How Activism Keeps Us Sane / by Amy DeRosia

CC Photo by  Stephen Lewis

CC Photo by Stephen Lewis


We can create meaning in the world around us without needing anyone else's permission. Activism isn't just about politics or picketing with signs and marching. Protests are important and useful tools, but there are other ways to show up in our actions and choices every day. 

Our culture’s dysfunctional message is that healthy people accept the world as it is. We are taught that problems are pervasive and unsolvable, and that we are powerless....yet powerlessness produces despair in people and stagnation in cultures. Throughout history, it has been the strong people who have endeavored to make their communities better. Healthy people act.
— Mary Pipher

A lot of us have strong opinions about what makes change possible. If I'm asked, "Can one person make a difference?" My immediate reaction as a lifelong idealist has always been, "Of course!" But then, I'm quickly reminded (especially in election season) how subjective this topic is.

Everyone has opinions about the best ways to update systems and corporations. World peace can only be achieved when nations work together. Intolerance and prejudice are still large scale problems. We can't stop young people from mass murdering preschoolers in their classrooms or natural disasters from destroying cities. So much is out of our control.

These issues require massive change. Most citizens who pay attention to what is happening in the world just yell at the TV from their couches. When we're only watching tragedy from digital devices, no one will ever seem to do enough to solve the big problems.

Hot button issues are complex, interesting, and easy to feel passionate about. But, we don't have the authority, money, or influence to fix them by ourselves. So, we read a lot, share our opinions, get angry or frustrated, and eventually become cynical and numb because it's too painful to care so much.

 Do our efforts matter?

Hope is not about outcome. It’s about the belief we are doing meaningful and important work.
— Mary Pipher

By DOING something about causes and issues important to us, we empower ourselves. In today's world, we know about global injustice happening in real time. We don't have any control over most of these problems.

Activism isn't really about being successful. A little bit of the anxiety goes away when you do something tangible to improve problems you care about or are of service to others. Even if you fail, you are able to find peace and encouragement from making one problem a little less terrible.

Doing nothing is worse than making mistakes or embarrassing yourself. You learn the most when you try things that might not work. One of these lessons being that you survive when projects go badly. This can make you more brave and ready for bigger challenges. 


Everyday Humanitarianism

Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.
— Mother Teresa


Making a positive impact in our society is not just about ending wars or canned food drives. Loneliness and disconnection are epidemics in our culture too. We have dozens of opportunities everyday to be compassionate, generous individuals-not just with our money, but with our time and energy like this little girl who started a dance party in a subway station:

If you consistently show up in your life looking for ways to help others, you won't necessarily win the Nobel Peace Prize. But, you can significantly change your own experience and make someone else's day more than a little better. Your small, simple efforts add up.


Practical ways to show up more consciously in your day-to-day:

Treat strangers like people- Smile, make eye-contact, and open doors. If someone drops something, help them pick it up.

Introduce your friends to each other- Making friends can be hard after high school and college. Let's help each other out.

Online- Share stuff that matters on social media. Sign petitions.

Speak up. Even when it's uncomfortable. - Some people are a little too comfortable forcing their opinions on everyone. The rest of us are more inclined keep our mouths shut when we should say something.


What are some other small ways to make a positive impact?