Expanding the Vision of SEL to Cultivate Beloved Community 

April 2, 2024
Meena Srinivasan
Transformative Educational Leadership (TEL), Karuna Consulting LLC
Expanding the Vision of SEL to Cultivate Beloved Community 

This blog post is an adapted excerpt. You can access the full article here.

Social and emotional learning (SEL) must ultimately focus on creating the future, not just fixing the present. I am an educator because education is at the heart of social change. I firmly believe that transforming education is how we transform the world. I was drawn to SEL because it’s a pathway toward fostering a more compassionate and just world. 

In 2019, I was invited as one of four next generation SEL Leaders of Color to offer a plenary talk about building a culture of equity through SEL, at CASEL’s inaugural SEL Exchange. The conference hashtag for this session was #SELBelovedCommunity, and in many ways it fueled a movement within the field to explore how SEL can serve as a catalyst for the creation of Beloved Community.

While the term “Beloved Community” is increasingly used in SEL spaces, I’ve noticed a real-time gap. Often, discussions stay surface-level without delving into the true essence of Beloved Community, the requisite skills for its cultivation, and the foundational principles that underpin it.

For the past five years I’ve been serving as the executive director of Transformative Educational Leadership (TEL). At TEL, we envision schools as Beloved Learning Communities, where every individual feels loved and a sense of belonging and is empowered to act for collective flourishing and well-being. Our mission involves supporting diverse cohorts of educational leaders, guiding them to become architects of Beloved Community. 

The theologian and civil rights activist Reverend Howard Thurman envisioned the Beloved Community as a harmonious gathering transcending all differences, uniting people of diverse races, genders, and beliefs into one universal humanity. At its core, it embodies a universal aspiration for peace and harmony—an overarching goal both globally and at the local level.  

Rooted in Nonviolence

The lineage of Beloved Community began with Josiah Royce, an American philosopher who in 1914 founded the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR), a global movement to promote nonviolence and peace. From its inception the Beloved Community has been rooted in a tradition of nonviolence1. Nonviolence is not the absence of violence; it involves actively working toward peace. Nonviolent solutions to conflict draw on social and emotional skills like self-management, problem-solving, communication, and teamwork. The graphic below, adapted from the Alternatives to Violence Workbook, is a powerful representation of what it means to respond to conflict nonviolently.

A diagram of conflict

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Reverend Howard Thurman took FoR’s commitment to nonviolence into the arena of racial justice. Thurman made a groundbreaking trip to my ancestral homeland of India in 1935 to meet with Gandhi. The nonviolent resistance in India injected fresh energy into the race struggles in the United States. Thurman was a key mentor to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who introduced the idea of the Beloved Community into the global consciousness and translated it into action through nonviolent resistance. 

The Six Principles of Kingian Nonviolence: The Foundation for Building a Beloved Community

The path of nonviolence rests on the fundamental belief in another’s capacity to transform. 

Grace Lee Boggs 

The essence of the Beloved Community rests on six key principles initially articulated by Dr. King in his essay, Pilgrimage to Nonviolence. Dr. Bernard LaFayette and David C. Jehnsen then crystallized King’s words into what are now recognized as the Six Principles of Kingian Nonviolence. These principles that follow aren’t just theoretical constructs; they’re the North Star guiding TEL’s journey toward building Beloved Community2

Principle One: Nonviolence as a Way of Life for Courageous People

Courage is central to nonviolence, not as the absence of fear, but as the commitment to act against injustice. Nonviolence is a lifelong dedication, a way of life requiring continuous practice in every interaction.

Principle Two: The Beloved Community Is the Framework for the Future

Beloved Community encompasses all individuals, fostering peace and justice for everyone. Building it involves struggling to love and understand those with differing views, recognizing that the true victory lies in uniting people rather than defeating opponents. 

