It’s so tempting to rush toward something that you perceive to be a problem with a full head of steam and a lot of ideas about what should be done. I don’t care what your issue is, it has been around in some form for a while and there are very likely to be people who are already working on it. And probably these are folks who are more intensely or directly impacted by the issue. You’re either part of the problem or part of the solution. So if you come in with a full head of steam about what you think needs to be done, you could very well become part of the problem unless you first seek to understand the issues.
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Once you’ve chosen the cause you want to contribute to, a vital first step is to make it your mission to seek to understand that issue. It’s hard to use your power for good if you don’t honor this step. If you discern a problem that you want to help address—whether it’s something big, like prison reform, or something smaller scale, like the homework policy at your child’s school—you’ve got to educate yourself first.
Read articles or books, talk to a couple of people who are involved first-hand, show up to meetings where the issue is discussed. You may not be able to grasp every nuance or learn everything there is to learn—that could take a lifetime. But being informed is key to making decisions from a wise—as opposed to a reactive—place.
The Power of Not Talking
Also, it’s important to remember that you only have the perspective of one person. Any problem that warrants attention has many facets—it can look totally different depending on where you stand. Try to see the problem from multiple points of view. This is going to require listening. That requires not talking. (Something I talked about in episode 265). It also requires having an open mind and a willingness to see something in a different way. These two things are like muscles—they get stronger with practice.
Activism is like a personal development seminar. Know that you are going to grow from this experience—and you can’t grow if you’ve don’t seek to understand and already decided you know everything there is to know. When I did my yoga teacher training, my teachers described it as being an empty cup. You want to have space in your mind and heart for new information and perspectives to come in. Thinking you already know everything you need to know is like being a cup that’s filled to the very top. Nothing’s getting in there, and it’s likely to spill over you and anyone around you.
I can promise you that doing any kind of work for the community will introduce you to people and perspectives that will change you once you seek to understand. Have you started thinking about what you might want to get involved in? Have you maybe even researched places you can plug in? Clearly if you’ve listened this far, you’re interested. So, here I am, encouraging you to follow the golden mantra of activism, and that is to keep going.