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No Need to be an Activist, just be Joyful

Updated: Sep 21, 2020

student activism

When I use the word ‘activist’, I worry that the image coming to mind is of placard-waving, angry protesters, who may alienate people those with different views. Yet, change rarely happens when two sides stand in opposition, digging themselves deeper into their own world view. We need to stay engaged with the world around us, we need to act as skillfully as we can, and we can’t afford to burn out from anger. This is why I’ve landed on the title ‘Joyful Activism’, where we engage from love and joy and commitment to helping those in need, rather than from a place of wanting to punish and demonize those that are causing the harm. With joyful activism, we hope to inspire and draw people together around an issue, rather than to push each side further apart.

Not an Activist, just a Joyful Human

I sometimes wonder whether the most effective activists are actually those who would never claim to be. They just do their own thing, with no label; the lone wolf activists who live by their values and don’t worry whether other people become involved or not; the parents who focus on raising creative, adaptable children; the researchers who get after the truth simply because it fascinates them. Our style of engagement, or activism, needs to reflect our own personality, otherwise it just can’t be authentic.

Some people seem to be calm and accepting from birth, while others fight with life and those around them from the moment their eyes open. I remember a friend comparing his daughters: the first emerged peacefully, slept through the night and made her parents think that they knew everything about parenting; the second came out shouting, and has continued much in that vein ever since! Many of us can relate to that; one sibling just gets on with living their life, while another wants to change the lives of those around them. Some people project their own anger out onto the world, while others work first at understanding what internal processes are at work. Are there ways to change ourselves, not just momentarily, but from the bottom up; from state to trait? Can we train our minds so that even our thoughts are peaceful and our actions are wise?

Unintended Consequences

The Science of Meditation

The Science of Meditation: How to Change your Brain, Mind and Body” by Richie Davidson and Daniel Goleman. In the 70s, these young Americans traveled to the East, where they met lamas

and gurus who seemed able to walk at ease through the chaos of the Indian streets and could hear stories of tragedy and delight without being taken off course. The lamas’ contentment and self-contained demeanour got these two researchers to ask, “How do you get like that? Are you born with those qualities, or can you develop altered traits?” The lamas themselves had no expectation of starting a global interest in mindfulness, yet this has been the outcome. A few Western researchers made contact with contemplatives in the East, and over 40 years have developed a whole new academic field, that of Contemplative Neuroscience.

Joyful activists make the effort to train their own minds, while still engaging with the world around them. They are able to navigate skillfully between what brings them happiness, and what causes unhappiness for themselves and others, while finding a way for the former to alleviate the latter. Singers, artists and poets are so often great activists; feeling fulfilled by their own abilities to create, and using their chosen medium to share messages, or to inspire their audience into action.

Group Activism