Sensitive Social Work: Key Concepts and Ideals
R. Canda, Ph.D.
Social work is in the process of recovering from collective
soul loss. Compassion, justice, and helping with are traditionally
spiritual ways of living. Spirituality is soulful living
but social work has largely become disconnected from its
spiritual roots. Spirituality involves understanding the
interconnectedness of all people; compassionate concern
rises from soulful awareness of interconnectedness and the
realization that self and others are inseparable. Compassionate
help is a natural way of life, and human birth right. Attempts
to formalize, systematize and employ natural compassion
through large scale social institutions is a dangerous undertaking
that has cut social work off from the traditions of healers
and helpers of all cultures. The move towards technocracy
has divorced social work from natural helping. But the renewed
interest in spirituality suggests that social work maybe
rediscovering its soul. Spiritually moves us towards the
realization of integration of all our aspects while being
in connection and communication with all others. Spirituality
inspires a sense of mutual responsibility. The spiritually
sensitive social worker is in harmony with the many stages
and types of changes in human existence and is not close
minded or confused by conflicting ideas. He/she realizes
one must take responsibility for the effects of ones
actions. Spiritual sensitivity fosters an ethic of mutual
benefit and social justice rather than selfish one sided
gain. The spiritually sensitive social worker is socially
active and lives and acts in harmony with the processes
will focus on the development of spiritually sensitive social
work in the United States. One of the distinctive characteristics
of the American situation is that people from many different
religious and nonreligious spiritual backgrounds interact
within the social service systems. No one religion is promoted
by the state and all people are given the right to free
exercise of religion. The social work profession has come
to realize that we need an inclusive understanding of spirituality
that respects its diverse religious and nonreligious expressions.
Further, insights for theory and practice of social work
come from many different secular and religious perspectives.
In part one,
I will give an overview of historical trends in the connection
between spirituality, religion, and social work in the United
States. Then I will give brief definitions of the terms
religion and spirituality, as commonly used in American
social work, and some implications for creative revisioning
of the mission of social work. In part two, I will draw
on key ideas about the nature of social change in Western
and Eastern philosophies in order to provide a view of a
person who is personally prepared to provide spiritually
sensitive social work and social activism. This is not meant
as a rigid prescription or sectarian belief. Rather, it
is meant to serve as a thought provoking set of ideals and
THE SOUL OF
I will use the metaphor of soul loss and soul retrieval.
Many shamanistic spiritual ways identify "soul loss"
as one of the major causes of physical and mental illness.
Soul loss involves feelings of identity confusion and disorientation.
One feels as though a crucial part of one's self has been
The soul has become detached, due to disharmony within
oneself and between oneself and the universe. The soul wanders
off, confused and lost. The remaining body and psyche lose
their spiritual clarity, orientation, and balance. The person
becomes half-dead psychologically if not also physically.
Though alive, the person is nearly inanimate. Literally, from
the Latin root, to be animated means to be enlivened by soul.
Most often, soul
loss occurs because of some trauma that shocks the soul out
of the body. For example, Cambodian (Khmer) and Hmong shamans
in the United States have sometimes diagnosed refugee patients
who feel severely distressed and hopeless as suffering from
soul loss or soul sickness, caused by the experience of mass
destruction, rupture from homeland and ancestors, and break
from sacred traditions. Sometimes soul loss may occur because
of one's own failure to keep in proper relation with one's
sacred ways, the spirits of ancestors, and the spiritual powers
of earth and sky. In any case, soul loss involves a fragmenting
and dissociation within the self and a feeling of alienation
from spiritual sources of support and meaning. The cure is
for the shaman to go on a soul journey to find the person's
lost soul, to enlist the help of spiritual supports, and to
bring the soul back to the person.
of social work in the United States is in a process of recovering
from collective soul loss. Many social work practitioners
and scholars are now promoting this recovery of professional
soul. I will recount some of the historical reasons for this
loss of soul, the movement to retrieve the soul, and I will
suggest some principles and ideals that might be able to guide
our continuing work.
