Justice work can be exhausting.
No one who has worked on an intractable social issue for any extended length of time would be surprised by that statement.
As much as it’s common knowledge that social activism can mean feeling sorrow or pain over suffering, it isn’t at all common to have teams that will hold space for people to feel. When change-makers grieve calamity and trauma, it may well be that they’re grieving alone.
This society tell us when and where and how and with whom it’s appropriate for us to feel and express our feelings, and “in public” is usually not among the right answers. That’s a problem.
It is challenging to engage in the ongoing work of opening fully to despair, dread, and other emotional responses that arise in response to what is happening in the world. In the absence of doing this work, many people, including those working for social change, tend to numb out or suppress the depth of their feelings and find it hard to operate based on visionary passion rather than anger or despair…
Unless we engage with our despair, we are likely to remain disempowered, numb, or angry. When we engage with it deeply enough, we unleash the power of our care and passion as the fuel that motivates our work.” —Miki Kashtan, Reweaving our Human Fabric
We need healthy peer groups to get the psychological room to feel through difficult experiences and recover enough to regain our center. Groups that don’t allow members the psychological room to feel, but encourage repression or shallow acceptance, especially in the name of productivity or grace, are setting those members up for dysfunction.
It’s not virtuous to stay on the doing treadmill for so long that you don’t have the time to pause, marvel, commiserate, or cry. These responses to social events are just as righteous as table-flipping and general outrage, and also merit respect.
Watch how your own groups and teams respond after tragedy. Do people rush to create meaning and reinforce their common narrative about a world in decline? Do you or your peers ever cover pain with fury? Do leaders exhort you to forgive before you’ve had time to reckon with the offense? Do your group members ever mourn with each other, and if so, how?
As I see a steady stream of news about death and cruelty and natural disaster and domestic abuse and airport shootings, I can’t help but think that what we need, to ground a future that’s substantively different from the horrific present, is communities that are brave enough to feel in and compassionate enough to help people when they hurt, no matter who they are.