by: Katie Weiss
Between work, school, jobs, family, finances, love, and friendships, it can be difficult to push aside personal demands to make room for world altering goals – life gets in the way. In place of excitement to see change, it starts to become clear how many people don’t care that you feel like the world is at your fingertips. It becomes tricky not to hear “that’s just the way it is” or “I have other things to care about” because so many people are muttering the same thing. It’s not their problem. They don’t have time.
This can be undeniably frustrating. So how can you fight the overwhelming sense of indifference that exists in everyday life? How can you continue to make a big picture change when you are stuck bearing witness to the daily homophobia, sexism, racism etc. that exists all around?
Instead of throwing yourself into a wall, burying your head into your hands and crying, or becoming so enraged you throw a temper tantrum, I think it is imperative to pay attention to the little things that you can do every day to remind yourself of your commitment to change- ways you can simply incorporate activism into your everyday life.
One undemanding way to feel as though you are making a difference is to watch the language that you use to depict your surroundings. By paying attention to the way that you are describing others or situations you find yourself in, you can easily become more aware of your environment.
To pay attention to your language puts you in a position of being more aware of the “other” that is often created with words. Words such as “retarded” or “gay” may appear to just be silly descriptors of situations, but in reality, they are ways that groups of individuals use language to separate themselves from one another – to clarify who is better and who is different, weird, stupid or “other”. Words also can contribute to a culture of violence, where an act of brutal physicality and force, like “rape”, becomes an everyday lingual joke, making light of difficult situations and undermining personal experiences with sexual assault.
These words, like many other similar words, have no place in most people’s vocabulary. To watch the roles they play in your everyday speech means that you are paying attention to violence and recognizing your role in stopping it. Though it may be difficult at first, stay focused on the words you do choose to use and why and know that your consideration is being noticed by the people who so often feel attacked through simply engaging in conversation.
Be mindful, though, that being aware does not mean stopping people’s abilities to speak. Know that people nearest and dearest to you, who do not necessarily hold your same beliefs, are allowed to slip-up without having to feel as though they have committed a violent crime. If the people you surround yourself care, they will take note of your reticence to engage in demeaning language and will make an effort to watch theirs as well – showing that a little piece of activism can create a modest change that is the beginning of a major alteration.
Another small way to engage in activism is dialogue. Although it can be very difficult to not get your feathers ruffled when someone makes a disparaging or denigrating statement, it is essential to use these comments as a chance to connect. These remarks, more often than not, can provide the starting ground for an excellent conversation that, though possibly maddening at times, opens up a broad range of possibilities for personal growth.
Nobody would claim dialoguing with someone who holds a seemingly separate worldview than you is easy. However, it is unbelievably necessary to stand your ground and be honest, even-tempered and open to talking. Just think: if you look back at the person you used to be versus the person you are now, how much of the current you has been deeply affected by exchanges with your friends, classmates, professors or family? People have a profound effect on one another. As activists, we can see how that effect has created the thinkers, movers, and shakers that we consider ourselves to be. Remind yourself that there are very few people who have absolutely nothing in common. To find topics where you can relate to one another and build upon, creates a conversation that doesn’t change anyone’s long held beliefs, but that sets the stage for future dialogues that very well could.
Finally, it is important to be able to keep activism fun. No one likes to be nagged and no one likes to feel like they are nagging. By being able to make a few jokes, by being able to step down off your (sort of tall) pedestal on your (sometimes) high horse, you make activism something in which everyone can take part. We all can’t always be on high. But we can, at times, be on low. As long as you stay aware of yourself, your surroundings, and the people with whom you are engaging, you are showing people that activists can let loose, be a little less serious, and have a good time. It can be much more painless for people outside of activist circles to begin to notice inequality when it is no longer framed as a serious chore, but rather as a piece of change tinted with a lighter tone. Though it may seem complicated, remember – we can’t always take ourselves seriously. Just most of the time.
It can be so easy to look around at the world we live in and say, “This is impossible” – to feel totally overwhelmed. What is not as easy is to stand proud and say: “I am making a difference on ground zero. The people whom I surround myself with have taken notice of the issues to which I am committed and have supported me by working to understand them themselves. I am making a difference everyday by not bending and giving in to indifference, by challenging myself to take notice of the little things. Of the conversations that would have never have been if I hadn’t, at some point, been on my high horse.”
By sticking to your principles and staying true to yourself, your ideals, your values, morals and goals, you are already accomplishing much of what you hoped. You are pushing, you are fighting, you are driving for what you believe. You are making a difference. You are the beginning of the chain effect. By identifying the little pieces of activism that have sincerely changed those nearest to you, you are reminding yourself of what you are fighting for.
We are all deeply affected by one another. By acknowledging and continuing to do the little things, you are making time for your heart to keep beating to what you believe in. You are keeping your brain juices flowing to thoughts of the future and the beauty it can hold for yourself and your peers. You are allowing your voice to be heard and are, in turn, reminding yourself of what you can do.
It is imperative that we pause, take a breather, and familiarize ourselves with the worlds we are currently touching. When we take the time to stop and look at how we are changing one another, we acknowledge how powerful we, as regular human beings, are. We are taking note of how much more lies ahead. By focusing on the little things in our lives, the little pieces of activism that we easily engage with everyday, we are not only showing ourselves the amazing things we can do, but we working together to create an outline for major change.
Katie Weiss is a recent graduate of DePaul University who loves Hershey’s with almonds, her teapot collection and hoop earrings. She spends her time as a hard-working admin at National Louis University, an all-out bro at Mad River and a nerd-loving Merlin on Netflix. She is consistently inspired by her amazing peers and thinks everyone is cute.