Influence and Concern

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how to maintain anything like a sense of empowerment (and thereby sanity) in our world today. Everything in the world seems to be on fire, not least of all American politics, and I can often feel that I am drowning in a sea of injustice, with a strong rip current of the outrage cycle to pull me back in anytime I think I’m about to escape.

I’m reminded of a story I heard recently of someone trying to push waves back into the ocean, to control it, exhausting themselves, and finally learning to sit and let the waves lap around them. I’m not finding it again in this moment.

It feels like most of the conversations about what to “do” right now boil down to voting. That’s a thing that’s supposedly within the ability of every US Citizen (spoiler: it’s not). Sure, I’ll vote in upcoming elections. And sure, I donate some money to campaigns (like The Great Slate). But frankly at this point I see that as damage control, not the place where actual change and growth is going to happen.

So how do I decide what to spend time on? It’s easy to lay in bed all day scrolling through twitter and crying. But I already did that once this month. I want to go back to having my equanimity and sense of empowered action.

First I asked myself: what are my boundaries in the changes I want to see in the world?

  • I will take at least one day a week fully away from work and side projects.
  • I will continue to make time to be physical 5 days a week.
  • Whenever possible, I will work in a local context.
  • I will act with integrity to the people who are priorities in my life (including myself).
  • I will not take on more than I can solidly deliver within the above constraints. I would rather do one small thing well than promise a big thing or five little things and fail.

Then I asked myself: how do I influence things? What are the actions which are available to me to take? I made a list. This is my toolbox. The first few were slow to write. Then more came to me.

  • I can be kind to myself and those I interact with directly.
  • I can uplift the voices and work of those less privileged than myself.
  • I can put myself in the way, if harm is going to come to another human, and/or if doing so will impede the spread of fascism.
  • I can do the work on myself and my workplace to make us even more inclusive and welcoming of diversity (it’s great place already, which makes this possible).
  • I can instigate, structure, and implement large-scale information management activities similar to crisis response.
  • I can facilitate discussions between very different people to come to novel responses in constructive ways.
  • I can help people find their guiding values and fears, and to then discern a path based on their existing self-knowledge and resources.

Yours will be generally be different (although I hope we can all do the first two, and that most of us can do the third). That’s good — we need many different approaches in order to get to a different place than we are now.

Finally, I looked to see at what the things are that I can actually influence. Where are the places in my life where I can make a difference?

  • I can assist groups finding their way to action.
  • I can influence how legible groups are to newcomers.
  • I can influence where I work.
  • I can influence how people approach polarized conversations, on the hard path of pacifism.
  • I could help write policy.

While I am pushing to find ways to gain (and deserve) greater influence in the world, those things which fall outside of my influence cannot be that which concerns me most. To do otherwise is a path to madness. I must trust that other capable people exist in the world, and that they are taking up their share just as I am taking up mine. As you are taking up yours. The world may be on fire, but we have one hell of a water brigade.

Today, I wrote myself this reminder post that I am not helpless nor inconsequential. Neither are you. Our problems are big, and will take time, and many hands, and showing up day after day (except for when we just can’t, and that’s ok) to change. I’ll work shoulder to shoulder with you.

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