Bad news is inescapable. If you’re anything like me, you read daunting headlines with a sense of responsibility to speak up and out about the issues. I’ve always been quite vocal about what I believe in; I don’t think advocating for equality is anything to hide. But lately I’ve found myself wanting to stay silent, because there’s no way I can talk about it all.
I think it started with Christchurch. The entire world had been turned on its head; the news was spilling over with distraught headlines and the aftermath of the tragedy. I wrote a blog post then, where I struggled with my ability to move on with my untainted life after such a devastating attack and dwelled on the idea that showing solidarity and sympathy towards the victims was essential to who I was – otherwise, who would I be?
But Christchurch wasn’t the first attack to startle the globe. And it wasn’t the first time I was struck with the startling realisation of my own privilege. In fact, it wasn’t even the first time I had shared, and stood up, and spoken up.
But it was a tipping point in how I reacted to terrorism and world issues in an online environment.
I tried to find it in me to speak up about every problem I came across. I shared posts, I read articles, I compiled opinions in my head, debated with imaginary devil’s advocates in the shower, completely engulfed myself in a world where nothing was going right and all I could do was think of ways to pull it together.
Let me the first to tell you, it’s exhausting. Opening not only your heart, but your head to the onslaught of bad news, breaking news, been-there done-that please-not-again news.
Admitting that I can’t keep up with the constant flow of information feels like I am trying to brush the problems under the carpet, like I’m trying to block out reality with a fake wall of cold, cruel positivity. And I am too aware of the privileges I have to feel comfortable in ignoring the tribulations that other people are suffering through.
And so the cycle repeats. Issues arise, I speak up about the injustice, I drown beneath the never-ending tidal waves of news and negativity, I shut it out and after I’ve had a break, I reopen the floodgates because I feel guilty holding the dam back just because the swimming has tired me out.
This is activist’s guilt.
Would I call myself an activist? No. No yet. I would love to be on the frontlines but I haven’t put myself out there as much as I feel earns the title.
And yet, my actions are amounting to something, right? I am making a conscious effort to be a part of something bigger than myself – at every viable opportunity I stand metaphorically hand-in-hand with the people suffering hardships I hear of from afar.
Besides, as we are so often taught, it’s the little things, right? As long as you’re aiming to fix yourself – to improve and engineer and innovate on an individual level – you’re doing a great job?
Well, not exactly.
Pushing for change on an individual level is not enough – even if these personal movements grow to a mainstream level. Just when we think we’ve rallied our troops together, and feel accomplished in our determination to at least eliminate straws from the ocean, we get news that they aren’t even a significant problem – making up only 0.03% of ocean plastic pollution.
Linked above is an old Bloomberg Opinion article that shared the sorry statistics about our fruitless boycotting of straws. While I obviously agree that our focus should be on the real issues – such as the fishing nets that make up 46% of ocean plastic pollution – I do have a bone to pick with their subtitle.
“Skipping straws may be hip. But there are much better ways to fight pollution.”
There is only so much we can do about the real problems on an individual level. Sure, I can stop eating fish, thereby excusing myself from the seafood industry, but it scarcely makes a ripple where it needs to be felt.
There is no way for one person on their own to enact change. And yet, the idea that it is only our small actions that can add up to impact the issue in a meaningful way is perpetuated in every conversation.
I am not the problem here. None of us are. It is, without a doubt, a systemic issue on international scales.
And of course, we are all part of this international system, but there is no way for us to opt out. Cry all you want about refusing to commit to a flawed society: it’s an unavoidable phenomenon.
My continued efforts to make a difference often seem more like festering frustration and guilt.
I’ve been vegetarian since the beginning of July because I read about the environmental impact of farming meat and that opened up a sliver of hope that I could maybe do my bit to help the climate crisis.
It scarcely makes a dent in our household groceries – let alone the meat industry at large.
I lived in Cape Town when the impending day zero loomed over our heads, threatening to make us citizens of the first major city in the world to run out of water. I learnt how to balance between buckets in the shower – showers that only lasted two minutes, mind you.
The stress of feeling that too long of a shower may put you to blame as your country runs dry feels disorientating and lopsided when you drive past unfixed and bursting pipes, lavish wine estates with green golf lawns, and signs campaigning for the political parties who fail to solve these issues for their disillusioned constituents.
That being said, I did participate in the walkouts across Ontario, to oppose Doug Ford’s cuts for crucial education funding and his detrimental changes to the curriculum. And while me, Chanel, being there did not make a difference; the crowd formed by all these individuals begging for a chance to make a change become one crowd of many across the region, and that region become one of many across the province.
It is that connection that I so dearly crave. I know I can be part of the movement: the movements just always seem to be eons away.
From afar, the world is a big and scary place. There are too many problems for one person to think about – let alone to act on – and I feel unconnected from other like-minded people to truly make a difference.
I know there are people like me, aching to ease some of our planet’s pain but not knowing where to begin. And so to my fellow wannabe-world-changers:
What we are doing is not enough. But it is something.
And there is something to be said for action without anxiety.
You are your own person and you can continue to live your life with your inconsequential pursuits. Don’t be scared that the world is ending around you: there is still time to grow into the shoes you’ll march in.