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On the Pedagogy of Suffering

Hermeneutic and Buddhist Meditations


David W. Jardine, Christopher Gilham and Graham McCaffrey

This text articulates how and why suffering can be pedagogical in character and how it is often key to authentic and meaningful acts of teaching and learning. This is an ancient idea from the Greek tragedies of Aeschylus (c. 525 BCE) – pathei mathos or «learning through suffering». In our understandable rush to ameliorate suffering at every turn and to consider every instance of it as an error to be avoided at all costs, we explore how the pedagogy that can come from suffering becomes obscured and something vital to a rich and vibrant pedagogy can be lost. This collection threads through education, nursing, psychiatry, ecology, and medicine, through scholarship and intimate breaths, and blends together affinities between hermeneutic conceptions of the cultivation of character and Buddhist meditations on suffering and its locale in our lives. This book will be useful for graduate courses on hermeneutic research in education, educational psychology, counseling, and nursing/medicine.
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Chapter Two: Idiot Compassion



Idiot Compassion


Compassion, “suffering with,” is bound to suffering and arises in response to suffering. If suffering is part of the human condition, an aspect of experience that calls for understanding and not only complaint, rejection, and avoidance, then compassion cannot be simply a countervailing fix for suffering. If suffering is at least in some aspects pedagogic through its intimate place in ecologies of human life, then compassion also has to be honoured without idealization, along with its aporias, shadows, and absences. Here I explore compassion from various directions, including Mahayana Buddhist archetypes of compassion and wisdom and my own experience as a mental health nurse. Compassion deserves attention—it is worthwhile, which means that it is important but signals that it is not necessarily straightforward. “In asking after worthwhileness, we are asked to find our measure in such things that awaken us and our interest” (Jardine, 2012, p. 176). Necessity instils the tragic into suffering, and it does the same for compassion. Suffering and compassion are bound together dialectically. Exploring compassion critically is not about diminishing compassion or looking for self-protective distance. It is pointing to a fuller appreciation of compassion in a world in which it is, and will go on being, misplaced, misguided, or simply missing. And by world, I include my own “body, speech and mind” (Ehrhard, 1991, p. 25), using an expression from Vajrayana and Zen traditions that prompts attention to how we are immersed...

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