COMPASSION, AND SERVICE
All cultures have systematic ways of compassion, justice,
and helping. Traditionally, these were based explicitly on
spiritual ways of living. Most cultures do not have a separate
word for religion or spirituality. Spirituality is just the
way of life; it is the way people find meaning, moral guidance,
and proper relationship between themselves, all our fellow
beings, and the great Mystery that infuses all. One might
say that spirituality is soul-full living. Soulful awareness
and living naturally yield a sense of compassion, the underlying
motive for social work service.
The Navajo (Dine)
people traditionally pray that people may walk in beauty,
beauty within us and all around us. Walking in beauty means
that the inherent beauty and sacredness of every being is
recognized, enjoyed, and respected. Further, like the strands
in a web, all things are woven together in a net of beauty.
During traditional sings, or healing ceremonies, the distressed
person is placed on a painting made of colorful sands which
depicts the deities relevant to the situation. The sacred
powers become one with this person and the other participants,
restoring the balance and beauty that were lost.
about the interconnectedness of all by using the image of
the god Indra's net. In this cosmic net, every strand is interconnected,
with resplendent jewels at each connection point. The jewels
reflect the glory of every other jewel. Every being is a jewel
in this wondrous net. Compassionate concern for all these
beings naturally arises from such a soulful awareness of beautiful,
sacred interconnectedness. One's own self and all others are
inseparable; the benefit of one is the benefit of all. The
harm of one is the harm of all. With similar intuition, the
Chinese Confucian sage, Chou Tun-I, said that the sage should
regard all beings as brothers and sisters and should reach
out lovingly to help those in need.
Jesus said, feed
the hungry, relieve the poor, visit the imprisoned, hunger
for peace and righteousness. Someone asked Mother Teresa how
she could tolerate working with lepers, the destitute, and
the dying in seemingly insufferable conditions without complaint.
She said that this was no problem as she saw Christ in each
one's eyes. Mahayana Buddhism applies this ideal to all beings
through the image of the Wisdom Being of Compassion, known
in Chinese as Kwan Yin. Sometimes Kwan Yin is depicted as
having a thousand eyes in order to see the suffering of all
beings, a thousand hands in order to reach out to help all
beings, and eleven heads depicting the myriad responses of
I mention these
examples to give a brief glimpse into the experience that
compassionate help is our natural way of life. Ways of compassion
existed long before professional helping. Spiritually inspired
compassion is the source of all genuine helping, whether informal
or professional. Social work, medicine, the ministries, and
other helping professions do not have a monopoly on helping,
though often they try to legislate it, control it, license
it, package it, and sell it. Natural compassion is our human
birthright. Mencius said that if any person with a humane
heart sees a baby dangerously close
to falling into a well,
that person will automatically go to save that child. That
natural response, arising from our sense of fundamental connectedness
and commiseration with all else, is the heart and soul of
LOSS OF SOUL
work is an attempt to formalize, systematize, and apply natural
compassion on a large scale through social institutions. This
is a worthwhile but dangerous undertaking. Although compassion
is the soul of social work, the very attempt to legislate,
control, license, package, and sell it runs the risk of violating
the soul. Lao Tze, the Chinese founder of Taoism, paradoxically
said that immorality and cruelty came into being when codes
of conduct and social control were invented. That is because
we become dependent on social constructs of morality and lose
our true nature. Natural compassion is reduced to artificial,
bureaucratized, technocratic intervention as we become role-bound,
rule-bound, categorized and socially controlled. Think for
a moment about the metaphor of intervention, used so commonly
to describe social work practice: an outsider enters a client's
life and manipulates it. This is a militaristic metaphor,
like paratroopers dropping out of the sky into a combat zone.
