Most of us want to change the world, don’t we? Even when everything feels hopeless and awful and impossible?
I know that gluing my eyeballs to the news until I am a melting pool of despairing rage goo is NOT the answer. On the other hand, neither is fantasy-planning my next yoga vacation (just kidding I never take yoga vacations) or reading up on webinar strategies and self-actualization.
Just to be clear, I’m not disparaging the power of filling up our potent energies: we need good clean fuel to keep burning bright in the world. But there’s a difference between filling up…and checking out completely.
Because the truth is, we are living in a historic era of civil rights.
The way we used to ask our parents what they were doing during the civil rights movement? Our children will ask us.
We mustn’t look away.
But when we look, our hearts will break.
Which is why so many of us feel like we are walking with the shards of our hearts piercing us.
It’s not because you’re weak; it’s because you’re witnessing a terrible truth.
Thank you for witnessing these terrible truths.
Thank you for not looking away.
Thank you for letting your heart be broken.
(I know, it feels just terrible.)
But the pain is showing you your own humanity is intact.
The question on so many of our minds is, What can we do???
I know that you, dear readers, are the ones who have already done all the standard things. You’ve called your representatives, you already donate to the ACLU, you’ve signed petitions and made more calls and you’re registering everyone you know to vote, yes yes, but what ELSE?
Here’s what you can do.
How To Change The World Even When Things Feel Hopeless
1. Go ahead and be THAT person at the barbecue.
Don’t just shake your head and hold your peace; go ahead and say that squirmy awkward thing.
“I don’t want you to use that word, Great-Uncle George.”
“I don’t believe that’s accurate. Let’s check our facts; hey look, we can look it up right now.”
“He doesn’t want a hug or a kiss, and that’s okay; how about a high-five, buddy?”
“I know that that’s how we were raised, but I don’t think that way any more.”
“That kind of language isn’t welcome in my home.”
“I know if it were my own kid, I hope that somebody else would go to bat for us.”
Is it awkward? Absolutely. Is it sometimes terrifying? Yep.
It’s easy to talk ourselves out of speaking up, especially in family or social situations, because we know full well that there’s absolutely no chance that we’re going to change Great-Uncle George or anyone else’s mind. And no one wants a messy argument.
But that’s not why it’s important.
It’s important because it sets the tone for what we allow and won’t allow in our homes, gatherings, groups, and conversations. Every time you say “Nope, not ok,” it draws a line in the sand, even if everyone else rolls their eyes at you at the time. But the other (and possibly even more important) reason to speak up is because you’re doing it for the other people present who are listening silently.
You’re speaking up for the relative who is afraid of being hit when she goes home. You’re speaking up for the secretly gay niece and nephew you don’t even know that you have yet. You’re speaking up for the preteen who feels deep down that what she hears at home is wrong but doesn’t have any of the language to articulate it yet.
Speak up for THEM. Speak up for the ones who can’t say it yet. They need to HEAR it first.
2. Know your rights.
I read this story the other day about a woman who stood up to border patrol officials who boarded a public Greyhound bus and demanded (illegally) to see people’s papers. This woman is my HERO. But what struck me especially was that she knew her facts. She knew that because they were not within 100 miles of an international border, the agents did not have the legal right to ask for citizenship papers. I didn’t know that. What a good thing to know!
I’m not suggesting that you have to become an expert on everything: pick a topic that you think you might encounter and do your research. Is it the way immigrants are treated in your state? Is it what questions can and can’t be asked during interviews or at work?
Maybe it’s the ins and outs of your company’s maternity leave policy. Maybe it’s the laws around reporting suspected domestic violence, or who can buy a gun, or who can and can’t register to vote. Make it your business to KNOW how things are supposed to work, so that you have the facts on your side.
3. Speak up when others’ rights are being violated.
It’s infinitely easier to speak up on other peoples’ behalf than on our own. AND, you’re more likely to be listened to if you’re a neutral bystander than if you’re a flustered participant in an intense situation. If you’re already the person on the spot or being harangued or assaulted, it’s incredibly difficult to keep your cool, speak clearly, and be heard.
