Activism: Realistic expectations or why we (mostly) see it in the wrong timespan
We live in a day and age of activism, causes and speaking up against inequality, cruelty or fighting for a better, more sustainable lifestyle. And it is amazing! I am a very grateful to be able to watch and read inspiring stories, philosophies or ideas from all over the world. It's unprecedented. It's fast. Oh, and that is also the problem with it - it's giving people false expectations...
Activism and change expectations today
You have probably heard something about climate change. Hell, I'm going to go out on a limb here and even guess that you are doing something to change it for the better. You might even be doing some form of activism.
All good so far - we wouldn't be seeing so many positive changes in the world without such work.
Whether I look into the environmentalist movement, or animal rights movement (being involved in both, the latter much deeper), I see many people full of energy and enthusiasm prepared to take on the world and change minds - in a few debates / posts / videos. They see the problem, they see what needs to be done - and they can't believe why their peers don't see it that way too. They want the change now, they create pressure on people around them - and themselves. This might prove counterproductive, or cause burnout. Either way, it's not the desired outcome.
It might be the case for some early adopters that can change their behaviour within a short period (people who watched Al Gores Inconvenient Truth, or Earthlings - whether from an environment or animal rights perspective), but that's what they are - small fringe groups, enthusiasts and not the average person. But we need the average person to change his habits in order to see the desired effect.
They - early adopters - kindle the flame, but in order for the flame to grow and spread, you need to let the masses adopt and warm to your message / philosophy.
Activism with realistic change expectations
Masses move slowly. The general public change their habits / traditions / idiosyncrasies very slowly. The curve of adoption or diffusion of innovations applies not only to technology, but new ideas or philosophies too. And early adopters + innovators account for about 15% of the total. But the real change & effect will come from the rest - the early & late majority.
Learn from history
Another key thing to take into account is how did change happen during our history? How many years, decades, centuries did it take for habits, beliefs and traditions to change?
How many generations did it take for things to really change?
I think is the most important question. There might be outliers, that changed faster because of worldwide pressing issues, fire under our bums, but most big changes, that humanity underwent, took several generations. The old generation is not too keen to change. The ripe generation understands the idea, sees the benefits, but is still set in it's old ways - that are hard to change. They require energy that one needs to redirect from other daily tasks and struggles. Now how many people, who have a hard enough life (from their point of view), do you think are willing to do that?
It's the young generation, that is growing up with all the new, seemingly radical ideas around them. They don't have strong habits yet, they are still forming new ones, or their opinions. Today, there's never been a better time for a young person to access a vast range of ideologies, philosophies, data, research that help them make a decision about which way their life should go.
And this is the generation that will make the change happen.
It might be not in their lifetime - but they will become the early majority, then the late majority and their children will be brought up with completely different values, based on new or improved ideologies or morals. Yes, I am talking about animal rights here. Same goes for environmental responsibility - it's the new generations that are listening to climate change warnings. They have people like Neill DeGrasse Tyson informing them about real, proven reasons, why a change is needed. There's a 97% consensus amongst climate scientists that climate change is due to human actions. The older generation might not listen, but the young one does. So will their children.
Once the young generation becomes the majority, THEN the change for a better world will happen. click to tweet
How about nature?
Natura non facit saltum
Nature moves slowly would be the loose translation, or the more literal one Nature doesn't make any jumps. Again, bar some outliers, this is what we see in nature - change takes much longer than our human understanding of what's long. In our terms, whatever is beyond our lifespan, is waaaay too far. But in nature's terms, it's just a blink of an eye, it's nothing. What we consider a lifetime, nature hardly notices (from length of time perspective - we, humans, can still cause enough trouble in a much shorter time that the world earth would notice, but that's a different thing).
How does a fragile and soft plant grow through tarmac? With consistent, but very slow progress.
How to remain sane, stay focused, avoid burnout or disappointment and be an effective activist
If we want to build a better world, we do need to learn fast ourselves, we need to build a network of effective solutions and strategies - fast. But we also do need to understand, that things change slowly and more importantly that important changes mostly happen over generations not over a bunch of blog posts or videos. Not even over a few years.
Plan this into our vision / strategy, expect that we will not see our ultimate goal come to fruition, but **be content with the fact, that we have planted the seed that will - over generations - grow into a whole new and better way of living. Remind yourself of this whilst you water the seed by setting yourself smaller - achievable and measurable - goals. Inspire a bunch of people around you and start a snowball effect. Help change a local law that will build a better fundament for other activists to change things further. Lobby against a specific practice that will create a halo effect in the industry, that will - maybe consciously / maybe unconsciously - change peoples behaviour for the better.
And that is what will keep activists away from burn out, what will keep them motivated and working towards a greater goal - efficiently.
Do what you are passionate about - but accept, that you can plant and water the seed, but the tree will grow and bear fruits beyond your lifespan. And that's ok - be happy that YOU are contributing and shaping a future world.