Can you be an activist and be happy too?

April 23, 2013


Anger is good. It is often the catalyst and fuel needed for change. Even the Bible says, “In your anger do not sin” (Psalm 4:4), suggesting that it is not anger itself but some byproduct of it which is to be avoided. One might even go as far as to say you need anger at the centre of any social justice effort, lest you find yourself complicity maintaining the status quo.

Many of us are involved in some social change effort – be it through community service, academic pursuit, political initiative, business venture, or philanthropic gesture. Often, it was a disturbing encounter with injustice or inequity which drew us to this cause to begin with; whether we experienced it personally, witnessed it around us, or learned of it on a screen or in a book. For those of us who would aspire to a life dedicated to advocacy and activism, this feeling of distress and resentment can become all too familiar, and if we’re not careful, it can quickly become our default setting. After all, how is one to live happily as if the world were not filled with pain, evil and greed?

I believe there is a point where these feelings become counter-productive in the pursuit of a better world. What is the point of fighting the good fight if we begin to embody the very things we seek to redeem others from? If a woman tackling the world’s problems becomes inapproachable to her own neighbour, are we any better off? If a man labouring to build his community, loses his ability to cope with his own issues, can we call that progress? Maybe. Maybe not.

The world needs people who get angry at the sight of injustice, and are dissatisfied with the way things are, but their ability to affect change diminishes when they lose sight of the good that they are fighting for to begin with. Of course, there is a sacrificial element at the core of genuine advocacy and activism. There is a necessary inconvenience, a willingness to put self-interest aside. However, I’d like to believe we become better people because of that sacrifice, otherwise I’m not quite sure we’re on the right track.

This is a puzzle I am still trying to figure out, but I’ve developed some personal tools along the way. Here are a few:

  • Don’t get involved if love is not at the centre.
  • Take time to recognize and celebrate progress.
  • Make sure you like and trust the people you are working with.
  • Build off of the good, rather than always fighting the bad.
  • Meet regularly with the people you seek to serve – hear their stories, and learn from their perspectives.
  • Recognize signs of burnout, and don’t feel too guilty to press pause.
  • Seek like-minded people and share your successes, burdens and challenges with them.
  • Always make time to have fun, laugh everyday.

Twas a sad day when the activist lost sight of the good that inspired her rage against the bad.



4 Responses to “Can you be an activist and be happy too?”

  1. Kaleb said

    Thanks…this speaks to heart. However intractable the problems seem, it is a good attitude to maintain optimism. Kale hiwot yasemalin.

  2. KateBomz said

    Thank you for this!

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