Wondering if anything you're doing to help matters?
This month I was considering what to write for the blog when this beautifully written post about the small efforts towards change arrived in my inbox. I contacted the author, Jennifer Louden, who has graciously granted her permission for us to share what she wrote for this blog. Please take a moment to give her words a read and let us know what you think! If you’d like to reach out to her after, we’ve included her contact information below.
Words by Jennifer Louden:
To quote my friend and brilliant coach Michele Woodward: “There is just too much going on.”
I speak to people almost every day – students, clients, neighbors, friends – who are overwhelmed by all that and more. By everything that needs fixing in the world on top of their own listlessness, fear and uncertainty we are all feeling.
We may have no idea what to do to help. The issues are all SO big. We are so tiny.
So maybe we aren’t doing much, or we perceive we aren’t doing much, and it can make us feel even more awful.
Or maybe you’re trying to do everything and are approaching burn out.
Let’s talk about a different approach.
Have you ever heard of the “arithmetic of compassion” (a term coined by the poet Zbigniew Herbert)? It’s used by cognitive and conservation psychologists to describe “how the positive feelings of saving a child [for example] are canceled by the negative feelings of knowing that others cannot be saved” to quote Sarah Jaquette Ray from her wonderful book A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety.
“In other words, the desire to help fades when we realize we can’t help everyone who needs it. For those in the position to offer assistance, decisions are strongly motivated by perceived efficacy.” (italics mine) As Ms. Ray writes, “thinking of ourselves as ineffectual…. makes us so.”
When you believe that what you are doing to help create change or support others in need isn’t enough or doesn’t count, you give up (or never start).
BUT (and this is a very important but) when you believe in your effectiveness? You take action.
And you feel less depressed, frozen, and overwhelmed. Which sounds really good right now.
Reflect: do you believe your efforts matter?
Because they honestly completely and utterly do.
But maybe you’ve already served and burned out. Now you may be caught in the false dichotomy of either, “I dedicate my life to _____ cause(s) or I do nothing.”
No, my friend. You get to decide what and how much you give. You can – and must – have boundaries around how you serve. We all have different periods of our lives when we can give more or less. Accepting this is essential to bothering.
(Also FYI: giving money counts. Calling your representatives matters. Drop the “it’s not enough” story.)
Or as I wrote in my new book Why Bother? Discover the Desire for What’s Next, “You need a story that motivates you, one that is linked to what matters to you and that recognizes the world doesn’t rely on you to spin on its axis. Balancing our need to help with our humanity is about humility and self-regard. You’re not the only one with the ability to fix a particular problem, but dismissing your efforts as too little or too flawed is equally absurd.”
DECLARE WHAT IS ENOUGH WEEK BY WEEK
I use Conditions of Enoughness to determine what I will do as an activist and citizen week by week. It gives me a focus and, by being consistent, I grow my courage and my voice.
This week that means commenting on proposed drilling around Chaco Canyon, writing this post, coaching an overwhelmed client, writing get-out-the-vote postcards, getting ramped up for 350.org Just Recovery, calling various people in Louisville again about Breonna Taylor’s murder, and a few more things I’ve lost track of because I ticked them off my list already.
Small steps. Consistent.
Swap out “All I do is only a drop in the bucket, so why bother?” with: “I take consistent action that positively affects change in ways I might not always know or see.”
You aren’t looking for false optimism, as that is also deflating and hurtful to consistent action, but reminders change is happening to fuel your energy and resolve.
Swap out following people on social media who shame or belittle others for not doing enough or doing it right and follow people like adrienne maree brown, Jonathan Van Ness’s podcast and Danielle Coke (her art is at the top of this email, she is so great), Lyla June and Rebecca Solnit.
Swap out moaning with friends and family that it’s too much and it’s too late. Be the voice of practical hope. Spread the word that how you think and feel about what you do for justice and equity matters.
Dump the perceived inefficacy.
Small is all and small is enough.
What I personally love about Jen’s post above is how many useful resources she points to to help bolster our energy as activists. So check them out, and keep pushing for a world where violence against women is a thing of the distant past!