One of the supposed drawbacks of being an activist, or striving to live with compassion and integrity (which is also activism, even if you’re not a storm-the-barracades type), is that you take on the world’s problems along with your own. And that can be tough. But one of the huge benefits of activism is that you also take on its solutions – and there are lots of them.
Activism transforms individuals into amazing people who bring growth and justice and joy to themselves and others. A spectacular example from our times is Wael Ghonim, the young activist / Google employee who helped lead the Egyptian revolution.
Here’s an admittedly much more prosaic example:
This week my partner and I broke up after a two-year relationship. It was amicable, and the right thing to do, but still tough. I’ve had good and bad moments, and it’s scary to be single again at age 52, but the situation is manageable.
The other day, in “mid-cope,” I received a note from a young person in Uruguay who thanked me for my free ebook, It’s Not You, It’s Your Strategy: The HIAPY Guide to Finding Work in a Tough Job Market. He wrote (reprinted with permission):
I´d like to thank you for allowing your writings on the web for free. I have just read The HIAPy Guide finding some great concepts and aspects of this situation described from a very clever perspective. In few words this book is like ‘a power tool’, helping me find some key aspects of job searching.”
I had to fight the perfectionist urge to say, “Okay great,” and then return dronelike to work. Truly, it’s an amazing thing that something I wrote was so helpful to someone thousands of miles away. It says amazing things not just about me and the wondrous connected world we are all creating, but also about my correspondent, who generously took the time to write.
The more I thought about the implications of Juan’s note, the less pain I felt over the breakup. I replied to him, and then received another heartfelt note from him that included this:
Here in Uruguay lots and lots have moved to other countries seeking better opportunities for many years. Our society has been beaten by corrupt government for long terms, a civil war 30 some years ago is still hounding us. I guess I behave somehow like many of my Uruguayan fellows here, very conservative in some ways, afraid of entrepreneurship, afraid of change and activism.”
As eloquent and moving a statement as I’ve seen of the debilitating effects of living under a diseased government – and what a privilege it was to wake up and find that waiting for me in my inbox. So I wrote to Juan a bit about coping with fear (for more info on that topic, see my free ebook The Little Guide to Beating Procrastination, Perfectionism and Blocks, and came away thinking that, despite the breakup and all the other ways I fall short, I must be doing something very right.
Is it wrong to compare someone who catalyzes a revolution with this small interpersonal exchange? I don’t think so because both activities spring from a common root of individuals connecting in an empowering and productive way. (If you haven’t watched the ten minute video where Ghonim explains how social media catalyzed the Egyptian revolution, please do so. It’s the most inspiring and optimistic ten minutes you’ll spend.) The Internet is creating a global culture of egalitarianism and participation that will catalyze progressive movements worldwide.
The other thing that happened, the same morning I first heard from Juan, was that someone sent me a Facebook alert (!) about the publication, in Time magazine, of an anti-meat-eating article entitled, The Morality of Mealtime. For this to appear in such a bastion of mainstream culture is simply amazing. As I frequently remind discouraged vegan activists, we’re winning – and winning fast. Such an article would have been unthinkable even five years ago.
With all this amazing good news, how can I not feel joyful, despite my personal problems? Activism provides a context and sense of purpose that are not only inherently rewarding, but help you keep things in perspective. (Perhaps that’s why so many activists, artists and other creators who grumble a lot about the difficulties of the work nevertheless stick with it.)
All of this may be why, when, nearly a hundred years ago, union organizer Joe Hill was about to be executed after a sham trial, he famously wrote his colleagues, “Don’t waste any time in mourning. Organize.” He was right on two levels: the work needed to go on, and taking action in the service of your values is healing.
And, by the way, writing this newsletter / sharing my reality with you as honestly as possible: also healing. Take care of yourselves, thank you for finding my work interesting, and remember that asking for help, giving help and expressing gratitude are three simple skills that will take us all incredibly far.