Recently, I was asked to write a piece about activism on my blog. Sure, I said. No problem. In this time, this economy, this political and environmental state…what could be more important, right? But then something happened. I dragged my feet. I kvetched, bemoaned the pressures of writing under a timeline, and created other, more sophisticated excuses. I even got sick. Then – today in fact – I announced (in a stomp-your-foot sort of way), NO. I just wasn’t going to do it. Period. End of discussion.
How embarrassed to admit this publicly – my sense of privilege at having the luxury of choice, my whining, my foot stomping. But I fall on my sword in front of you now to make a point (probably at my expense, but so be it): It is apathetic episodes such as these that are the kiss of death to activism.
My wake up call came literally moments after I took my oath to activism apathy earlier this morning. I came across a buried (figures…) e-mail from a dear friend whom I admire for her ability to live mindfully and at choice – constantly inspiring me to new heights of compassion and selflessness (more on her later…). In her e-mail, she included a link to this incredible video called The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard. Today, as I found myself in the throes of my last minute holiday shopping, the topic seemed too ironic and relevant to ignore. So I watched it.
The movie was about the environment and had a profound impact on me, but it was the feeling it evoked in me – nay, awoke in me – that compelled me to write about activism. I felt as if I had been in a sleep induced by laziness, apathy, and a sloth-like privilege. I don’t mean to paint a picture of myself as a overly self-critical, because it’s not that I’m judging myself so much as it is appreciating the fact that I am waking up from it. If I had to give “it” a name, it would have to be “inertia”.
I am reminded of what I’ve always known: that activism in its truest form is about the simple acts. It is about how we are choosing to ACT in the world. I’m realizing one of the assumptions that has fed my drowsiness in this arena is my deeply held belief that whatever I do has to be BIG. Like revolutionary or movement BIG. Snore. No wonder I procrastinated. No pressure.
As I reflect upon the wake up call to activism I experienced today, I can see a chain of events that acted as my alarm clock – each one of them caused me to “hit the snooze” bar on my own realizations until at last I staggered out of bed today. Here’s the beautiful thing about all those conspiring events: they were all simple – potent and profoundly simple.
The first was a gift from my wonderful friend, the Amazing Jess Esch. Nearly a year ago, she introduced me to her concept of “This Is How I Change The World”. This phrase, worn on a t-shirt or pasted on your daily coffee mug, has the beautiful effect of heightening your consciousness to the way – in that particular moment – you are choosing to change the world. The cool part is that it simultaneously heightens the consciousness of the world – via whomever witnesses your act(s). Whether you are taking the trash out, buckling your child in your car seat or taking a deep breath – WHATever you are doing – THAT is how you are changing the world. This understanding made the notion of “activism” so accessible to little ‘ole me. Ah, I see grasshopper! No longer did I feel the need to have the audacity of Rosa Parks, the charisma of Martin Luther King, the fortitude of Gloria Steinham or compassionate wisdom of the Dhali Lama. I could just be me ACTing in the world. Me, the activist. Version 1.0.
With that understanding (thank you, Jess) came a boatload of permission. I started using the phrase “activism” more and more – first in referring to others and then (more boldly) dabbling with the notion as it applied to me. I began speaking out more for those causes I feel most passionately about. I began to see that using my voice (which, frankly, comes relatively easy to me) IS a form of activism – even if I have an audience of one. I noticed (and this is a big one…) that I began to use less disclaimers when I was making a point, inserting my voice or otherwise being me, the activist. For instance, I am a HUGE fan of Hillary Clinton. Somewhere along the line, I got the message that this was not to be shouted from the rooftops, so I prefaced my enthusiastic support of her by saying, “I know this isn’t the popular opinion, but…” What kind of a statement is that!? Done with that – no more.
Something else. I’ve radically cut back on the number of apologies I offer the world. The reality is that I didn’t mean half of them, so why waste air? If someone bumps up against something I feel strongly about, good! Let’s engage in a conversation about it! That’s activism – engagement!
I’m on fire about this (can you tell?) because I now get how easy it is to be an activist. More importantly, I now see I AM being an activist. No more waiting. No more longing or aspiring or worse, yet, jealousy or guilt.
Now, back to my friend…the one who sent me the e-mail with the video link that started all this. I mentioned she inspires me. One way she does that is how her family of four chooses to make a charitable gift each month. Every month they sit down as a family and discuss how they’d like to use their allotted charitable dollars that month – brainstorming ideas, educating each other, mulling over options and coming up with a solution that the whole family has participated in making. I love everything about that practice – the intention, the financial responsibility, the generosity. It’s a simple idea that blows me away and touches me deeply.
Like the teachers at my son’s childcare. In an effort to ease the financial burden of others in a difficult economy, they were asked by their directors forgo the traditional holiday gift exchange (activism). What happened instead? The teachers came up with a creative solution: making a holiday tree using construction paper, complete with 121 handprints and footprints “ornaments” from our children and a wish for the holidays. The sight of this huge tree moved everyone in the community. People cried. And they remembered – in that instant – what was important about the holidays and this season. That was activism.
What if inspiration was the key to unleashing more of a potent activist spirit in the world? Think about it. If everybody is doing all these simple acts and we witness each other, might that not inspire others to do the same? I get most of my ideas from interacting or observing others. In this regard, part of who I am as an activist is a storyteller . I share the examples and ideas I’ve stumbled upon with the hope that they spread like seeds – like the story of Miss Rumphius who sows lupines by casting seeds wherever she walks in her small seaside town. We could inspire activism within each other by sharing our stories and celebrating our beautiful and simple acts.
I am so relieved to be rid of the dread. Instead, I am inspired and filled with a renewed sense of purpose. It’s not about doing your part to ensure the earth keeps turning on its axis – let’s not kid ourselves, who is capable of such feats? Activism at its heart is about simply living and making daily choices that reflect our values, our intentions and as Gandhi said, “the change we wish to see in the world.” The cool part is we get the chance to do it each moment of every day if we want. It’s ripe for the picking!
Good morning to you!