4 steps to becoming a quiet activist (or, the chookooloonks change-the-world challenge)
How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
~ ANNE FRANK
As we approach the end of the year, it's time to starting thing about setting the tone about what we'd like 2018 to shape up to be. And so, I'd like to take a moment to speak on behalf of quiet activism.
If you follow the news as I do, you could be forgiven for calling the world a dumpster fire right now: there are leaders making hair-trigger decisions. Men in powerful posts harassing and sexually assaulting women. Natural disasters around the world, from floods to earthquakes to fires. With the constant barrage of these news items, it can be very tempting to simply throw your hands up in despair -- the world is going to hell in a handbasket, what could you possibly due to change it?
I'm going to ask you to resist that urge.
Instead, I'm going to challenge you to change the world -- or at least your world -- and engage in your own activism. Even if it's quiet.
To be clear, I'm not talking about grabbing a placard and marching in the streets -- unless that's your jam. I'm not even talking about making sure you vote, or that you contact your representatives, if you live in a country where you can freely do both (frankly, if you do live in a place where you can do both, those should be two things you're doing at a minimum). I'm talking about mindfully doing something every week to help change the world or fight injustice, as *you* see it. And I'm talking about doing it without fanfare, or for the Instagram photo op, or expecting accolades. I'm talking about doing this because, straight up, it turns you on to do it. Really.
This sounds like a lofty proposition, but I've got a four-step program for becoming a quiet activist. And since we've got three weeks left in the year, I'll invite you to grab your journal, and write your thoughts in response to the following. In fact, set aside some time each day for the next four days to do each of them -- call it your Four Day Chookooloonks Change The World Challenge -- and see if you don't inspire yourself to make your world a more amazing place.
1. On your first day, grab a journal or some paper, and think about what you're really passionate about. And when I say "passion," I mean it in the broadest sense of the word: what do you love? What is something that when you see it, you're captivated by its beauty, so much so that you think to yourself, "that needs to be protected?" What is something you wish more people new more about? This can be anything: it can be the meaningful work of a particular artist. Or it can be something smaller: for example, my friend Susan is passionate about penguins. Another friend, Kal, is all about polar bears. Perhaps you love seeing children thrive. Whatever it might be, write it down.
Conversely, what enrages you? What is something that just drives you nuts, every time you witness it, or read about it, or hear a story about it? What is the sort of thing that, when you see an article about it on the internet, you can't help but wonder how something like that can exist in 2017? Again, it doesn't matter what it is: it could be poverty. Or health care. Or even that there's no cure for the common cold. In my case, discrimination and bigotry make my blood boil. But whatever it is, it needs to be something that whenever you see it, you feel a spark of fury -- of passion -- inside of you. And then write that down.
And then calm down with a cup of tea. You'll probably need it.
2. On day 2, identify your core values. If this sounds overwhelming, here's an easy way to do it:
a) On the top of three individual pages, write the name of someone you admire. The three people you choose could be living or dead, real or fictional (Luke Skywalker, for example), someone you know or someone famous. Just pick three people, and write one of their names at the top of three pages.
b) Under their names, just stream-of-consciouness, write down what it is you admire about each of them. Exhaust your list of traits -- as many admirable attributes that you can think of for each of them.
c) When you've exhausted your list, flip through your three pages, and circle the traits that appear more than once on your lists.
Those circled traits are likely your core values -- because we tend to pick our heroes because they reflect those values back at us. Keep these core values close -- they are what will help you be brave when you feel nervous about putting yourself out there, reminding you why you're being an activist for the issues you're passionate about.
3. Day 3: write a personal mission statement. I know, I know -- this feels sort of weird to do. But again, this is for no one's eyes but your own -- this is an exercise to codify what you stand for and what you want to be about, as you reflect on you passions (day 1) and your values (day 2).
Simply write down a series of "I will ..." statements, staking your claim about what you'd like to do in 2018. For example, when I wrote my mission statement, my "I will" statements included:
• I will engage in the relentless pursuit of beauty.
• I will illustrate beauty is everywhere.
• I will fight negativity, violence, discrimination & desperation.
• I will celebrate positivity, peace, kindness & joy.
• I will provide evidence that there is good in the world.
These statements ended up being a part of my Chookooloonks mission statement, but make no mistake: the statement above are the ones that are incredibly personal to me, and will be a part of what I am an activist for whether or not Chookooloonks remains in existence or not. So spend some time writing your own statements. Keep your journal on you for the day, and if another statement comes to mind, jot it down and see how it feels.
4. Day 4: activate. Today, take your journal and think about what you'd like to do in 2018 to help make your mission a reality. Think as broadly as you can. For example, you know my This Was A Good Week posts? While they contain news of good in the world (my last bullet point, above), each week they also intentionally include good being done by people around the world, of different races, genders and backgrounds, in my attempt to fight discrimination. And my friend Susan, who loves penguins? It turns out her mission is to do what she can to save the environment. And one of the things she did was have her garden certified as a wildlife habitat. It turns out it's not that difficult to do, and now every time she works in her garden, she literally is helping save the earth. My friend Kal, who loves polar bears, is an artist, and began doing paintings of polar bears and selling them, raising money for organizations that protect polar bears. This led to her founding The Polar Bear Fund, and doing gigantic art installations raising awareness of their plight (hers is the 13th image down).
My point is, start with something small, and make a point of doing something every week in furtherance of your mission -- even if it's as simple as sharing a Facebook post that helps bring awareness to why your passion matters. Take some time on this fourth day to come up with some ideas how you can take something that you love to do -- a hobby, say -- and use it to help. If you knit, make blankets for a homeless shelter. If you sing, consider how you can use your voice -- a vlog? a living room concert? -- to help give voice to an organization or passion you love. Start a coding camp for kids. Whatever -- get creative.
And that's it! The point is -- think about how you can use your light. And if you'd like some more inspiration, here are a couple of books to put on your holiday gift list for yourself:
A Selfish Plan to Change the World, by Justin Dillon -- an amazing book, sharing stories of how people took their passions (what he calls their "riots") and made a point of using their skills to make a difference.
The Power of Onlyness, by Nilofer Merchant -- another fantastic book about how to take your "Onlyness" (what I call your "Different"), and using it to serve.
So with that, start your own Chookooloonks Change The World Challenge. I'll be cheering you on, I promise.
Soundtrack: Better way by Ben Harper. Lyrics here -- they're worth a read.