This is the age of overstimulation – of so many concerns vying for our attention that intellectual, emotional and focus burnout is a daily occurrence for many people. When we look at the needs of the world, or even just our individual countries, it’s easy to become overwhelmed: poverty, climate change, war, illness, natural disasters, politics…the list is bottomless.
This blog series is all about responding to the world in ways that are useful and productive. I approach new onslaughts of awful with a three-part response: immediate physical environment, inner world and lastly, relationship to community. This blog post is all about that latter-most category. Our relationship to community is how we actively respond to the onrushing stimuli. It’s about what we try to change in the world, what we try to introduce, what we choose to work on.
To try to help all areas of need at one time is to invite self-destruction.
Go back and read that again.
You can’t save everyone, my friend. Not by yourself. I can’t do it, either. In fact, none of us can. However, there ARE ways to help. There are ways to mitigate disaster. There are ways to introduce meaningful change – to be the drop in the pool of water that ripples outward.
Let’s go back to my first blog in this series. In that blog, I talked a little bit about Stoicism.
“It is difficult to respond to life intelligently and effectively when our inner state is a cacophony of overlapping fears, anxieties and stimulation. The path of Stoicism contains many useful concepts, one of which is to understand one’s place in relationship to the world. Within Stoicism, it is considered hubris to believe that we can singularly bear the responsibility of controlling all the things that can affect us. Although many events and situations can impact us, we frequently do not have the power or ability to impact those events and situations in turn.”
One of the most useful ways to include some aspects of Stoicism to my mindset was to understand my place in the tapestry. I once saw a blog that used a graphic like this one to explain how that looks in a practical way.
We are limited in scope and honestly that’s a good thing. It can help us begin to breathe through some of the issues vying for our time and energy simply because some of them are not fixable by us. It’s okay to admit when a problem is beyond our scope. We, individually, cannot fix climate change. We, individually, cannot phone up world leaders and tell them what to do. When we respond to the world around us, the best use of time, energy and emotion is to respond in a way that gives us maximum impact for our efforts. For most of us, our sphere of influence is small and local.
Byron Ballard has a good, simple concept called Pick Three – choose three areas to be concerned about and active with. Then, trust your community and social circle to also choose areas of concern, and for some of those areas of concern to be different than yours.
I propose mixing these two ideas (Stoicism and Pick Three) with a third – abilities, interests and things you enjoy doing. There’s a sweet spot when it comes to working meaningfully in the world and it’s at the meeting point of those three areas.
No matter how badly something is needed, no matter how much you know someone should be doing said thing, if you hate that activity it will not be sustainable for you. A good example of this is calling senators vs phone-averse behavior. I’ve watched phone-averse friends try again and again and again to get into calling their senators. However, by constantly going rounds with their own anxiety triggers, the habit is unsustainable.
I have a good example in my own life. I’m a pretty solid writer and I was trained by the Marine Corps to do PR. I know how to write press releases and if I can make myself write one, they’re generally decent.
Know what I hate?
Writing press releases.
I will procrastinate to the point of it being utterly ridiculous to avoid writing one. Even when I know it’s needed. Even when I’m being paid to write a press release. I don’t know what my problem is, I just really don’t like writing them. Taking on a task of writing press releases for a local environmental group would ultimately end in me flaking out. So, that’s not the sort of thing I volunteer for.
In this time of high winds and dark waters, really give some thought to what you’re good at. Are you an organizer? Are you good at research or finding information? Are you particularly talented at a skill or craft, or able to produce something in volume? Are you good at repetitive, boring tasks? Are you a good leader? Sit down and list out your skills. For me, that would look something like this list (not in order):
Communication, collaborative leadership, writing, graphics work, music, organizing, logistics, yoga and basic physical health coaching, counseling
Then, think about what you’re interested in. What topics draw your attention? When a new piece of ‘ohfuckohfuckohfuck’ hits, where does it fall on the scale of concern? What are you willing to learn more about? What are you researching or exploring anyway? For me, that looks like:
Environmentalism (specifically local), sustainability, witchcraft in all its many forms, queer issues, community/relationship building, shadow work, self-reliance
Lastly, think about what you enjoy doing. What passions do you pursue regardless of their usefulness? What do you love? What tasks do you enjoy? For me, that list looks like:
Spirituality, performance, teaching, writing, community organization, graphics production, logistics, gardening
Once you’ve done your introspection and figured out where your skills, interests and pleasures fall, you can figure out where to fit in terms of meaningful response. For example:
- A person who is introverted, a good knitter/crochet-er/fiber artist and really interested in dismantling white supremacy could start creating items for sale that specifically benefit Black Lives Matter or other group supporting people of color. Depending on their level of introversion, they might even start a monthly knitting circle to increase their impact. They could pair with someone who hits the craft circuit rounds, set up a simple website, or otherwise pursue a sales channel that limits interpersonal contact.
- A person who is extroverted, comfortable on the phone, who wrestles with chronic illnesses, and is interested in sustainability could become a Caller. When they have the spoons for it, since they do not wrestle with phone anxiety, this person could be someone who calls legislators (starting at the county and city level – remember, think locally) to ask questions and raise concerns about environmental sustainability.
- A person who is somewhat introverted but doesn’t mind occasionally working with people, who is left-brain dominant and a good organizer, who is interested in supporting queer communities, could get involved in their local Pride or other LGBTQAI+ supporting charity to help with organization (in my experience, pretty much ALL charitable/helping groups desperately need help with getting organized).
There’s a need, fit and outlet for everyone. Remember, whatever you are interested in, chances are there are at least a few other people who are either interested in the same thing or who would be happy to jump on and support you if you take point on your plan.
Me? Well, I’m a pagan community organizer. I’m extroverted, a good communicator and collaborative leader. I legitimately enjoy working with people and I’m interested in spirituality and building strong relationships (a strong social net is a powerful defense against overload/apathy/burnout/assholes with swastika flags and guns). I got involved in my local Unitarian Universalist congregation. I began as part of the board of Frederick CUUPS and eventually ended up in charge. I now work in support of my own CUUPS chapter as well as a few other Pagan gatherings.
Remember, keep it local. The local focus is incredibly important. We are better able to grow ideas, organizations and influence when we’re physically close to what we’re doing. Think about it like watering a garden – the closer that garden is to the house, the more likely you are to tend to it. Legislators tend to pay attention more to people who are close by and who become squeaky wheels. Developing small, local plans for improving sustainability hits at home first, then spreads. Start small. Start local.
So, know your scale. Pick your three (or one or two depending on ability/energy levels). Figure out your sweet spot. Then get started. Join an existing group, start one yourself, begin showing up at the local courthouse in a bunny costume.
Seriously – whatever fits your sweet spot and responds to one of your Three. Go for it. People making racket in a bunny costume are very difficult to ignore.
So, what are your skills and pleasures? How do you plan to use them to help? Hit me up in the comments.
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