How To Become A "Quiet" Activist (And Work For Change Without Losing Your Joy)

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As the year winds down, you might be forgiven for feeling a bit despondent, given current events: a pandemic still rages on all over the world.

Stories of natural disasters and human tragedies continue to dominate headlines. With the constant barrage of depressing news items, it can be very tempting to simply throw your hands up in despair.

I'm going to ask you to resist that urge. Instead, I’d offer that great light and beauty are still possible.  And I'm going to challenge you to change the world — or at least your world — by engaging in your own activism. Even if it's quiet.

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To be clear, I'm not talking about grabbing a placard and marching in the streets — unless that's your jam. 

I'm not even talking about making sure you vote or even contact your representatives (although if you live in a place where you can do both, those should be two things you're doing at a minimum). 

I'm talking about mindfully doing something every week to work toward a better world and make it brighter. And I'm talking about doing it without fanfare, or for the Instagram photo op, or expecting accolades. I'm talking about doing this because, straight up, it turns you on to do it.  Really.

This sounds like a lofty proposition, but all it takes is some introspection time to figure out how you can make your own light for the new year, both in your own life and in the lives of others.  So I invite you to grab your journal — any simple notebook will do — and write your thoughts in response to the following four journal prompts. 

In fact, you might want to set aside some time each day over four days to do each of them. You never know: you might end up inspiring yourself to make your world a more amazing place.

1.  On your first day, grab a journal or some paper and think about what you're really passionate about. 

And when I say "passion," I mean it in the broadest sense of the word: what do you love? What is something that when you see it, you're so captivated by its beauty, you think to yourself, "that needs to be protected?" 

 What is something you wish more people knew more about? This can be anything: it can be the meaningful work of a particular artist. Or it can be something even smaller: for example, my friend Susan is passionate about penguins. Another friend, Kal, is all about polar bears. 

Perhaps you love watching joyful children. Whatever it might be, write it down.

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Conversely, what enrages you?  What is something that just drives you nuts every time you witness it, or read about it, or hear a story about it? 

What is the sort of thing that, when you see an article about it on the internet, you can't help but wonder how something like that can exist in the twenty-first century? 

Again, it doesn't matter what it is: it could be poverty. Or lack of health care. Or even that there's no cure for the common cold. Maybe it’s discrimination or bigotry. Whatever makes you feel a spark of fury — of passion —inside of you, write that down.

And then calm down with a cup of tea.  You'll probably need it.

2. On day 2, identify your core values. If this sounds overwhelming, here's an easy way to do it:

a) On the top of three individual pages, write the name of someone you admire. The three people you choose could be living or dead, real or fictional (Luke Skywalker, for example), someone you know, or someone famous.  Just pick three names and write them at the tops of three pages.

b) Under their names, just stream-of-consciousness, write down what it is you admire about each of them.  Exhaust your list of traits -- as many admirable attributes that you can think of for each of them.

c) When you've exhausted your list, flip through your three pages, and circle the traits that appear more than once on your lists.  

Those circled traits are likely your core values since we tend to pick our heroes because they reflect those values back at us.

Keep these core values close — they are what will help you be brave when you feel nervous about putting yourself out there, reminding you why you're being an activist for the issues you're passionate about.

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3. Day 3: Write a personal mission statement. 

I know, I know, this feels sort of weird to do. But this is an exercise to codify what you stand for and what you want to be about, as you reflect on your passions (day 1) and your values (day 2).

Simply write down a series of "I will ..." statements, staking your claim about what you'd like to do in the coming year, inspired by your passions and your values. For example, when I wrote my mission statement, my "I will" statements included:

•  I will engage in the relentless pursuit of beauty.
•  I will illustrate beauty is everywhere.
•  I will fight negativity, violence, discrimination & desperation.
•  I will celebrate positivity, peace, kindness & joy.
•  I will provide evidence that there is good in the world.

These statements ended up becoming my own personal mission statement, guiding the way I want to move in the world. Keep your journal on you for the day, and if another statement comes to mind, jot it down and see how it feels.

4. Day 4: Activate. 

Today, take your journal and think about what you'd like to do in the new year to help make your mission a reality. Think as broadly as you can. For example, remember my friend Susan, who loves penguins?  It turns out her mission is to do what she can to save the environment. 

As an avid gardener, she is certified by the National Wildlife Federation as a wildlife habitat. 

Now every time she works in her garden, she literally is helping save the earth. My polar bear-loving friend Kal is an artist and began doing paintings of polar bears and selling them, raising money for organizations that protect polar bears. 

This led to her founding a nonprofit, The Polar Bear Fund, and she continues to do gigantic art installations to raise awareness of this endangered animal’s plight. 

My point is that armed with the insights gleaned from your journal writing, you can start with something small, and make a point of doing something every week in furtherance of your mission. 

Come up with ideas how you can take something that you love to do — a hobby, say — and use it to help. If you knit, make blankets for a homeless shelter. If you sing, consider how you can use your voice — a vlog? a living room concert? — to help give voice to an organization or passion you love. 

Simply get creative and by combining your talents with your passions, there will be no limit to the light you will make.

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Karen Walrond is a lawyer, leadership coach, and activist. She's the author of The Beauty of Different and the upcoming The Lightmaker’s Manifesto.