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 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.