5. Integrating what you learned into your activism
Throughout the previous sessions, we explored the narrative we create around ourselves, others and the world and how they impact our wellbeing and shape the change we want to make. In this session, we provide you with a few ideas and recommendations to help you develop your story as an activist, and your story about others and nature.
Over the past weeks, we looked into the stories we hold about ourselves, others and the world in our activism. We looked
into how we perceive ourselves and our role in the change process, and
how unrealistic expectations and pressure can lead to feelings of
hopelessness and despair. Our relationship with one another is often
defined by ‘us vs. them’. This perception of disconnection pits us
against each other, rather than us against the system we need to change.
Finally, we took a dive into the story of our relationship to nature
and what it means for our activism.
Before we move onto the practical tips and tricks on how to integrate what you learned into your activism, we’d like to bring some positive light. All the stories you have uncovered over the past weeks - stories of hope, despair, connection or separation - can change; in fact, we can change them. It’s up to us to develop the narrative of ourselves as change-makers, and how our relationship with others and the world contributes to our wellbeing and enables us to make effective change. Changing your story is a process, a personal journey both alone and together with others.
In the following section, you can find a few ideas and recommendations to help you develop your story as an activist, and your story about others and nature. Before you start, we’d like to share with you an inspiring podcast from Charles Eisenstein on ‘The Story Of Separation’, where he explains how a story of connection can help us solve ‘impossible problems’. Check out part 1 and part 2 of the series.
Develop empathy for yourself and others
As human beings, we feel a need to belong. In a world of ‘us vs. them’, one in which groups and individuals often assume their moral correctness, we live in constant fear of rejection when voicing an opinion or acting in a way that doesn’t concur. We constantly try to look good (and avoid looking bad). In other words, we respond in ways that we feel are more appropriate or socially acceptable to others. Carl Gustav Jung, Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, calls this public version of ourselves our ‘persona’.
However, just because things are not said or done doesn’t mean they don’t exist within us. According to Jung, all these things that we subconsciously try to hide from other people unite in what he calls our ‘shadow’. This contains all the things that are unacceptable not only to society but also to our own personal morals and values. Ignoring the nature of our shadow can negatively affect our own wellbeing and relationships with other people when we project it on others. Take a look at this short webinar explaining the concept of shadow.
A practical way to work with your shadow and develop empathy for yourself and others, which will help you judge less and understand more, is the 3-2-1 process. This is a simple and effective tool for working with any part of yourself that you unconsciously repress or deny and mirror on others. It’ll help you practise self-acceptance and build relationships with others.
Take time for reflection
The increasing number of crises and ever-accelerating pace at which they are occurring are driving a sense of urgency, feeding our reactivity and making us feel increasingly insecure - the climate crisis is one of these. The urgent and immediate action required to stop climate change and ensure a liveable planet places an enormous pressure on us to act now. This is why, as activists, we tend to jump from belief to action within minutes or even seconds. Yet, it’s crucial for us not to succumb to the eleventh-hour syndrome to improve our wellbeing and enable effective change.
We need time to think. It is only when we stand still that we are able to truly understand complex systems and adjust our actions accordingly. When we hit the pause button, we provide ourselves with the necessary space to reflect on the stories that shape our actions.
One of these is the narrative of growth that guides our current economic model and is deeply ingrained in our heads and hearts. As activists, we often want to increase our knowledge, to reach and involve more people and to become more productive and do more. Without reflecting on and questioning this narrative, we will be unable to stop reproducing problematic values in our activism. This in turn will likely have a negative impact on our wellbeing and ability to make effective change. Good ideas often take time - so let’s take it.
Want to reflect together within your organisations, with your colleagues or friends. Download the course as a single PDF for easy facilitation and sharing.
Cultivate humility and curiosity
Our culture is oriented towards achievement. We’re conditioned to define our contribution as activists and individuals by our achievements. While we celebrate our successes, we tend to cover up our failures or put the responsibility for them on others. The issue with this culture is that it discourages learning, as learning includes making mistakes, reflecting and trying again. In a world defined by achievements, it’s safer for us to stick to well-known solution templates rather than think out of the box and try new strategies. It also inhibits curiosity, an integral element in developing innovative ideas and ways to tackle the climate crisis.
Many of us are part of this game of politics and ‘business as usual’ because it’s a familiar environment. It’s less risky for us to engage there because it gives us a sense of competence and control. It also protects us from negative judgement from ourselves and others if we don’t succeed. Yet, when working on a complex issue like the climate crisis, we need to step out of our comfort zone and explore new territory. We need to let go of the idea that everything that happens is within our control – often, we deserve less credit for our success and less blame for our failures than we think. To make effective change, we can’t merely rely on past experience and best practices. We need to become comfortable with failure if we are to be creative and to learn.
When we let go of the idea of being in control, we also free ourselves from the idea of being able to fix the climate crisis single handedly. Instead, we can shift our efforts to our unique strengths and abilities. As a result, we can take our place in the wider community of activists and the change process, to collaborate for collective impact.
Reconnect to nature
It seems we all live busy lives, with shrinking time to care for ourselves, others and nature. Many of us live in concrete houses, on concrete streets with concrete pavements. If we’re lucky, there may be a tree in front of our house – albeit embedded in concrete. It seems nature and the world we live in aren't one.
This disconnection from nature is linked to a range of mental and physical illnesses - such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, fatigue and reduced life expectancy – and hence has a significant impact on our wellbeing. Moreover, our disconnection from nature leads us to apply ineffective solutions to the climate crisis.
So, when was the last time you went for a walk in the forest, felt the wind in your hair and smelled the clean air after a rainy day? When did you last stepped barefoot on grass and watched the bees buzzing around you?
If you can’t remember, it’s time to do so. Close your laptop, take off your headphones and go out for a walk in nature. The three key values of a mindful nature walk are: go slowly, be silent and use your senses to connect with nature. Try to integrate nature into your life by going for regular walks, pick berries and apples on your way or plant flowers, fruits or vegetables in your garden or on your balcony. Of course, there are many other ways to reconnect with nature - feel free to find what works for you.
Find or create a community of practice
Finding your place in the change process and becoming an effective change-maker within the boundaries of your wellbeing and capacities is a journey, not a single event. On this journey, there’s a lot of experience we can learn from and support each other with. At times, we might feel confused, lost and stuck. We might wonder if we’re the only ones struggling to become the activist we want to be - and can be. We might even doubt whether we’re on the right path. At times, we may lose perspective and heart when working alone or in a context that doesn’t support our approach to change.