work in the United States clearly originated out of a soulful
response of Jewish and Christian people to help the poor,
the homeless, and distressed immigrants. Principles of charity,
compassion, and community preservation informed the Charity
Organization Society, the Settlement House Movement, and the
Jewish communal service movement. The spiritual aspect of
human need and helping was acknowledged in the Council on
Social Work curriculum policy statements as late as the 1960s
The urge to professionalize
and compete with other helping professions has led the social
work away from its spiritual foundation. One reason was an
understandably negative reaction to the tendency of some religiously
based helpers to impose their own agendas on vulnerable people,
through prosyletization and moralistic judgmentalism. Another
reason was a hope that supposedly scientific bases for helping
would lead to social and behavioral remedies that had eluded
the theological approaches. Further, the strong link forged
between social work, government social welfare programs, and
insurance companies pressured toward greater separation between
anything that seemed to compromise church and state separation.
These trends continue. We have unwittingly allowed ourselves
to throw out the baby of spirituality with the bath water
of sectarian rivalry.
We have cut ourselves
off from our ancestors, the healers and helpers of all cultures
who understood helping as a natural response and a sacred
imperative. We have often denied or split off the spiritual
aspects of ourselves and our clients. Now many social workers,
are forced to find neat categories of pathology to label clientsand
to be sure that these are insurance reimbursable! In response
to legitimate concerns with accountability, we are adopting
capitalist, consumerist, fast food approaches to helpingthe
helping roles must be clearly and narrowly defined, the objectives
clearly stated, the outcomes empirically measured, and all
this within ten or less sessions. To complete the capitalist
paradigm for helping, now the client is often called a consumer.
This move toward
technocracy, the common professional allergy to spirituality,
and the divorce from natural helping has gone far. Licensing
boards in some states try to restrict traditional healers
within religious and cultural groups who don't have the board-required
academic degrees and licenses. Some state licensing boards
have attempted to prohibit explicitly spiritually oriented
social work. Some students have reported being ostracized
by teachers and practicum instructors for trying to address
spirituality with clients. Some academic colleagues have been
forbidden to do research in this area. The social work profession
has surely had good intentions in all these changes. But by
cutting ourselves off from our spiritual roots and purpose,
we have dehumanized ourselves and our clients. We create a
living hell when we cut ourselves off from our souls and we
deny the souls of our clients.
The Jewish existentialist
theologian, Martin Buber, said that the way of love between
people, mirroring the love between the divine and the human,
is one of unconditional love, a way of regarding each other
as full and complete persons, with inherent worthiness of
respect. Clients are not diagnostic categories or bundles
of problems or dysfunctions. Each client, like each of us,
is divine, soul-full. We have come to this condition of loss
and confusion of soul largely because of an unwitting drift
into self-denial, self-estrangement, and dispiritedness. Partly
this was due to legitimate concerns with past mistakes and
abuses of religiosity. But, some was due to a greedy impulse
to compete for professional prestige, turf in the consumer
market, and access to third party reimbursement from insurance
companies and government programs.
But maybe this
assessment is like blaming the victim. We are all victims
of an industrial and post-industrial way of life that has
driven us toward commodifying not only each other, but also
the planet. Urban anonymous living, mass production and consumption
patterns, breakdown of extended family and communities of
support, and the craving for quick fixes, cheap highs, and
personal gratification are social trends familiar to all of
us in industrial and post-industrial societies. To a great
extent, we have been traumatized by a planet-wide mass movement
of spiritual alienation. An ecopsychologist, Chellis Glendinning
(1994), speaks of recovery from western civilization. The
American social work profession, and each of us impacted by
modern spiritual alienation, needs to go through a process
of recovery from the destructive aspects of Western Civilization.
THE SOUL OF SOCIAL WORK
Now let me depart from this negative tone. While spiritual
self-neglect and societal trauma have led to our profession's
soul loss, the purpose of assessing soul loss is to opt for
healing, not to dwell on the disease. There are many positive
signs that suggest a recovery of soul is under way in social
work. Many people are already recognizing the need to retrieve
the soul of social work; courses on spirituality and social
work such as those offered at the Interniversity Center for
Post Graduate Studies show our common commitment to do this.
referred to an Aquarian Conspiracy, a trend in many disciplines
and sectors of society to shift toward holistic and spiritually-attuned
perspectives. During the 1980s, social work scholars such
as Max Siporin and Sister Vincentia Joseph said that we need
to consider not only the bio-psycho-social but also the spiritual
aspects of human needs and development. There were calls for
a return to spirituality in social work together with a recognition
that we need to avoid the past mistakes of partisan religiosity.
