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Breaking the Cycle of Outrage and Apathy - Defining our Activism to Avoid Burnout

Posted on Jan 09, 2019
Dilshad Ali


If you are involved in any type of activism, charity or social justice work – or even if you are just a casual consumer of news and information – have you felt worn down the past few years by the sheer amount of tragedies, injustices, amoral behavior, deceit and lies we are witnessing around us? Has it become too much – the pendulum swinging between daily outrage and numbness from all we see around us in the world?

We the PeopleI know I have been riding that seesaw, and it has not been healthy at all. Perhaps because my job is to be plugged into the news and issues that Muslim American women and Muslims in general are facing, I am acutely aware of this exhaustive cycle of outrage that can turn into apathy.

But I also see it all around me – people who see things happening but feel helpless or too overwhelmed to do anything about it. Or, they think there is nothing they can do that would make a difference.

I’d wager that all of us have felt this way at some point in recent months and years. There must be a better way for us to give back wherever and however we can and not feel beat down by negativity.

I read an article recently by Deepa Iyer (senior fellow at Race Forward and former editor of SAALT) that addresses this dilemma, and I want to bring your attention to it. While it isn’t directed specifically toward Muslim women, it asks some very important questions that so many of us may want to think about:

"How do we get off the seesaw? How can we practice principled actions under grim circumstances? How can 2019 be a year of both risk-taking and visioning?"

She goes on to provide valuable insight into how we can define and up our activism game while avoiding burnout.

Muslim woman with laptopIyer says it starts with understanding the role we play or want to play in our activism or charity work: frontline responders (who quickly transition into rapid-response mode to organize resources, networks and messages), healers (who tend to trauma), storytellers and artists (who channel histories and experiences to tell stories and reveal new possibilities), bridge builders (who bring communities together and work across divisions) disruptors (who take action in risky and uncomfortable settings) and visionaries (who “find, articulate and reconnect us to our north star”).

She reminds us that we cannot play every role, nor should we:

An effective movement ecosystem requires different actors to play these roles. We might find ourselves falling into different roles depending on personal and external circumstances. Or we might be observers and supporters from the side from time to time.

Finally, Iyer lays out more important questions we all need to ask ourselves as well as offering up stories of inspirational people from each category to help motivate ourselves, as we re-center ourselves in activism work or embark in it for the first time.

Do take a minute to check out her article. Perhaps it will inspire you to find your own direction and cause to take up in 2019. Or if you are already involved in any type of activism or social justice work, maybe it will help smooth your path and know that the work you do, however big or small, matters.

(First image source: Jerry Kiesewetter on Unsplash; second image source: rawpixel on Unsplash