Advocacy Habits to Cultivate

> Mental Habit: Letting the magnitude of the issues lead to inaction or apathy <

Every day it seems my email brings another batch of petitions that are asking for my signature, worthy causes that want a donation, and reports of more threats to the environment, social justice, health care, and more economic bad news for the most vulnerable in our society.  In the United States the conversation has shifted from moving forward on these issues, to trying to minimize the backsliding that seems inevitable, at least for the next two years.  The sheer magnitude of the problems is enough to mentally weigh me down for the rest of the day.  It can make my own work seem insignificant.  If it is really that hopeless, why bother?  If I cannot effect change, why not just give up and enjoy the life I have left.  How do we resist those thoughts?

Why This Matters

What all those petitions, requests for donations, and reports of problems have in common is a belief that the world could be a “better place”.  So many people working to make the world a better place is cause for hope, not despair.  The antidote to being overwhelmed is to realize that (to quote a book title) “the world is not ours to save.”  Trying to do everything can easily result in doing nothing, while doing a few things well can make a difference.

Putting our hope in political action is bound to disappoint sooner than later.   One alternative is to stress our individual lifestyles as a force for change.  An example is the growing organic food industry.  The industry grows because of the increasing number of people who purchase organic food.  Customers influence corporations regardless of who is in power in Washington.  

Burnout is a common occurrence among activists.   Self-care is critical for the long run, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  Also important is setting healthy boundaries, knowing what is your mission and what is not your mission.

< New HABITS: What To Do >

  1. Decide on one or two causes that you are willing to pursue and give them your primary focus.  Don’t try to do everything. Have a focus does not mean you ignore other causes, but you let others lead the charge on them.   I am annoyed when I see someone “hijack” a march or a Facebook post to push their cause on someone else’s spotlight.  Standing with others means allowing them to be heard while you bring your own audience to listen to them (not you).  Find people you trust on other issues and listen to them.
  2. Educate yourself on your focus so you can talk intelligently and answer questions others might have.  Make sure that what you say is accurate and based on solid evidence. The labels “alternative facts” and “fake news” may be recent, but they are not a recent invention and can be found in progressive as well as conservative media.  You should learn enough about your focus so that you can “smell” an “alternative fact” or “fake news.”  A good source will give you references to the original articles, look them up.  Are they from peer reviewed sources?  Are they from a reliable organization?  We all suffer from confirmation bias:  we more easily accept a report we agree with, than one that challenges what we believe.  When evaluating anything we should ask: What is the evidence?  Is the evidence reliable? What is the supposed solution?  Will the proposed solution actually work?
  3. Start with yourself. I often wonder if we advocate for legislation rather than changing our own behavior.   We need to practice what we preach.  If we believe that a change is necessary, why not make it?  Not only does that give us credibility, it gives us an understanding of the details of the changes we are advocating.  Make one lifestyle change and another one suggests itself, perhaps with the arrival of the next Good Journey article!   This is a process not a destination, we do not need to get to the destination before we advocate, but we do need to be on the path.  Admitting our challenges, failures, successes and fears helps others that are on the same path.  

    Share with others what you are doing as well as your expertise.  Listen to what others say and build relationships and accept guidance when appropriate.  Find people and organizations that share your concern, are reputable, and join or at least follow what they are doing.  Good partners are invaluable!
  4. Call your representatives. If you want your representative to vote for or against a bill, call their office on the telephone and tell their representative how you want them to vote and why.   Find out enough information so you can talk intelligently about the issue.  It turns out this is far more effective that adding you name to an online poll, or sending a copy of an email that someone else wrote.  
  5. Find a way to bring some joy into other people’s lives.  Do something each day that makes someone’s world a little better. Joy is elusive when you search for it, but often plentiful when you try and give it away.  


Written by David Larrabee
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