This one is for my activist friends; the climate change activists, animal rights, gender equality movement, Stop Adani, any social justice movement that seeks to create change in the world. This is for you… People literally do not give a fuck about anything and will remain nonchalant and unengaged until something you say triggers, offends, or questions a part of their lifestyle or behaviour. It’s why the news is the way it is. People are just waiting for their next hit, their next dose of adrenaline, the next reason for them to be angered, upset, annoyed or enraged. That’s why the news is the way it is. And that’s why people watch it.
Even environmental activists have a mindset of angrily reacting to news of a tree being cut down, and straight up scroll past news of a million trees being planted. I know because I’ve not only spent years writing on these types of issues and themes, but I’ve also looked into the content and analysis of posts with high engagement rates and low engagement rates. You can see for yourself with what people generally respond to.
When in a state of recovering, or dealing with, or processing trauma, as we are collectively as a society, we pay little attention to the details of life around us, and go into troubleshooting mode. We lose our curiosity and interest and presence with people and we enter a more contemplative, inwardly facing, half-present state where we respond less to intricacies and details and joyful happenings, and react only to negative, triggering or threatening situations.
Parents, for example, will not pay attention to a word their child is saying as they stack the groceries away until their ears pick up on one of the trigger words; sex, fight, gun, party, expelled, failed. Until it is a reason to be angered or concerned, your teenager’s daily wrap-up will go largely unnoticed and unacknowledged. Trauma, or rather living with, dealing with or processing trauma, causes us to enter this autopilot, non-responsive, trigger reactive state, where we are disinterested and unaffected by our surrounds until it directly affects our ego.
This is important to note and to remember for those of us trying to create change in the world. People you never hear from will suddenly have an opinion on the unethical effects of veganism and suddenly have the time of day to engage in a conversation in the comments about ‘plants having feelings too’ when the previous day not a single thought had crossed their mind as to how to create a more peaceful, just and equitable society.
People will remain uninterested and self-centred until what you say or do, directly questions them or affects their lifestyle. We have alarmingly increasing rates of suicide, domestic violence, homelessness, economic injustice, environmental collapse, loss of species, warming oceans, war and conflict over control of resources funded by western corporate interests, 64,000,000 refugees seeking asylum due to these conflicts, we have ancient rainforests being cleared to make toilet paper and woodchips and we have mining companies tearing up the earth to pull out coal, destroy water tables and generate billions of dollars in profits at the expense of the environment and the rest of the human race.
And still, people will remain silent, disengaged, uninterested and at ease, and continue on to work each day, dropping laughing emoji’s and thumbs ups to all sorts of insignificant crap, until something you say suddenly suggests that perhaps they need to change or question their lifestyle. Suddenly they have an opinion. Suddenly they are concerned citizens and they have the time to engage in a conversation or even an argument. When only moments before they had a grand total of zero fucks to give any social justice issue that you put in front of them. The homeless person on the side of the street, or the climate change activists, the issue of domestic violence or why youth suicide is rising so fast. It’s all too difficult and complicated and distant from them, for them to do anything about. Until the change you are trying to create is somehow connected to a behavior of theirs.
Suddenly they are scholars; misquoting Facebook memes and doctoring already fake statistics, making up ungrounded arguments and misusing words and ignoring their proper meanings, just to defend an indefensible standpoint and deflect ANY sense of responsibility for the current state of affairs or any injustice that we are all implicit in.
That type of person is ineffectual and insignificant in the process of change, unless and until they develop the strength to not only hear and accept a difficult truth and acknowledge that we are responsible for the change we wish to see in this world, without defending their position of racism, bigotry, prejudice or injustice, but furthermore, developing the strength and resilience to actually express that.
People can take the position of the negatively triggered, anti-activist, who doesn’t want to make any effort in changing the world, or they can take the position of the innocent bystander who will continue to act as they were, but at least remains untriggered by activists, or they can take the position of the activist who not only sees the truth but speaks it, even in the face of ridicule, resistance, alienation and arrest.
But one thing to remember is that activists don’t need to make it convenient or palatable for anyone. It is not the role of the activist to make their message agreeable to anyone or to suit the level of discomfort or the rate of change that people prefer. If it was to be comfortable, universally acceptable, pleasant and pleasing to hear and easy to swallow, it would not be activism, would it? It wouldn’t be change; it would be comfort, ease, maintenance of the status quo and an easy to ignore and polite request for change written in a letter to the authorities seeking the honour of being able to vote or be freed from slavery, or considered an equal human.
Activism will cause people to be uncomfortable until they accept and admit that they are in fact on the wrong side of history and that they need to become engaged with the process of change.
That is the only way to get rid of the yucky feeling people get when they see activists seeking a change in society. The anger and resentment that is directed towards those seeking change is actually a very easy to discern expression of anger that the person feels for their own self. You’ve touched a sore point inside their heart and you have elicited a response. Be aware of that and continue your activism with that awareness.
Maintain civil conversation and continue communications, but remember that the anger that they direct your way, the venom they spit and the nonsensical rants, are evidence that they are uncalm, flustered and triggered. It is not for you to respond in like manner, but rather, for the sake of your cause and the momentum of the movement continue acting with love, thoughtfulness and intelligence.
Do not get angered into a state where you lose your logic, your reason, your intelligence and all of your experience. You are in the right, remember that, and respond from a place of love. How would you have liked your parents and teachers to have explained something to you when you had silly questions when you were 5? Respond in that type of a way; with calm, composed and intelligent sentences.
This is the way to affect change. This is how you can maintain your direction and your message, as well as your nobility and mental health. This is how to be an inspirational agent of change in a society that is in sore need of brave and courageous leaders.
Step up. Be unafraid. Speak the truth, and do not let your voice quiver.
Erfan Daliri – is an author, educator and change consultant with a Grad Dip in Communication for Social Change.