Compassionate Activism: From Soul-Sucking to Soul Work


Growth Myndset is happy to present this featured post in our Guest Writer's Series.  Guest writers are diverse in their background and issues of focus, and the content below is neither edited nor altered by Growth Myndset in any way without the consent of the author. The views expressed elsewhere on our website do not represent the views of our guest writers.

When I started to turn my mind to what I could write about for this blog piece I thought it important to first engage in a bit of navel-gazing. How might my lived experiences give shape to my values, beliefs, preferences, and even biases and thereby influence the words below? What exactly is my social location within the society I live?

I am my mother and father’s daughter, the middle sister with an older brother. I am a mother possessing a fierce mother bear protectiveness! I self-identify as a white female/woman living with a disability. There is nothing neutral about my politics, my sense of social justice is a combination of love and outrage. I am a feminist, an activist, and a believer in human rights. Each of these social locations empower or disempower me; they allow me to speak or they silence me, they allow me to be heard or not heard, depending on where I am and who I am with. The intersection of these social locations have shaped me and continue to influence how I bear witness, navigate, and seek to actively change this mad, mad world of ours.

We live in troubled times. Times, it seems, where the privileged prevail. There are a myriad of reasons that explain why we all seem to be quite angry right now. Many of us are taking it out on each other. This makes me sad. I despair that we are merely repeating the same stories and struggling with the same societal ills our ancestors have equally struggled with over the course of time. If we haven’t figured out the problem by now, aren’t we doomed to repeat the same mistakes in perpetuity?

What’s it all for? As a self-described activist since the tender age of 5 and now being at an age that I have added a zero to that 5, I find myself wondering if my activist work has really made any difference at all. The work of an activist can be difficult, stressful, and often overwhelming. If you are called to walk the path of an activist the journey will sometimes be tortuous and will always test you. The path isn’t a straight line; it’s got twists and turns. I continue to come back to things I thought I understood and see deeper truths.

I have become disheartened with the realization that as much as I tirelessly work against systems of oppression, I, at times, simultaneously contribute to these very same systems simply by merely being me carrying the privilege conferred to me. Often it feels that I am taking two steps back with every struggled step forward. And in addition to railing against social and political injustices, there are days that I am trying the best I can to cope with my everyday struggles that comes with merely being alive. Those are the days when I don’t think I can sustain the energy and passion that I feel. I have spent years trying to figure out how to harness my caring in a way that feels inspiring instead of soul-sucking. There have been times that I have fallen victim to compassion fatigue and even burnout.

But never fear! For me, the tipping point between despair and hope came around my 50th birthday. For you see, there is one last social location that is calling me. She is the Crone; a woman beginning her third act. A wise woman, if you will, that can nurture new possibilities in herself and in others because she has grown and been tempered by life.  She has depth and understanding and awareness of herself and of others – IF she has spent time looking inward. After all, wisdom doesn’t necessarily come with age. So . . .

  • I am beginning to appreciate that there is no singular answer or indivisible truth. Instead, I must embrace complexity – and all the discomfort and disorientation that this approach entails – in an attempt to move towards a truth that is more inclusive, more nuanced, and richer for the struggle.

  • I am learning to become a more effective change agent by becoming more accepting of what is, within me and around me, so that I can be present to it, honour it, and transform it with courageous compassion.

  • As I extend help, compassion, and care to others, I need to be more willing to extend and accept those same things for myself. I cannot sustain myself if I am constantly giving and never replenishing. I cannot be kind to others if first I am not kind to myself.

I am humbled by the limitations of my knowledge, I know I have much more to learn. But nevertheless I have been called to be an activist. This assignment has my name on it, it is what I volunteer to do. It is my soul work. Our lives are short, time passes quickly, and we will have our share of suffering and joy. Time, place, skin colour and gender will greatly affect the expectations, opportunities, and limitations placed on us. And yet, if we have soul, then what we do here in the time we have matters.