The Society for Spirituality and Social Work and was organized
in 1990, articles on spirituality and social work are appearing
in both specialized and mainstream journals, and presentations
at national and regional social work meetings are becoming
common-place. Recent Council on Social Work Education (US)
curriculum policy guidelines recognize religious and spiritual
diversity as legitimate topics for social work education.
More social work departments are offering courses on this
topic. Many state licensing boards are supporting spiritually-sensitive
approaches to continuing education and practice. And agencies
around the country are requesting workshops on spirituality
and practice. We can work with the momentum of these developments
to continue this spiritual healing of our profession of social
OF SPIRITUALITY AND RELIGION
There has been a shift in the way that the terms spirituality
and religion are commonly used in social work. During the
early 20th century, writing about spirituality and social
work did not often make a clear distinction between the two
terms. Spirituality was often equated with sectarian religious
beliefs and practices, usually of a Christian or Jewish form
(Canda, 1997). As the profession moved toward models of practice
based on respect for human diversity, we recognized that we
need to develop an approach to spiritually sensitive practice
that respects diverse religious and nonreligious forms of
spirituality. Now it is common for social workers to define
spirituality as a basic aspect of human experience and development,
common to all people, cultures, and religions. In this sense,
spirituality involves the search for a sense of life purpose,
meaning, and morally fulfilling relationships between oneself,
other people, the universe, and the ultimate ground of reality,
however one understands it. Spirituality is an aspect of the
person, along with the biological, psychological, and social
aspects. So we have a bio-psycho-social-spiritual model of
Some people view
spirituality as more than an aspect of the person. In a holistic
sense, spirituality can be said to be the wholeness of what
it is to be a person-in-relation. Spirituality moves us toward
realization of the integration of all our aspects into a whole
being in connection and communion with all other beings. Spirituality
as wholeness is our fundamental, irreducible humanity that
cannot be broken down into parts, roles, or labels. It is
our transcendent aspect that some call holy or divine. The
words whole, holy, and heal are all related; to achieve well-being
(health) involves moving toward realization of wholeness and
our essential holiness. We are tacitly acknowledging this
irreducible holy wholeness of the human being when we say
that, we grant unconditional positive regard to clients and
that we refuse to reduce them and box them into dehumanizing
labels, we are tacitly acknowledging this irreducible holy
wholeness of the human being.
institutionalized and organized patterns of belief, morals,
rituals, and social support systems that have spirituality
as their central concern. Religions are shared by groups of
people and are formed and transmitted over time. Spirituality
may be expressed through religions, but it may also be expressed
through nonreligious, nonsectarian, and even atheist forms.
Spirituality is personal and it may also be shared in communities
and religious organizations.
We are coming
to reenvision our mission as social work explores the implications
of this expansive and inclusive understanding of spirituality.
The National Association of Social Workers proclaims that
our mission is to promote the fulfillment of individuals in
the context of social justice. From the standpoint of spiritually
sensitive practice, individual fulfillment has the potential
to include realization of our wholeness, not only as individuals,
but in communion with other people and the entire cosmos.
Therefore, there is growing interest in transpersonal theories
of human behavior that identify the possibility that human
fulfillment means developing a clear sense of self-identity
and integrity, and then transcending that ego-bounded self
in relations of love and communion with other people and the
universe (Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda, 1998). For some
people, transpersonal or transegoic experiences are described
in religious terms such as enlightenment, cosmic-consciousness,
harmony with the universe, or communion with God.
awareness inspires a sense of mutual responsibility. Individual
well being is not separable from collective well being. Individual
fulfillment must ultimately be linked with social justice
on a global scale. Social justice on a global scale must be
linked ultimately with environmental justice for the entire
planetary ecology of all beings. And, human impact is already
moving beyond the planet with space exploration. So we must
be mindful of our impacts wherever we go. This realization
gives an amazing mind-expanding vision of our traditional
commitment to helping the person-and-environment. From the
powerful peaceful social justice work of Mahatma Gandhi, we
learned that social workers must act locally, but think globally.
