Guest-blogging over at The Oil Drum, author Dave Pollard (Finding the Sweet Spot: The Natural Entrepreneur’s Guide to Responsible, Sustainable, Joyful Work) looks at the reasons people become so easily discouraged from personal and political activism—and why political activism has always been an absolutely crucial driving force in enacting social justice throughout history. Real change comes with struggle, and if something is easy to do, it’s probably not worth doing.
There’s a new book out about government corruption in Kenya called It’s Our Turn to Eat. The title refers to the appeal of each elected government to its own tribal supporters that they have to seize power and gorge themselves quickly because after the next election some other tribe will be in power and they too will look after ‘their own’. The twist is that the elite in Kenya, across all tribal groups, exploits this tribal animosity and fear to distract the electorate from the fact that, whoever is in power, the elite still pull the strings, pay off the politicians, and hoard the resulting wealth. The objective is to subjugate and discourage the people, because that allows the elite to continue to rule unopposed. Then it all becomes a game of perpetuating power and wealth — stealing elections, ever-increasing disparity, police state laws, bribes, pork, subsidies and payoffs, propaganda, intimidation, media control, divide and conquer, and massive corruption. US 2000, Kenya or Iran 2009, it doesn’t matter. To think that this is a struggling-nation problem only is pure conceit. Thanks to distance, size, and scale, the benign inclinations of human nature are coopted, perverted and corrupted. Everything that works at a community level fails at the level of corporation and nation. We have shown, all over the world, again and again, that once we reach a certain size we become depraved, ungovernable.
The role of the activist is to act as a counterbalance to this perversion, to speak truth to power, to bridge the distance, to hold those who are irresponsible and unaccountable, responsible and accountable. To intervene. To break down what is already broken. To enable what the people really want to be realized, despite everything. A step forward for every step back. A holding action. [. . .]
All of us must be activists, if we are to give this world a fighting chance.
What should you do? Picking your cause is just like picking the work you’re meant to do, as I explain in my book Finding the Sweet Spot. This is not work for the half-hearted or easily-discouraged. So, just as in choosing the paying work that gives your life meaning, you need to identify and choose a cause that’s in your ‘sweet spot’ — something you love doing, and that you’re good at, and that is needed in the world, and that you care about. If you are no good at it you’ll get discouraged or burned out. If you don’t love the cause, you’ll end up disengaged. If it’s not really needed, if the world’s not ready for it, you’ll be unappreciated and frustrated.
To find this, you must learn something about yourself, and then do some research about the world, about what’s really going on, about the points of intervention that will allow you to make a difference. There are a few ideas in the brown box in the top chart above, but it’s only a tiny segment of the work that needs to be done. Whether your cause is health or corruption or energy or pollution or water or food or conservation or animal welfare or urban despair or suburban sprawl or power or inequity, the process is the same: Find partners, a community of people who share your purpose and your cause and whose work and strengths complement your own, so that you get to do what you love and are good at and so that the sum of the team’s work is greater than its parts.
Next, you need to be for something, not just against something. Always fighting against, as important as that work is, will drain your energy unless you also have a vision of a better way, something to replace what you’re battling. So you need to be not only an informed warrier but also an innovator, an entrepreneur, a visionary.
And you need to be prepared to search insatiably and undogmatically for the truth, because ultimately that is your most powerful, and sometimes your only, weapon. Without it, your belief and passion are not enough.