From the Book: “Rest, but don’t quit!”

I selected the phrases for my coloring book to say what I thought might be most important to others within the activist community.  But because the coloring book simply has the coloring pages without commentary, I thought I might use this venue to elaborate a bit on why I chose to include what I did.

“Rest, but don’t quit!”

The work is never done.  I don’t know that I’ve ever seen or been involved in a philanthropic effort or activist movement which achieved its ultimate goal and faded from existence.  There is always more work to do, and there is almost always more work than there are people volunteering to do it.

Still, there are times when we need to take a break.  No one person can carry on forever without rest.  And we should never feel guilty for needing to step back, sit down, take a breather.

We should be careful, however, not to let a rest stop turn into a permanent residence.

The Power of Disappointment

We’re taught that it is important to please people, especially those who sit in a position of power over us.  We strive to please our parents, teachers, and bosses.  Religions teach us to please our god or gods.  Fulfilling the expectations of those whose approval and blessing we desire is one of the most important responsibilities we are given throughout our lives.  Most of us put a great deal of effort into pleasing others.

Often, we put so much effort into pleasing others than there are entire industries built around teaching us to take our own expectations and desires for ourselves seriously enough to seek to please our own selves, as we’ve forgotten to do so.

Which is why, though we don’t actively think about it, the act of purposefully choosing to disappoint others is a powerful act, a profound statement.  When we choose to deliberately fail to please someone, to purposefully disappoint, or to at least allow that failure and disappointment, it’s a message.

It’s a reclaiming of our own power of decision.  It’s action which places our own needs and expectations above those of someone else.

In a spiritual sense, the force or being we work to please effectively occupies the center of our own existence and belief system.  It’s a telling exercise to look at how much of the efforts undertaken to please those most important in our existence also please ourselves.  Even more telling is who and what we are willing to disappoint, and what repercussions we expect for doing so.

And if we extend the same examination to the culture in which we live, both on a grand scale and in small contexts such as our families, neighborhoods, or workplaces, I would be surprised if most of us don’t realize that we’re expending a lot of energy pleasing people when deep down we don’t want to.  People whose expectations don’t align with ours.  People who have been given a place of priority in our lives that we feel they don’t deserve.

Situations in which we feel compelled to make a statement against those demands.  Situations where we might be doing ourselves a favor and contributing to the greater good by choosing to disappoint.

From the Book: “Self-care is required”

I selected the phrases for my coloring book to say what I thought might be most important to others within the activist community.  But because the coloring book simply has the coloring pages without commentary, I thought I might use this venue to elaborate a bit on why I chose to include what I did.

“Self-care is required.”

Philanthropic work takes a lot of energy, both physical and emotional.  When you spend time focusing on the parts of society which desperately need to be fixed, stress and negativity can take their toll.  But just like the safety announcements in airplanes point out that you should always put your own mask on before helping others, you should take care of your own existence so that you are able to help others.

Self-care, however, is not just a matter of taking a nap here and there or remembering to eat and have fun now and then.  It means knowing when to say no for your own well-being and being willing to do so.  It means doing whatever is necessary to protect your physical and mental health.  It means not allowing your mission for change to damage your relationships or put too much of a toll on your finances.

Our ability to give is limited if we don’t take time to restock our own inner resources.

From the Book: “I will seek work, not praise”

I selected the phrases for my coloring book to say what I thought might be most important to others within the activist community.  But because the coloring book simply has the coloring pages without commentary, I thought I might use this venue to elaborate a bit on why I chose to include what I did.

“I will seek work, not praise.”

Humanitarian work comes with various rewards, and I’m reminded of that episode of Friends about how there’s no unselfish good deed.  Still, when good deeds result in praise and positive reinforcement, it’s very easy to begin to pursue those pats on the back rather and lose sight of the work itself.

I included this phrase because, after the election, as groups began to form to encourage each other and promote activism, philanthropy, and community building, a disturbingly common type of post began to crop up with a fair amount of frequency.  They would begin with a description of some unfortunate situation happened upon by the person posting – a homeless person being treated badly or someone verbally attacking an immigrant or something – and it would then describe how the poster swooped in and saved the day, finishing with something about how much the victim of the injustice thanked them for their intervention and how good it made them feel to have been there to save the day.

The problem is that, while the posters are enjoying the applause of the internet, the people they’re so proud of helping have faded back into the fog of injustice.  The real work which must go into dismantling the systemic problems which lead to homelessness or which make immigrants vulnerable to violence and discrimination requires a lot more than a single act of kindness.