Principle Three: Attack Forces of Evil, Not Persons Doing Evil

Nonviolence directs attention to dismantling systems and structures perpetuating harm rather than vilifying individuals. Accountability is crucial, seen as an act of love aiming to bring out the best in others.

Principle Four: Accept Suffering Without Retaliation for the Sake of the Cause to Achieve the Goal

Enduring suffering without retaliation, when aligned with a goal, distinguishes this principle. It involves acknowledging the inevitability of suffering in the struggle to pursue justice and the creation of Beloved Community.

Principle Five: Avoid Internal Violence of the Spirit as Well as External Physical Violence

Internalized oppression and violence must be addressed alongside external challenges. Healing and forgiveness are integral, emphasizing that avoiding internal violence of the spirit is essential for building Beloved Community

Principle Six: The Universe Is on the Side of Justice

This principle encourages unwavering faith, patience, humility, and perspective. It emphasizes that the universe leans toward justice, urging individuals to contribute to balance by cultivating love, compassion, and understanding instead of perpetuating violence and division.

A Necessary Confluence

While the work of transformative SEL has brought a greater equity consciousness into the vision of adult SEL, the emergence of the Beloved Community is only possible when Emotional Intelligence, as well as what we recognize as Spiritual Intelligence, are both developed. (Explore the full article for a more in-depth discussion on Spiritual Intelligence.)

The integration of Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence is the cornerstone for cultivating the Beloved Community. Emotional Intelligence lays the groundwork by enabling individuals to navigate their own emotions and those of others, fostering positive connections essential for the fabric of the Beloved Community. It facilitates effective communication, conflict resolution, and the formation of meaningful relationships, thus creating a nurturing environment. 

Simultaneously, Spiritual Intelligence enriches the foundation by delving into profound dimensions of existence, connecting individuals to deeper meaning, purpose, and a transcendent understanding of the interconnections among all beings, to each other and the earth. It empowers self-awareness, encouraging individuals to align with their values and beliefs, contributing to a shared vision that forms the essence of the Beloved Community. 

The synthesis of Emotional and Spiritual Intelligence is not merely a personal pursuit but a collective commitment to building a society founded on love, compassion, and shared purpose—a Beloved Community that transcends individual growth to embrace the flourishing of all.

When we invoke Beloved Community in SEL spaces, let us not only acknowledge but embrace its sacred roots—the bedrock of courage, commitment to nonviolence, and the spiritual weightlifting that transcends conventional notions of SEL. The call of the Beloved Community invites each of us to blossom into peaceful warriors and living embodiments of love, wisdom, and compassion. Let us embark on this journey together and join hands as we advance a world built on belonging.  

 1Danene M. Bender, ed., Alternatives to Violence Workbook, compiled by John Looney (Akron, Ohio: Peace Grows, Inc.,1986)

2This overview of the Principles of Nonviolence is influenced by the teachings of Kazu Haga, author of Healing Resistance. Haga, K., Jr., B. L., & Jehnsen, D. C. (2020). Healing resistance. Parallax Press.

The views in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of CASEL.

Meena Srinivasan, MA, National Board Certified Teacher, is the founding executive director of Transformative Educational Leadership (TEL), a yearlong fellowship focused on inner transformation and collective impact and the CEO of a nationally certified Minority Business Enterprise (MBE), Karuna Consulting LLC, an organization that takes its name from the Sanskrit word ‘Karuna,’ signifying compassion. She is a former district SEL leader, creator of the SEL Every Day Online Courses, instructor of graduate-level SEL courses at UC Berkeley, and acclaimed author of several books and publications, including SEL Every Day which was chosen as one of 2019’s Favorite Books for Educators by the Greater Good Science Center. Recognized as one of Mindful Magazine’s “Ten Powerful Women of the Mindfulness Movement,” Meena’s TEDx talk, “Unlocking the Secret Powers of Tenderness,” is among the most popular talks of 2024. Explore more at and @HeartOfMeena.


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