PORTRAIT OF AN IDEAL PERSON IN SPIRITUALLY SENSETIVE PRACTICE
EQUILIBRIUM AND DYNAMIC CHANGE IN GENERAL SYSTEMS THEORY
What are the ideal characteristics of a person who is
well prepared to engage in spiritually sensitive social work
practice and social activism? This portrait of an Ideal Person
draws on insights from general systems theory and transpersonal
philosophy, both of which are influential for many contemporary
social work scholars. The central theme is how a person relates
in equilibrium and harmony with the process of social change.
The process of
dynamic change in living systems is named homeokinesis. This
concept can he related to many schools of philosophy that
emphasize process, for example, George Herbert Meads
philosophy of symbolic interactionism and Ludwig Von Bertalanffys
general systems theory (Bertalanffy, 1968; Canda & Imbrogno,
1988; Mead, 1964). General systems thinking emphasizes that:
the individual exists within complex systems, including the
family, groups, organizations, communities, nations, the planets
ecological system, and the cosmos (Anderson & Carter,
1984; Laszlo, 1972). The person can only be understood correctly
by examining the interactions between all these systems as
they relate to the individual. All systems are continually
in a process of change. General systems philosophy recognizes
that many variations of gradual or sudden change can and do
occur in the development of human social systems. By understanding
the concept of homeokinesis, social activists can relate with
these varieties of change while avoiding acting according
to harmful extremes of rigid coercive control or chaotic violent
Homeokinesis can be described as the dynamic interaction between
two universal properties - morphogenesis and morphostasis.
Morphostasis refers to a systems capability to maintain
stability and continuity of process and function. Morphogenesis
refers to the systems capability to renew itself, increasing
in complexity and creativity. These are complementary principles
(like yin and yang) which together produce dynamic
change. If neither principle is dominant to an extreme, then
change can occur in balance. This allows for periods of relatively
quiet and slow change as well as periods of rather sudden
and drastic change. The concept of homeokinesis includes both
homeostasis (morphostasis) and dialectic (morphogenesis),
but it is not limited to either extreme. The philosopher
science, Fritjof Capra, openly borrows from the Eastern yin/yang
theory to explain this concept (Capra, 1975 & 1982).
The ideal social worker or activist is one who lives in harmony
with the process of homeokinesis. Like the concept of the
sage in the I Ching (Chinese Book of Changes), the
ideal person learns to live in harmony with the many stages
and types of change that occur in human existence (Wilhelm
& Baynes, 1967). The person does not become close-minded,
nor does the person become confused by conflicting ideas.
The person realizes that one must take responsibility for
the effects of ones actions that ripple out through
the environmental systems. Therefore, an ethic fostering mutual
benefit and social justice, rather than selfish one-sided
gain, is encouraged.
AS WHOLENESS IN TRANSPERSONAL THEORY
The concept of equilibrium as wholeness is derived from
the school of transpersonal philosophy that has developed
in the past 20 years. Transpersonal philosophy can be traced
back to mystical philosophies and religious traditions as
well as humanistic and transpersonal schools of psychology.
For example, Western transpersonal philosophers have borrowed
many ideas from Hindu Vedanta philosophy, Buddhist philosophy,
and I Ching philosophy. The ideas made a widespread
impact on Western thought through the writing of the Swiss
psychologist Carl Jung (1967; Progoff, 1973). The attempt
to converge insights from Eastern and Western philosophy has
become widespread. Even in the popular culture, these ideas
have gained acceptance through the so-called New Age movement.
