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2. Understanding the stories you unconsciously hold about yourself as an activist

In the first session, we focused on understanding the concept of stories and bias. Let's continue with exploring the stories we hold about ourselves in our activism and how it impacts our change-making.

Introduction

In the first session, we took a dive into how we see and interpret things through our personal lenses and how the internal narratives we create and stories we hold and what we see and experience in our activism are biased.

However, we don’t only hold stories about external events, but also about ourselves in our activism efforts. And it’s exactly these stories that can lead to unrealistic or unhelpful expectations about what we can and can’t do, potentially leading us to a sense of hopelessness and despair. Most of the time, we hold these stories unconsciously. In other words, we’re unaware of holding a certain narrative about ourselves, yet it determines the role we assume we have in making change and in tackling the climate crisis.

In this session, we’ll try to understand the story we hold about ourselves as change-makers and thus our role in tackling the climate crisis. We’ll also look into the implications this story has for our wellbeing and our ability to make change.

Assignment

In today’s climate activism, two of the most common stories we hold about ourselves as change-makers position us as the hero or the victim. However, there are many more stories out there.

To find out what story you hold about yourself, take a moment to reflect on the statements below and note whether they seem true or false.

The hero’s story

  • You believe that your generation is the only one that can solve the climate crisis.

  • You think it’s your responsibility to find solutions to the climate crisis.

  • You believe that if you just work harder and with greater dedication, you’ll be able to fix things.

  • You take on more and more projects and get involved in more and more actions to help solve the climate crisis.

  • You frequently work beyond your normal working hours to get things done.

  • You think that simultaneously taking care of yourself and solving the climate crisis isn’t feasible - you have to make a choice.

  • You often do things you don’t have the motivation or energy for, out of a sense of obligation.

Did you answer true to most of the statements? If so, then the chances are that you unconsciously think you are the hero who can save others and the world. And you’re not alone, many of us feel that way. The underlying assumption in this story is that you, as the hero, are in control and are the one with the power to fix the climate crisis.

Naturally, this particular personal narrative puts a lot of pressure on you as a change-maker, as it places all the responsibility on your shoulders. Moreover, it assumes that you can actually control and fix things. Of course, given the complexity of the climate crisis and the complex answers it requires, this is impossible in reality, and it risks burning you out.

The victim’s story

  • You think other people should solve those issues they created and that are affecting you negatively.

  • You believe that no matter how hard you work, you won’t be able to fix things, as the power to change lies with other people.

  • You feel marginalised and unheard by others, particularly those people with decision-making power.

  • In order to try to be heard, you place the sole focus on the negative impacts of the climate crisis

  • You think the power in the system is fixed, and you don’t have it.

  • You think the system is screwed, and that it can’t be changed to serve the people and the planet better.

  • You think governments and policy makers are responsible for the climate crisis, yet they fail to take any meaningful action

Which did you agree with most? If you mostly replied true to the statements, you have likely fallen into the victim trap. That’s okay, it happens to many of us. The story that positions you as the victim of the climate crisis implies that others have caused it and therefore others need to solve it. Instead of seeing yourself as an expert who’s able to think out of the box and develop creative solutions to the climate crisis, you place the agency on other people.

The story of…

Do you hold none of the above stories about yourself as an activist? Do you hold a number of them? Can you think of any other story you hold about yourself? For example, that of a caretaker, a rebel or a creator?

We invite you to think about any other narrative you might hold about yourself as a change-maker and write it down. If you want, you can come up with statements for your story – such as the ones above - and share them with your friends/colleagues or in the discussion forum for this course, in order to inspire others.

Questions for reflection

To continue exploring the stories we hold about ourselves, we invite you to reflect on the following questions. You can do so on your own, with your friends, within your organisation or group, or in the discussion forum for this course.

  • How does the story you hold about yourself impact your activism?

  • Why do you think your story impacts your activism the way it does?

  • What do you think is the dominant narrative within your organisation or group?

  • Why did you begin your activism in the first place?

  • Where does the motivation for your activism come from?

  • What other stories can you think of that would be more useful for you as an activist?

For further exploration

  • Never Enough and The Freedom To Be You: Once more, we’re turning to podcasts from Secular Buddhism about the attitude of "never enough". It explores how this can lead to a form of emotional abuse that we inflict on ourselves, and how the story we hold about ourselves impacts our wellbeing.

  • Don’t be a martyr: In this short video, women’s rights activist and writer Zainab Salbi talks about the need to let go of the ‘hero’ narrative and take care of our wellbeing in order to become a more effective change-maker.

  • Burnout and Balance: Finding an Identity Outside Of Your Activism: Jamie Margolin, a young climate activist who is Co-Executive director of Zero Hour, shares her experience of how she learned to take care of herself and how it impacted her activism.

  • Archetypes: This podcast from This Jungian Life explores what archetypes (‘original pattern’ in Greek) are and how they manifest themselves as dream images that feel numinous and ‘other’ in individuals and as mass movements in the collective.

  • Understanding Personality: The 12 Jungian Archetypes: In this article, you can learn more about how the 12 Jungian archetypes and how they shape our personality.