blogathon: compassionate curiosity, knowledge and objectification

posed in a tone of compassionate curiosity, “why?” is transformed from rigid accusation to an open-minded, even scientific question. instead of hurling an accusatory brick at your own head (e.g., “i’m so stupid, when will i ever learn,” etc.), the question “why did i do this again, knowing full well the consequences?” can become the subject of a fruitful inquiry, a gentle investigation.

this is a quote from the chapter entitled “the power of compassionate curiosity” in gabor mate’s in the realm of hungry ghosts: close encounters with addiction

the idea of therapy as a research project has always intrigued me, and it’s something i’m still working towards. it’s a very delicate thing; where is the fine line between such compassionate curiosity and the wild power that comes with acquiring knowledge? knowledge is intimately connected with power, and knowledge-about is very similar to power-over. it objectifies. in both, there is a sense of grasping. i “have” power. i “have” knowledge.

by the very nature of things, the therapist always knows more about the client than the client does about the therapist. even in a situation where both parties strive for as egalitarian a relationship as possible, an equalization of that knowledge would end the therapist-client relationship.

talking about the nature of that knowledge, the nature and amount of knowledge about one another, can help. bringing difficult relationship dynamics out in the open always helps.

transforming the nature of that knowledge can be even better: turning knowledge about into knowledge with. knowledge about is a one-way affair. in “i have knowledge about you”, one is the subject, the other is the object, and that’s it.

in knowledge with, knowledge changes from a one-way street to an open and shared field. this is where curiosity comes in and is so important. curiosity is about openness, about allowing possibilities. curiosity is not linear, it is not one-way. it is 360-degree.

“hmmm, i wonder what happened there?” as opposed to “why did you forget again?” “let’s see what we can try to do differently next time” as opposed to “you better learn this once and for all!”

compassionate. curious.

canadian mental health association

this is an entry for my participation in the 2008 blogathon, a 24-hour marathon of blogging. please support the cause and donate – however much, however little – to the canadian mental health association (vancouver/burnaby branch). to donate, email me or use this URL: you should be able to get there by clicking the link; if not, just copy and paste the link into your browser. it will take you to the appropriate location at canada helps.

thank you for visiting, reading, commenting and, if you can, donating!


  1. This will probably be my last post check sort of thing. It is almost over and you did a great job. After a nap I was going to go through posts I missed.

    Thank you and take care.

    Jessica’s last blog post..

  2. I think about some of these power dynamics in my job (teaching) too, though it’s a little different.

    When I think about knowledge, while it’s true that our language says we “have” knowledge, I think it’s also true that sometimes knowledge has us. Sometimes knowledge can feel like a burden or intrusion, or sometimes an intervention/interruption in things as they are.

    I always think these binaries in which one idea/person has power over another tend to work in both directions sometimes (as your story illustrates).

    eeabee’s last blog post..The Body Doesn?t Forget

  3. i had quite a few opportunities to think about this when i studied philosophy and education, so it’s interesting to get a comment from someone who is a teacher. i’m sure you have tons to contribute about this, eeabee, would be interesting to have a longer conversation about this …

    i like the idea about the “power over” going both ways. in some ways, the slave owns the master …

  4. So when it works it’s also a power to give…?
    I mean, knowing how to help someone reconnect with their sense of self-knowledge is a really powerful thing. In so many ways.

    It seems like beneath that curiosity and compassion is confidence, perhaps.

    CK’s last blog post..If Only – Damn fate and reason too.

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