The following discussion will draw on the ideas of three contemporary
transpersonal philosophers: Swami Ajaya, an American psychologist
who became a disciple of an Indian Vedanta master; Ken Wilber,
a philosopher of human development who practices in the Vajrayana
Buddhist tradition; and Michael Washburn, a philosopher of
human development who is attempting to refine Wilbers
ideas (Ajaya, 1983; Washburn, 1988; Wilber, 1995).
The term transpersonal
means beyond the individual self. Transpersonal philosophy
and psychology are primarily concerned about spiritual experience
in which the person feels profoundly connected or unified
with others, the universe, or the divine ground of being (Robbins,
Chatterjee, & Canda, 1998). Such experience is often described
as union with God, cosmic consciousness, enlightenment, or
unitary consciousness. Transpersonal philosophy does not imply
that a person should believe in any particular religion. However,
it claims that the highest level of human development is attained
through experience of unitary consciousness. The fundamental
philosophical proposition is that ultimate reality is monistic,
only one without division. Sometimes the terms Brahman (from
Vedanta) or Buddha-nature are used to describe this Ultimate
Oneness. The realm of the personal is inherently dualistic,
based upon thinking, feeling, sensations, and desires. All
dualistic activity involves separation between a subject (the
experiencer) and an object (the experienced). Therefore, in
order to experience unitary consciousness, a person must transcend
the personal realm. Various forms of meditation and spiritual
disciplines are often prescribed as the means to accomplish
this. It is important to note that this monistic principle
does not exclude dualism; rather it includes and transcends
dualism. From the standpoint of human existence, reality appears
to be dualistic. Transpersonal philosophy accepts the dualistic
description of general systems theory (and yin/yang
theory) with regard to the existential level of phenomena.
Yet from the standpoint of the essential nature of the universe,
dualism is only a limited (not ultimate) reality. Monism (unitary
consciousness) is all that is. Paradoxically, it manifests
existentially through dualistic phenomena. It is significant
that the dualistic phenomena operate according to an interaction
of complementary principles. Indeed, each quality must seek
its opposite, and transcend the separation, in the process
of returning to unitary consciousness. Unitary consciousness
is the origin of all. It is the goal of the development of
all beings. And it is the true nature of all beings in all
times and all places.
We need to examine
two levels of equilibrium, the dualistic and the unitary.
At the dualistic level, transpersonal philosophy accepts the
concept of equilibrium as homeokinesis, described in general
systems philosophy. As the Ideal Person moves forward in realizing
unitary consciousness, the opposite aspects of his or her
personality and social relations are brought into harmony.
For example, rationality is complemented by feeling. Physical
sensation is complemented by intuition. Male and female qualities
are brought into harmony, both within each individual and
in social relations.
At the unitary
level, the Ideal Person realizes that his or her own true
nature is the same as the true nature of the universe. Often
the Vedantic formula is used to describe this: Atman (the
equals Brahman (the true nature of the universe).
So equilibrium as wholeness has two aspects. The first is
completeness or harmony between opposites within the individual.
The second is oneness or unitary consciousness. It is assumed
that the Ideal Person who realizes this wholeness will naturally
have a profound feeling of compassion for other beings. Therefore,
an ethic of compassionate help for human beings and other
beings is encouraged.
THE IDEAL PERSON
The qualities of the Ideal Person as represented by transpersonal
philosophy, which, as I have explained, also include principles
of general systems theory. These qualities are summarized
in the diagram in Figure 1. This interpretation of the transpersonal
implications for the Ideal Person is based upon ideas I developed
in collaboration with Salvatore Imbrogno (imbrogno & Canda,
The diagram represents
a person who has attained unitary consciousness, and has also
attained harmony between opposites (a both/and perspective)
at the dualistic level. Further, this implies that the person
has thoroughly integrated a unitary mode of awareness with
ongoing daily life at the dualistic level. So, to use a Neoplatonic
expression, The One and The Many (phenomena) are One.
