider myself a social worker who has worked hard all of her adult life and has overcome interpersonal adversity to achieve a socioeconomic status that allows me independence and the ability to support my family. There is privilege in my position but it has been forged from hard work. The one constant that allows me to connect and work to empower others has been love. If I can see the humanity in the people I meet each day (“I & Thou), then I can go beyond labels and move toward deep connection. Employing a love ethic, I can activate beyond oppression and do the (sometimes micro) work of personal empowerment.
Few-Demo, A. L. (2014). Intersectionality as the “new” critical approach in feminist family studies: Evolving racial/ethnic feminisms and critical race theories. Journal of Family Theory & Review, 6(2), 169-183.
Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th Anniversary Ed.). New York, NY: Bloomsbury Academic Publishing.
hooks, b. (1994). Outlaw culture: Resisting representation. New York: Routledge.
Palmer, P. J. (2011). Healing the heart of democracy: The courage to create a politics worthy of the human spirit. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.