Feeling is Political

by Agata Maziarz

Or why what is now matters more than what should be

Reflections on Mindful Facilitation

I am thinking about current weak points of the conceptualization and praxis of non-formal Citizenship education in Europe and around the gloebe. I feel that a new way of thinking and feeling is neded to transform education into a field, which really contributes to enhancing peace, intercultural understanding and ecological sustainability. Somehow the way we do non-formal education today (rooted in Western epistemologies) reflects an old consciousness and multiplies an experience of division and fight, even if it aims at enabling peace in the world. In learning to facilitate learning processes by supporting individuals to feel and accept first where they stand in the present moment, regardless of the topic of the educational event, I envision a progressive and more effective Civic education.

Current problems

I am thinking of inhuman and destructive behaviours, such as racism and discrimination, which non-formal education aims at preventing. Where do they come from? Where are their roots to be sought? On the collective Level, we must seek for their roots in the mindsets akin to Colonialism, Imperialism and Nationalism – yes, I still believe in that. But on the individual Level, I regard discrimination as a result of psychological defences. such as projection or acting out dissatisfaction. Destructive psychological defences build up in our psychic when we were not supported well enough to live authentically – to express who we truly are without fearing a punishment. We internalise, that we should be different than we are, in order to fit and to receive love and protection. Non-formal and civic education, heavily shaped by the post-war time of “re-education” and the mission to prevent the horror of the WWII from happening again, tries to prevent hateful behaviours, to motivate and enable young people and adults to respect differences and embrace diversity in all its shapes (ethnicity, race, gender etc.). It aims at promoting a certain desired behaviour, mindset and complex of values (e.g. democracy, solidarity etc.), which can be summarized in the concept of Human Rights.

And yes, non-formal Civic education has achieved a lot in terms of those goals and has had great effects, promoting historical knowledge and awareness, values, communication skills and ethics, bringing together each year hundreds of thousands of young adults from different countries around Europe and the globe in common classrooms. But its effects have reached a limit, because mainstream civic education, no matter how holistic and participative it might be sometimes, also does “work” with the old conditioning most of have grown up with: the message to the learners, that says “You are not OK as you are, and you need to change”. Even if this change is common sense ‘positive’. In this way education multiplies in a subtle way the inner fights which individuals anyways all the time experience and thus fails to contribute to individuals learning to acknowledge where they are in the present moment, as an act of self acceptance. We offer more and more “Should’s” – and this often leads to people gathering knowledge of how Things and they should be, but still finding themselves not really walking their talk – and experiencing the frustration of the mind-behaviour-gap (the painful experience of not being able to live according to what one knows to be right for one).

Another problem I think of in the current situation is the total orientation of civic education on competency-learning – a highly neo-liberal paradigm, which reduces humans to something, which should function, and education – to something, which should equip humans with functionality. There is little space for the unfolding of individual potentials beyond the trendy competencies. Living in a culture, that requires us to focus on external requirements and not to “feel” ourselves, has brought about a whole generation of trainers and young activists and volunteers, who overestimate their own resources and, endangered form suffering burn-out, promote unconsciously this kind of self-victimisation to further multipliers as a way to “help” – just to give an example of how ‘normal’ it has become, even in our field, to walk in this world with switched-off self- and emotional awareness.


Perceiving our feelings and accepting what is inside of us and how we are right here, right now, brings about in my opinion our most human parts and expressions. I believe that instead of giving to individuals yet further “Should’s”, we could support people through education to understand what prevents them from being democratic, for example, by focusing on their inner experiences –  not as a therapy, but as a training in attention and acknowledgement of what subjectively is. Shame and guilt, which accompany the experiences of being told that one has been wrong, only deepen the self-rejection and support the existing psychological defences in one’s emotional household. When we tell people how to think and how the should be, we support deepening the existing gap between their “who I should be” and “who I really am”. We could approach Civic educational work in a new way. Helping participants to discover, for example, that it is fear, or Irritation, or jealousy, for example, that stays behind their resentments against otherness. If each human is present and feels and is aware, many problems, which non-formal education wants to address, would transform, I believe. Simply because no one can harm themselves or another, if being fully present. This does not come to say that Civic education should stop being normative – indeed, I believe that Civic education should even be more political than it is in the last years. The Vision I share here relates more to the way we interact with our participants, to our attitude, which is reflected in the educational event’s designs that we create.

Integrity & embodiment by the trainers, as well as support for people to perceive and acknowledge their current emotional states, could be the main “method” in non-formal civic education, understood in this way. We need to start all educational process with acknowledgement to the current stage and learn to love what is now, if we wish to progress further – and especially, if we really intend to enable progress for others. It takes courage from the educators to embrace such reality – and this ability to let one be where they are, is right proportional to the extent to which we allow ourselves to be where we are. So Mindful facilitation is the awareness that transformation starts with the perception and the allowing of what is now; it is a nurturing progress through acknowledging what is now. We improve naturally by fully accepting our current stage, not by deciding how we want to “change” and fighting against who we are today – a bad game that never ends.

My impression is that currently EU-funded non-formal education is preoccupied with promoting so called ‘key competencies’, based around the image of a functioning professional in western knowledge-based societies, driven by growth-oriented economies, while the real challenges that individuals experience today, are totally different and need to be faced in another way through education: People Need to discover ways to feel resonance with the surrounding world as a way to find subjective orientation in the complex-growing world, full of opportunities; they Need support to finding out what is one’s path of living a good life; support to combine career wishes with the desire and need for healthy working environments; spaces to realise ecological sustainability; People Need support in finding one’s place between locality and globality; they need to discover new ways to re-gain the healthy sence of limits and borders (of what is enough) in a fluid world in which no time and space is seperate from each other anymore and borders of any kind melt away. Who should teach adults how to deal with all that? Currently this Kind of support is sought by the individuals mostly in the domains of spirituality and therapy, and only rarely in the field of Civic education,simply because there is Little offers.  Yet all the skills needed to master the challenges of modern adult lives I mentioned above, are structured around and depending on the ability to feel oneself – to perceive emotions in the body and to read them as a map. I believe that this is a skill – as well as an image of human – which can and should be trained in the realm of civic education, if we envision civic education of tomorrow to contribute to democratic developments.

This is why I am convinced that civic education should be concerned with the ability to feel oneself. It shuld stop pretending that emotions aren’t political enough to be a subject in publically-funded educational events. Supporting individuals to feel themselves through education is neither therapeutic, nor esoteric. In the world we live today – one concerned with artificial intelligence and the constant optimization of organic humans – feeling ourselves in a subjective way becomes more and more political, if you ask me. Why? Because truly feeling myself can be the first step of changing this world – not through fight and activism, but through the own authenticity – which is also a quite effective way of empowering others to stop fighting against themselves and treating themselves bad, too, and to quit their toxic job, for example. Unless we don’t transform the inner wars of us, we won’t be able to solve the external ones – aslo not with education.  And education will stay only a nice try unless it opens its accepting heart for the meaning of where we stand now, for the embodied subjective experience of today. This is what matters. And this is where to me organic learning starts.

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