The outer circle
of the diagram represents unitary consciousness. It is undivided
and all-embracing. It cannot be described because all descriptions
pertain to dualistic conceptions. It can be called The Mysterious;
The Ultimate; The One; The Source, Process, and Goal of all
beings. However, it transcends all these labels. The Ideal
Person realizes that this Ultimate is also the True Nature
of the self. By practicing awareness of this Ultimate, the
person experiences the self in relationship and unity with
all beings. Cultivation of this unitary awareness in daily
life provides the inspiration and energy to reconcile all
opposites within daily life. Therefore, the connection is
symbolized by the way the outer circle penetrates all directions
of the diagram with cross-lines.
The aspect of
the diagram that represents harmony at the dualistic level
of the self includes five modes of activity. All five modes
of activity are necessary for a complete and balanced way
OF THE QUALITIES OF THE IDEAL PERSON IN EQUILIBRIUM
The modes of activity
represent a cycle. Equilibrium is defined here as the completion
of all modes of activity in a manner that balances the complementary
qualities within each mode. Further, all activity occurs in
the context of the persons awareness of the unitary
nature of the universe. In the terms of
the Confucian classic,
The Doctrine of the Mean, the balance of opposites
during activity is called harmony; the transcendence
of opposites in unitary consciousness through quietness of
mind is called equilibrium. The transpersonal
concept of equilibrium includes both of these meanings.
The first mode
of activity is Understanding. Complete understanding
requires a balance of Knowledge and Intuition.
Knowledge is based on discursive intellectual activity. In
order to know, a person must isolate empirically observable
or conceptually distinct parts of a system. Knowing is a dualistic
activity of the mind in which the world is dissected into
conceptual parts which are then related logically, according
to cause and effect. Empirical-logical knowledge is necessary
but not sufficient for complete understanding, since the complexity
of reality transcends any conceptual representation of it.
Therefore, knowledge needs to be complemented by intuition.
Intuition is defined
as a disciplined nonrational apprehension of reality. This
is not mere guessing or a hunch. Intuition arises from experiential
participation in the system that one wishes to understand.
The involvement must be characterized by deep rapport. In
contrast to knowing, which specializes in understanding parts,
intuition grasps the gestalt of wholes. R. G. H. Siu (1957)described
this as gaining no-knowledge which transcends the rational
dissection of wholes into parts. In the most profound type
of intuition, the experiencer and that which is experienced
are one in consciousness (Luoma, 1998). This is the point
at which understanding becomes transpersonal.
intuition must be converged, so that intuitive insights can
be cross-checked with empirical observations and logical evaluation.
One mode of understanding is not superior to the other. Both
are complementary and mutually supportive. Indeed, both the
processes of knowing and intuiting should arise from the ground
of unitary awareness.
The second mode
of activity is Planning Action. In the light of understanding,
one plans how to act in a manner appropriate to any situation.
Understanding must be applied in a practical manner according
to a moral commitment to compassionate service. Planning involves
examination of various alternative courses of action and selecting
the action that fits both accurate understanding and moral
commitment. In examining alternatives, two complementary processes
need to be engaged, Analysis and Synthesis.
the discursive activity of examining the alternatives and
their possible consequences in a logical and empirically-based
manner. Analysis can identify possible cause-effect relations
that predict outcomes of decisions. Yet, reality transcends
simplistic cause/effect models. Even the most sophisticated
analytical prediction will fall short of actual events in
many important situations of human life. Further, analysis
may be conducted in a logical manner without moral content.
