When to Act, and When Not to Act


Image by xkcd: http://xkcd.com/386/

Sometimes this is what my life as an activist feels like. Whether it’s demonstrating out on the streets, writing to MPs, or attempting to raise awareness of injustice. In the end, it’s only me who loses sleep.

And of course that isn’t always true. Activism matters because it makes a difference. Disabled People Against Cuts have raised the profile of disability cuts issues – from people suffering as a result of benefits cuts, to deaths among those who can’t afford to heat their homes this winter – and have probably prevented further cuts as a result. Thousands of political prisoners have been freed thanks to Amnesty International (note: please sign their petition against the Ugandan bill that criminalises homosexuality!) Interfaith movements like 3FF make a difference one person at a time, helping people of different faiths to understand each other a bit better. It’s possible to be *part* of something that makes a difference. But can one person change anything?

And really, that’s not even the right question. Maybe it should be: Does one person need to change everything?

I used to lose a lot of sleep trying to right the wrong on the internet (and beyond). I would throw my entire body and soul into an argument, determined to show other people what it’s like when you’re in a situation that allows you to see the other side of the story. About 95% of the time, this had no effect on anyone but me. It would slide over the heads of the people I was trying to persuade to see things differently, and off they would toddle to bed – leaving me still typing, still losing sleep, still obsessing, still damaging my own mental health.

This month I’m working very hard to hear the voices of my gods in the everyday things. (It’s related to an assignment for Cat’s druidry course.) Sometimes, the Morrigan says “Fight.” (Hardly surprising.) Sometimes, Brighid says “Have compassion.” But more than anything, Bhearra says “You live on the margins. Experience it. Then move on.”

Two things have come up in the past 24 hours where I could have entirely lost the plot arguing the other side. (The marginal side; the liminal places; the rocky mountain path; the new course of the river.) Not arguing probably cost me more than arguing. Oh, I wanted to be the bringer of Justice. But ultimately, that’s not always my role – not for everything. And starting to create the habit makes me stronger. (It creates little channels, and next time, the water will flow through them more easily.)

Quite apart from the fact that I can be stronger to fight the things that are really worth fighting for, if I save my strength for them… it’s also important for me to let go of the self-assigned role of Dark-Coated Avenger of Justice. Right now, I’m not here to change the world. Right now, what I need to work on is myself.

7 thoughts on “When to Act, and When Not to Act

  1. You can’t fight them all at the same time, choose a target and commence battle. Rest, recuperate and then proceed to the next. Indeed you are right to challenge, but how can you do that when you haven’t healed your wounds from the last fight (emotional, mental and physical).

    This post reminds me of one of the Triads:

    “Three things for one who stands against the world: Seeing the quality and beauty of truth, seeing beneath the veil of falsehood; seeing what ends of truth and falsehood come.”


    Alfred: Why do we fall, Master Bruce? So we can pick ourselves back up again.
    (Batman Begins)

  2. I CAN RELATE. I found a new saying: You don’t have to attend every argument you’re invited to. Plus I figure others (I hope) are also doing work. And focusing on building what I love is emotionally healthier than mostly focusing on destroying what I hate. Ahh, I have been thinking about this too…. Thanks for sharing.

    • Heh – that is an exceptionally good saying, and one that I should keep in mind. It’s good to hear that others feel like this too! Best of luck in your own avoidance of arguments :)

  3. Hail fellow traveller. Yes, the enormity of what needs to be done, and the unbearablness of the many wrongs out there and the not having superhuman powers and the feeling responsible for everything, ever. Yes. No, I have no idea how to handle that better. I think we need more converts. More hands to the work that needs doing.

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