Susan G. Bednar, LCSW

Activism and Caring

Those of us who care deeply about social justice are often called to activism.  Whether we are challenging an oppressive employer, standing up for equal rights, working to protect the only planet we have, or advocating for disadvantaged populations, caring frequently necessitates action—sometimes strong action, or even action we would prefer not to take.  If we care, we may even feel guilty when we fail to act.

The years ahead may bring tough times for those who care.  There will be no shortage of issues that urgently need attention, and many will simultaneously call for our activism.  It is likely we will feel overwhelmed, pulled in multiple directions, and unsure whether we are really making a difference.  Our energy and commitment may ebb and flow.  We may be on fire one day, and depleted the next.  We may find we are buoyed up by others who care today, yet feel hopeless and alone tomorrow.  The stakes may be enormous, and we may wonder what one person can even do.  It is important that we don’t become despondent.  Democracy depends on citizens who care.  It is not a spectator sport.  If we want to see things change, we will need to get involved, and we will need to stay involved over the long haul.  So how do we stay motivated and strong for the struggles we know lie ahead?

If you’re still grieving, honor that.

Some of us may still be grieving.  We may be in shock.  We may alternate between anger and depression.  We may try to go about our lives like nothing happened, only to be jolted back to reality every now and then.  If you need to have some time to yourself, or if you find that you need to lean on others a bit more right now, that’s ok.  Take care of yourself.  As you feel stronger, you will want to take action.  Do a little more and a little more until you are up to speed again.

Try to stay informed, but don’t let the avalanche of bad news overcome you.

If we are going to have an impact, we need to know what’s going on.  Try to be selective about what information you expose yourself to.  Learn what you need to know from reputable news sources, but don’t wallow in the social media hysteria.  Constant exposure to upsetting material will keep you anxious, depressed, and incapacitated.  Get the facts.  Also find out who is doing what to remedy the problems you are learning about.  That will help you to begin engaging and to feel a bit more hopeful.

Acknowledge that you can’t tackle it all.

Think about which issues are calling out to you.  Which matter the most to you?  Try to narrow down the range of issues that you want to address.  Consider what skills and resources you may have to bring to bear on the problems that most concern you.  Also admit that you have some limitations.  You may have limited time and energy to devote to a cause, or you may not have sufficient support to take on additional stress.   Begin to carve out some realistic tasks that you can do.  Even if you have boundless energy and lots of time right now, prioritize your concerns.  There will be times when you have to let some things slide.

Connect with others who care.

No matter what the issues you want to focus on, there will likely be others who also care about those issues.  Try to connect with like-minded people.  You will need each other for emotional support, and you will accomplish much more together than you could alone.

Limit contact or cut ties with others who don’t care or who sap your energy.

Engaging in endless arguments with opponents or succumbing to their diversionary tactics won’t help you in the long run.  If you have the skills and the inclination to educate others, by all means use them, but don’t feel obliged to tolerate abusive behavior from anyone.  If you care, you are a valuable person.  Your activism will accomplish much more than engaging in pointless bickering and power plays, or allowing others to engage you in busy work. Keep your eyes on your goals and not on those who wish to block your progress.  Let them go.

Balance activism with caring.

As much as you want to make a difference, it is important that you nurture yourself and your loved ones.  If you run yourself into the ground, you will accomplish nothing.  If you neglect those you care about and who care the most about you, you may find yourself alone.  Take time to care for yourself and for those important people and relationships in your life.

Pace yourself.

If you are going to remain motivated and involved over the long haul, you will need to pace yourself.  You are probably the best judge of how much you can manage at any particular time.  Don’t compare your efforts to the efforts of others.  Do what you can.  It is probably more helpful to pace yourself and keep up your activism for a lengthy period of time than it is to burn yourself out climbing one gigantic mountain and then collapsing in a heap.

Hang in there.

You matter.  We need each other.  You are not alone.


Important Note:  This blog is intended for informational and discussion purposes only, and does not substitute for professional care.  Your circumstances may differ from those discussed, and your needs may be different.  If you are experiencing distress you feel unable to resolve on your own, please seek assistance from a qualified professional of your choice.