Therefore, synthesis must also be utilized. In synthesis,
alternatives that are based on explicit value assumptions
and differing understandings of events are brought together
in constructive interaction. Open dialogue between competing
views is encouraged so that a more complex and complete plan,
and anticipation of its consequences, can emerge. In balanced
planning, competing analytical perspectives are synthesized
in the context of an explicit moral concern that the outcomes
of ones actions will benefit the people and other beings
The third mode
of activity is Engaging Action. In this phase of the
cycle, the person directly acts. Every action has results
that effect the immediate situation and also ripple out through
other systems. Therefore, it is a great responsibility to
try purposefully to change someone or something. Action needs
to be well prepared by understanding and planning. It is not
unusual that a persons actions, even though well-intentioned,
may disrupt the harmony of the situation in an inappropriate
manner. In order to avoid inappropriate intervention, it is
important to converge actions based on principles of Advocacy
Advocacy is a
commitment to work primarily for the well being of the person
or group who requests help. Their well being, rather than
the self interest of the helper, must be the guiding principle
for action. Yet the perspective of the person needing help
may not be complete. It is quite possible that by helping
to satisfy one person, others will be harmed. Therefore, the
principle of reciprocity should be applied. In reciprocity,
the person engaged in action is aware of the perspectives
and needs of other people and beings, as well as ones
own moral commitments. An attempt is made to act in such a
way that advocacy for one person or group will benefit others
who will be affected as well. Superficial hatreds and conflicts
based on an attitude of us against them cannot
lead to true resolution of problems. Convergence of advocacy
and reciprocity open the possibility of nonviolent conflict
resolution. It generates action based on peace of mind that
is conducive toward peace in the world.
The fourth mode
of activity in the cycle is Evaluating. The primary
purpose of evaluating is to
determine whether direct action
has benefited according to plan. Evaluating needs to be an
ongoing process of considering the results of actions as they
occur. It also needs to be formally conducted at the conclusion
of a plan of activity, so that the outcomes can be evaluated.
Evaluating involves the interaction of Reflection and
The person needs
to reflect upon ones actions and their consequences.
This reflection should arise from a mind that is clear, peaceful,
and rooted in unitary consciousness. The reflective person
considers all the modes of activity, their degree of success,
and their quality of harmony. Outcomes of action are compared
with intentions and moral commitments.
to be complemented by correction of errors. Reflection gives
insight into the quality and success of ones actions.
Correction changes the course of ones actions whenever
necessary. The Ideal Person is not rigidly fixed in any plan,
but flows with the changing circumstances, like water that
flows throughout the winding river bed. The convergence of
reflection and correction helps the persons action to
flow in harmony with the Tao of any situation.
The final mode
of activity in the cycle is Integrating. Integrating
is the activity of organizing all the other modes of activity.
It is not a separate phase of the cycle. Rather, it is the
ongoing process of regulating, coordinating, and linking all
phases of activity. It has a central place in the diagram
because it is the mode of activity that connects with and
organizes the entire cycle into a harmonious whole. In fact,
none of the modes of activity are entirely separate from each
other. The various modes generally follow in the sequence
indicated, but there can always be reversals, re-evaluations,
and applications of qualities associated with the distinct
modes. Indeed, the fully integrated person will often act
spontaneously, without any obvious divisions between phases
of decision and action.
to include both Management and Wisdom. Management
is the technical and practical aspect. It organizes and supervises
all activities. It operates according to the rules of rationality
and order. Technical management needs to be complemented by
wisdom--a comprehensive vision of the total situation, the
cycle of activity, its moral implications, and its judgment
from the standpoint of unitary consciousness. Sometimes wisdom
may guide one to actions that do not seem practical, yet they
may be more profound and beneficial.
In this presentation I have given an overview of the development
of connections between spirituality and social work in the
United States. I advocated for an approach to spirituality
that respects its diverse religious and nonreligious forms.
I also proposed an ideal portrait of a social worker or social
activist who lives and acts in harmony with the dynamic process
of social change. But these ideas are really just like evaporating
mist in relation to our real moment-to-moment experience.
I hope that our discussions throughout the remainder of this
course help us to see through the mist of our various ideas
so that we can encounter each other directly and learn from
our varied experiences and perspectives.
It is my hope
that our time together will support the wish expressed in
the Confucian classic, The Doctrine of the Mean. Let
the states of equilibrium and harmony exist in perfection,
and a happy order will prevail throughout heaven and earth,
and all things will be nourished and flourish (p. 351-352).
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