Not to mention that if you’re a person of color, trying to do so can be lethally dangerous. Let’s have each other’s backs. How else can we expect anyone else to have ours when the time comes?
4. Set your eyes on that promotion and ask for a raise.
This might seem like an odd one, but having more compassionate and woke women at the top of more and bigger companies is one of the most effective ways to shift the power dynamics in our world.
Get yourself into the C-suite. Get yourself to the table where the decisions are made. Start planning NOW for the job you want to have in ten years. It’s such an honor to work with my private clients because all their hard work has gotten them to a point in their careers where they have a profound amount of influence on the world around them.
I know that once you’re there, you too will use your influence to make policies, corporate cultures, and decisions that make life better for hundreds, probably even thousands of others. Don’t shy away from your power and your influence. USE THEM FOR GOOD.
Start talking to them now about the concepts that matter to you. Share your grief and outrage that so much injustice is happening. Teach them words and concepts like “consent,” “cultural appropriation,” and “privilege.”
Point out when other kids show up to school without a lunch or claim they’re “not cold” in the winter and don’t need a coat. Help them see with their own eyes and develop compassion. Teach them now to set boundaries and question authority.
They are SO SMART, these kids. And more importantly, they’re wise. And they’re the ones who are going to keep shaping this world long after we’re gone.
6. Read up on intersectional feminism.
I used to bristle at being classified as a “white feminist.” I’m pale and I’m a feminist, but I worked hard to understand my own privilege and lift up other people. But after a recent debate erupted online about issues of race, privilege, and emotional labor specifically as it pertains to women within the self-development world, I was utterly shocked and horrified by what self-proclaimed “allies” were writing.
I spent hours scrolling through comments, feeling more and more despairing, until I turned to my husband and said, “If I were a woman of color, I would absolutely HATE white women. I think maybe *I* hate white women, and I am one.”
It sent me deeper into trying to understand the intersection between race, privilege, cultural appropriation, gender, our choices, and our histories. My biggest takeaway was that I can’t see the things I’m blind to. That’s so obvious I’m going to say it again. My own blind spots??? By definition, I TRULY cannot see them on my own. (Because they’re my blind spots.)
So even with the best of intentions, I might be walking around accidentally banging people with the ideological or spoken two-by-four I don’t even know I’m wielding. This is not about paralyzing myself with shame; it’s about being curious, being willing to mess up, and most of all, being willing to APOLOGIZE when I do and dive deeper to see how I can do better. This will be a lifelong task.
7. Speak up. Especially right now, especially if you are a person of faith, speak up.
I can rail against the U.S. administration’s cruel policies all I want. Of course I’m going to: I’m a queer, pro-choice, liberal feminist married to a transgender man. In that sense, my opinion is already considered so “out there” by many that they will instantly dismiss it.
But right now, Christianity is being used to JUSTIFY and DEFEND acts of barbarity. I know that this makes so many of you absolutely sick: that the faith that has led you to bring more hope and justice and love to the world is now being used to dehumanize others.
So if it makes you sick, now is the time to speak up. Say it plain, say it clearly, say it online, say it in your congregations, say it at your Bible studies and your play groups and at youth group and at conference. Horrible things are being done in the name of your religion, and collectively you loving people of faith have the power to stop it. Show the world emphatically that this is not who you are or what you believe.
We aren’t giving up, my loves.
If you feel shattered, it is because you are paying attention and you understand that our lot is bound up in one another’s. Honor that in yourself.
Stop, take a breath, put your hand on your heart, take a bath, take a nap, take a dip into a funny movie or a book, play music that enlivens or comforts you.
And then dry your tears, make a cup of tea, and jump back in. This list is just the beginning, of course: you can volunteer at your local school, put your name in the hat, support art by truth-tellers, shop with your ethics, oh a million things.
Don’t be overwhelmed. It’s more important to do ONE thing than to feel guilty for not doing ALL the things.
I want to know that in 20 years I’ll look back on this time and say, “I may not have done everything, I may not have done enough, but I tried to do everything I knew I could do.”
I’m proud to be part of the sisterhood with you. I believe in you. I believe in us.