Last Friday, I woke up feeling defeated and powerless. The night prior I had heard the same disheartening words that I have heard many times over: “Things will never change. You are wasting your time.”
As someone who spends the majority of my time thinking about world affairs and how to solve problems, nothing kills me more than these words. Every time I hear them, my inner voice screams, “What do you want me to do?! Pretend it isn’t happening?! Get smashed?! Catch a football game?! Run up my credit card at H&M?!”
Okay, I know what you are thinking… “This chic needs to chill out! What is wrong with football and H&M?!” The short answer is nothing. The long answer is that caring and chilling can coexist. For example, by day I listen to Amy Goodman’s radio hour on Democracy Now, and by night I break it down to DJ Snake.
My point is: if you are someone who finds people like me a drag and feel compelled to tell us that we are wasting our time, understand that we do have hobbies other than protesting and blowing up your social media feeds with the latest tragedy, but that no matter how much fun we are having, we will never be fully distracted from injustice or numb to the suffering of others. That’s just who we are.
If you are someone like me — someone who never outgrew wanting to make a positive difference in this world or never lost your faith in humanity — don’t give up!
I am going to be twenty seven this January and, in my experience, you have to wade through a lot of hopeless people in your lifetime; you will witness things that break your heart, and one day you are likely to find yourself standing on the edge of the belief in your cause with doubt poking you in your back, waiting for you to jump, waiting for you to give up. Here are some tips that I have found useful over the years for keeping me off that edge that might help you as well.
#1. Get to know and befriend like-minded people.
As rare as you may feel in this world, there are other people that share your passion and drive to make a difference. One of the best instructors I have ever had taught me this lesson early on when she invited me and a handful of her other students to meet for coffee. The entire purpose of the meeting was to bring us “kindred spirits” together, as she said, so that we may work together and support one another in the future. As it turns out, I have since collaborated with three of the students I met that day on various projects and campaigns at CSU. I highly recommend you find yourself some ‘kindred spirits’.
#2. Focus on what you are doing, not what you haven’t accomplished yet.
Recently, while reading an article about the bombings in Syria, I felt myself slipping into that all too familiar state of helplessness. I thought to myself, “I just want to be done with school already so I can take off and actually do something.” Then, I reminded myself that I am and have been doing things. I study the Arabic language, I have participated in and organized protests, I have campaigned, I’ve constantly shared news articles and media that don’t make headlines in order to inform my peers and I use my spare time to get to know people who have been directly affected by conflicts in order to gain their valuable insight and share it with others.
#3. Remember that the small things count.
I know that this might seem obvious, but it is really easy to forget that we are always in a position to make an impact, even if it isn’t of the scale we want or in the area we intend. I was reminded of this by an interaction I had with a homeless man outside of the Alley Cat the same day that I was digesting the “you’re wasting your time” comment. As I was making my way to my car, he stopped me and asked if I would sit and listen to him play a song. I was a little caught off guard and had somewhere to be, but I decided to stay. He ended up playing three songs, one of which was my favorite 90’s song, before I stood up to leave. As I started to walk away, he said, “Do you know what’s more effective than a suicide hotline?” I looked at him, confused, and then he pointed to his face and said, “A smile.” As I walked to my car, suddenly I didn’t feel powerless anymore. I was given an opportunity to make a difference in that moment by listening to someone who needed an ear and, even though it seemed like a small thing to me, I could tell it meant a lot to him.
#4. Take it easy.
What I have come to realize is that leading a life in pursuit of justice is a lifetime commitment. Your work will never be done, because, let’s be honest, you are wired for progress and upon achieving one goal, you will make ten more. This is the part where calling up your friends who know how to chill or taking your own time to chill becomes extremely important. As you know, this path can be very draining and disheartening at times, so make sure you take the time to recharge. It is essential to your ability to bounce back and stay the course.
Given the tips above, I have no doubt that you will be successful in fighting for your cause. That is not to say that you will not see failures. You will probably see many, but just know that you are not alone and that what you do does make a difference.
In the words of Howard Zinn, “We don’t have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.” I’ll be one in the millions. See you out there!
Collegian Blogger Rachael Martel can be reached online at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @rrmartel18. Leave a comment!