Discover more from Finding Out
Emotion and action together
(Encore issue) Noticing the internal journey that sustains activism
Hello Finding Out fam! I hope you’ll enjoy (re-)reading this encore from October last year, on a topic that I know I needed to think about again. Also! If you haven’t yet, consider listening to some of my thoughts on notetaking in my interview on Jorge Arango’s podcast, The Informed Life and checking out these examples from my notetaking habit.
A few days into my month long break from writing new issues of Finding Out, I was reading Britt Wray's newsletter issue titled, "Why activism isn’t *really* the cure for eco-anxiety and eco-grief."
I took steady breaths as I skimmed the content. Here I was, only a few days after sending out an essay about how I was finding relief in taking small but significant actions to address climate change, and I was about to find out how terribly I had lead my readers astray.
In Wray's piece, she describes the advice of climate-aware psychotherapist Caroline Hickman. Hickman advocates for people to pursue "internal activism" as well as conventional activism.
Although I was too anxious about what I had written to take in the full meaning of the piece, I knew for certain that I encouraged people to use action as an antidote to the despair of climate change. My first impulse was to get on my computer and write a note to you all. "Stop! It won't really be the thing you need!"
But I remembered the goal of my break was to rest. Writing an apology is not rest. It would be healing, yes, and it would be a vulnerable, difficult thing to do.
I thought, too, of the work I'd been doing with the support of my therapist. I've been practicing setting and holding boundaries that honor myself and my relationships. One common thread through this work has been this: we are only responsible for ourselves—our emotions, our actions, our lives—and others are responsible for theirs. While we of course care for others and take responsibility for the impacts we have, it also means that we can take the time to move purposefully and get it right, without worrying that our (lack of) speed will keep someone from doing what is best for them.
With rest and boundaries in mind, I told myself that if I needed, I could write the first new issue of Finding Out on this topic, and that that timeline would both practice what I advise and respect my readers' independence. And, it would give me time to work up the courage to go see how far afield my eco-activism piece had been.
A couple days later, I opened up the offending piece.
I started by reading the last few paragraphs, unable to wait any longer to see how bad the piece had been. And then I felt my shoulders relax. While I had advocated for action, the language I used is suffuse with emotion. With action and emotion interwoven, what I worried was a failure didn't seem so severe.
So I scrolled to the beginning, wondering if I would find anything else more damning.
And there, at the top, I found the story of my emotional journey. It's only a few sentences, but it's there: I was disheartened by the UN's 2021 climate change report; I sat in those emotions a bit, and I decided to look into what actions I might take.
Had someone asked me when I wrote the piece why I had included that emotional journey, I would probably have said that it created tension to drive the reader forward, and that it demonstrated that taking action isn't necessarily something that a certain kind of person magically does. Activism is part of a process, and I know that I often need choose to take action if I am going to do it.
Examining my essay's introduction after I read Wray's piece, however, I realized that I had unknowingly done just what she and Hickman had recommended. Wray writes:
"…eco-anxious people often feel we have to hold onto immense existential pressure all alone, without seeing our feelings reflected back. Therefore, the job of the climate-aware therapist (and I’d argue, climate-aware human) is to create spaces where it becomes possible to talk about these difficult and complex feelings without falling apart."
By sharing my own tough emotions that preceded taking action, I was nurturing a space where these emotions can be recognized and shared. It wasn't as explicit as it might have been, but it was implied: we must honor our emotions if we are to sustain our efforts against climate change. Otherwise, we'll all burn out.
So here I am, a month after the end of my break, checking back in on you wonderful, independent, complicated humans. I hope that if you, too, are concerned about humanity's future on this planet, that you've found satisfying and significant ways to contribute.
If you are struggling and finding you've gotten lost in despair or confusion, know that you are not alone. As Wray points out in her piece, “After all, life in an ecological emergency is not a straight linear progression.” Turning inward to better understand what's going on in our hearts as well as our brains will help us keep moving.
Whether we call it "internal activism" or not, the internal work is part of the work.
Mentioned in this issue: Britt Wray's GenDread issue, "Recap: Why activism isn’t *really* the cure for eco-anxiety and eco-grief," an essay I highly recommend reading.
If you're considering doing some internal work , I recommend getting support from a guide you trust. These guides are different from loved ones—they're trained in the ways of the brain and the heart, and they know how to take care of themselves when things get hard for the people they help.
I've found therapy to work for me; you may prefer a spiritual guide. If you want to try therapy and could use some guidance getting started, I recommend the podcast episode "How To Start Therapy" from NPR podcast Life Kit and the article "A Beginner's Guide To Starting Therapy" coauthored by former Another Round host Heben Nigatu (even though its gifs are broken).