We forget that if we get caught up in the praise of others.

The work is never really done, and it’s the work we should seek if we mean to make a difference.

The Challenge of Standing Up

We’ve all heard horrible stories of tragedies which could have been prevented by countless bystanders but weren’t.  How observers tend to assume that someone else will step in to help or stand up to defend the victim.

And how, because everyone expects someone else to do it, no one does.

And we all know, deep down, that this tendency is dangerous and damaging.  I think we all want to be the one to defy it, to stand up, to save the day.  Still, the drive to preserve ourselves so often overrides our desire to help others.

It’s so easy to help those in need when those around us are also committed to help.  Once one person steps in, others follow.  When the need is longstanding and pervasive, when it fits into our ideals about cultural values and our duty to the helpless, we’re all to eager to create movements and organizations, to donate time and money, to stand together to do good.

But when it’s one person?  When no one around us is stepping up to help?  When some are convinced that they should not be helping?

When it’s not easy, but we know it’s right?

Now is a time when it’s more crucial than ever for us to commit to being that first person to stand up.  To be that person who risks standing alone beside a person who needs an ally.  To do what’s right even when it’s not easy.

In the theme of spirituality being the source of a moral code, what does it say about our prevailing spiritual paths if the emphasis is not placed squarely on standing up for what you know is right even if those around you don’t see it?

From the Book: “Lift people up”

I selected the phrases for my coloring book to say what I thought might be most important to others within the activist community.  But because the coloring book simply has the coloring pages without commentary, I thought I might use this venue to elaborate a bit on why I chose to include what I did.

“Lift people up.”

No matter how good our intentions are, not everything we conceive is a benefit to those we intend to help.  Too much harm has been done over the years by those on a mission to change the lives of some other group of people by trying to change behaviors and beliefs.  It is the epitome of privilege to look at the life of someone else and think you’d be doing so much good to give them a life more like yours.

What we should really be focused on is lifting people up, not changing them.  Ease their struggles, don’t solve problems they don’t have.  Help them meet needs, don’t criticize their choices.

If we keep our focus on helping people reach the goals and aspirations they have for themselves, our efforts will actually benefit the world.

Once Upon A Time…

One of the most uncomfortable experiences in life is that moment when the people around you express views and opinions which, unknown to them, negatively target you or someone close to you.  It’s one thing when the subjects are benign, when the act of revealing the way you identify with the subject of their ridicule is low-risk.  For instance, if you’re chatting with someone and they make a joke about fans of a certain TV show, and you reveal that you’re a fan of that show, it’s awkward but unlikely to fundamentally impact your life or theirs.

But when we’re talking about ideas and identities which run much deeper, it’s not just awkward.  The prospect of revealing your vulnerability in a context which has already been made threatening is terrifying.  It’s what keeps people in the closet.  It’s what keeps minorities of all kinds silent and hidden.

And in our current cultural climate, it’s something which desperately needs to change.

How much different would our world be if those of us who occupy minority positions told our stories openly?  How much different would our culture be if people knew, when they said these things, that they were staring into the eyes of the very people they were about to belittle and ostracize?  How much better would the world be if people knew from the start that their friends, family, coworkers, and neighbors were living examples of great diversity in all kinds of ways?

In the interest of a better world, perhaps it’s time to begin more freely telling our stories to those around us.  Not just the benign stories, the ones which make us feel vulnerable.  The ones which reveal the things we have been afraid to reveal.  The ones which align us with the groups we wish were more accepted by the world around us.  The ones which refute the generally accepted picture of what is normal, what is acceptable, what “good people” do and think.

If every single one of us committed to telling just one more story about ourselves, to revealing one secret we’ve been afraid to reveal, think of the shift in cultural consciousness which would result?  If those of us who have hidden parts of ourselves and our existences in the shadows for fear of the reaction of the masses brought those parts out into the sunlight, how much more accepted and strengthened would we all feel?

Our shared stories are what shape our understanding of the world around us, and they are the foundation of our culture and spirituality.  Our religions and spiritual paths begin with stories:  myths, fables, parables.  They begin with narratives which describe how things are, how things were, how things ought to be.  And when we withhold or exclude certain narratives from that process, we diminish ourselves.

So, that’s my first challenge to everyone in these tumultuous times.  Tell your story.  Reshape how the people around you see the world.  Enrich the narrative.  Don’t allow your own experience to be shut out of the collective mythology.