Recently I shared on my Facebook wall a Rumi quote where he wrote, ‎”Suffering is a gift. In it is hidden mercy.” A colleague in the field of critical pedagogy responded by writing, “Is this how the oppressed needs to justify all those sufferings resulted in injustices and inequalities?” I replied, “I read it as a personal opportunity, rather than a global imperative,” and he liked that, so I think we’re good.

When I consider the depths of suffering I’ve experienced in my own life it becomes imperative that I identify with the oppressed, in all their identities. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed Paulo Freire wrote that ‎”…without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle.” I firmly stand with this, and with what he wrote 30 years later about self-identification in Pedagogy of Freedom:

“I cannot be a teacher if I do not perceive with ever-greater clarity that my practice demands of me a definition about where I stand. A break with what is not right ethically. I must choose between one thing and another thing. I cannot be a teacher and be in favor of everyone and everything. I cannot be in favor merely of people, humanity, and vague phrases far from the concrete nature of educative practice. Mass hunger and unemployment, side by side with opulence, are not the result of destiny, as certain reactionary circles would have us believe, claiming that people suffer because they can do nothing about the situation. The question here is not “destiny.” It is immorality. Here I want to repeat – forcefully – that nothing can justify the degradation of human beings. Nothing…I refuse to add my voice to that of “peacemakers” who call upon the wretched of the earth to be resigned to their fate. My voice is in tune with a different language, another kind of music. It speaks of resistance, indignation, the just anger of those who are deceived and betrayed. It speaks, too, of their right to rebel against the ethical transgressions of which they are the long-suffering victims.” 

I stand firmly, assertedly on the side of the oppressed. There is an essential juncture where my personal identification as the oppressed is transformed by my critical analysis. Part of this identification is my assertion that it is my responsibility to identify with the utopian possibility of self-liberation, as well as the potential of political, social, cultural, and educational liberation.

In my own pursuit of these goals I assert and affirm my own understanding of my personal suffering as a merciful opportunity for self-liberation, a chance to rise above the transgressions which I routinely suffer. This lets me laugh at myself! From this place I become a much more effective agent of social change, and a better human whose process of becoming more fully human is never ending.

In my journey of self-liberation I am finding peace in the grand relevance of history, as it allows me to identify with the liberation of others as well as their struggles. In this way hope emerges, becoming a practical and pragmatic tool of freedom in relationship to my own evolution as a human.

Phew. Hope.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!