The U.S. presidential inauguration has passed. The women’s march is over. For climate, race, women’s rights and so much else, it doesn’t look good to many of us (no matter how we voted). So, now what? In this post, I talk about how to stay involved, how much effort it will take, how to deal with disappointment and frustration, and the tremendous rewards of trying. You can watch the video or read the summary.
Especially for the many who went on the Women’s March who have never marched before, it might be a particularly difficult time. You went on the march. You might have traveled far and dedicated a lot of time and resources to do it. But nothing has changed.
It doesn’t really matter which side of the aisle each of us is on or who we voted for, most of us can see that our country and our world is in crisis. We can sit and be victims or we can fulfill our purpose: We can find the ways each of us is uniquely suited to help this world.
Here are some thoughts I have gained in my nearly ten years as a climate activist since I lived the No Impact Man year.
Accept Your Inevitable Disappointment
After big protests like the Women’s March or the People’s Climate March comes an inevitable deflation. You were so proud of your friends who marched. The feeling was amazing. The Facebook photos gave you hope. You felt the solidarity.
But still, everything seems to be going wrong in the world.
Of course, you feel disappointed. That’s ok. That doesn’t mean that all your efforts went to waste. Even if you don’t see immediate results, remember that a big activist action that is covered by the news:
- Proves that activist leaders have the mandate of the people and opens doors for them in the halls of power
- Gives hope to many and draws more to the cause
- Energizes actions through the wonderful feeling of solidarity
- Is the beginning–not the end–of the work that needs to be done for change.
Commit Your Time
For our passions to really count, we have to keep on going and make more effort. You will see prompts to make phone calls and send postcards. Those are great and you should do them. But they aren’t enough. Not enough to get thing done and not enough to make you feel you are involved and have agency.
Tithe five hours a week to social change. That is my suggestion. Make a commitment to spend five hours a week learning about social change and then doing what you learned. Keep track of the time you spend to make sure you are honoring your commitment. Here is Yes! Magazine‘s list of organizations to get involved with.
Suppose you do decide to commit that five hours a week to helping create the world you want. Let me tell you this for sure: At first you won’t know if you are doing the right things and you won’t believe you are making a difference. That has been my experience and the experience of so many others.
But just because we don’t know if we are making a difference doesn’t mean we are not. And like all things, it will take time to learn what you are doing and how to be most effective. Keep going and tolerate the uncertainty.
It is hard to keep adhering to your values if you have family and friends who aren’t encouraging you. So find people who share your values who will encourage you. Join up and help out at one of the organizations Yes! Magazine mentions in the link above. Or start a group of people who support each other in their social change work. You’ll find directions for one way to start and run such a group in this blog post.
For us to get the kind of world we want to live in, political change will not be enough. Redistributing the wealth is hugely important but if it ends up that all of us now have enough money to waste life and resources on bigger cars, bigger houses and more flat-screen TVs, we will still be done for. A system based on consumerism cannot be just and it cannot be sustained.
So in addition to getting civically engaged–and I don’t want to understate the importance of civic engagement–we also have to change our social priorities and live according to what is really important to our own Good Lives and those of others.
Here are just a few suggestions:
- Learn to live a zero-waste lifestyle
- Support local business (not mega-corporations)
- Become a vegetarian or vegan
- Get rid of your car
- Support businesses owned by people of color
- Support the local food economy
- Reduce your carbon emissions
- Encourage your employer to adopt non-discriminatory hiring practices
- Make your own list of actions to take
Follow Your Calling
So many of us feel an inner tug to do something to help others in our own individual way. Maybe we want to be social workers. Maybe we have toyed with running for office. Maybe we just know we have some gift to give but are not sure what.
But we have been a little lazy and scared to take the unconventional path. Well, the time is now. Conventional careers don’t offer the security they once did and many of them don’t offer meaning and purpose either. A lot of careers even make us feel complicit in causing the world’s problems.
So make a start in moving towards your calling. The glorious thing is that the world is in so much trouble that it needs all sorts of talents and temperaments. If you need some help discerning the way you are called to help the world, I’ve written an exercise I use with coaching clients here. And if you are truly stuck, here is an article about following your calling even when you have a meaningless job.
Watch For Kindness
People ask me all the time how I keep my spirits up when things look so bad. The answer is that I keep my attention where my feet are. I watch what is going on around me. I see a barista give someone a free coffee, just because. I see a child insisting her mother gives the homeless person a dollar. I hear musicians making incredible music and activists on the street doing their best.
I don’t believe the problem is with the human spirit. The problem is that the institutions that are supposed to serve us don’t fully reflect our human spirit. Watch for kindness and let’s make our organizations reflect it.
Read How To Be Alive
I’m sorry for the shameless plug, but I truly believe that my most recent book How To Be Alive: A Guide To The Kind Of Happiness That Helps The World is a handbook and manual for living in the current climate. I think it will help you to find ways to live in line with your values in a way that feels safe and secure.
Let Your Efforts Be Their Own Reward
All of us want to make a difference and feel as though things are changing as the result of our actions. But here is the truth: It feels so much better to be powerful than to be a victim. It is so much better to exercise your agency than to just complain. Try it. You will find your efforts are their own reward.
PS I am running groups where people support each other in finding lives that are in line with their values and help the world. Check them out here.