I genuinely believe most people become involved in political activism for good reasons. Sure, there might be some genuinely power-hungry tyrants in the bunch, but those people are few and far between. It is quite possible that those who learn to be smooth and manipulative find their way to the top of the ladder, but that person probably doesn’t exist in your local activist group. Most groups are made up of average people who seek beneficial change. How beneficial that change is if implemented as policy or if elected into office is certainly up for debate, but those who give their time, money, and energy to political causes are doing so because they seek to improve the world around them.
Or it at least starts that way.
When it comes to politics, the best of people show the worst of themselves. Normally, when a person is passionate about a topic, it becomes their obsession. As soon as the alarm clock goes off when the sun comes up, their mind goes straight to the issue which they feel is plaguing society or their community, and they don’t stop thinking about it until their brain turns off at night. Given the obsessive nature of this, activists do become genuine experts on the issues they invest themselves in. Their heads become filled with facts, figures, and anecdotes regarding their topic of interest, and they can regurgitate them, ad nauseam, for hours on end. Despite logical conclusions and an incredible grasp of facts, there is not always a translation into a political victory.
Which is frustrating.
Oftentimes, when well-reasoned messaging fails time and time again, the once calm and jovial person can become frustrated and impatient while they try to gain more converts to their cause. Those who were once patient and opportunistic, inserting salient topics at the right times and offering a friendly smile when discussions became contentious, become militant and ferocious while reciting all the reasons the world is going up in flames, alienating new acquaintances and old friends alike. Invites to get-togethers with old friends dry up. Your phone stops ringing. The only people left to talk to, are those of the same ilk.
And then there’s social media.
Facebook is a blessing and a curse for the politically active. It is certainly a quick way to start linking up with people who are also passionate about activism, but the actual positives of the experience vary greatly from person to person. Some can handle the stress, and others retreat into an echo chamber of like-minded individuals. Those who are thick-skinned and patient, can wade through the muck and make great headway regarding creating political change. These people are good with forging strange coalitions, building long-distance bonds, and knowing when to put certain discussions to the side to preserve harmony.
Unfortunately, that isn’t everyone.
Those who occupy the opposite side of the spectrum, begin to struggle with engaging in thoughtful conversation. Initially, it’s only with those who simply disagree with the general concept of a greater philosophy and ideology, but then the turmoil evolves into something different. The “us vs. them” battle becomes even more factionalized. What once was being part of a group who is fighting a greater evil, becomes being a part of a wing who is fighting for a faction of a small political organization which seeks to bring about great and meaningful change. So now, before one can fight the greater evil, they have to organize the wing to take over the faction, and then grow the faction large enough to take over the organization. Meanwhile, the greater evil has grown, the organization has lost some of its political capital, your wing is small and powerless, the faction is full of lunatics, and nobody likes you.
It doesn’t have to be that way.
Let’s face it; full time politics isn’t for everyone. Some people can keep their smile and never lose their light while dealing with the most angry and hateful people imaginable. Other people start to fade, and then through some political osmosis, take on the anger and hate. Sure, the anger and hate is rooted in some of the best places in the human spirit, but the darkness will eat away at that spirit until it is a fraction of itself, lingering inside an empty vessel which has lost any sense of joy or hope.
It isn’t selfish to care about yourself.
As much as a person might want to give of themselves to a cause, there has to be something left for you. Treading water is never fun, and it’s even harder when it feels like most people are against you. If you find that the mental exhaustion has taken its toll and you’re feeding on scraps, just let it go! Movements will carry on without you. Ideas will carry on without you. Life will carry on without you, but you’re the only person who can carry your life.
Take a break.
There are certainly some people, who simply need to stay out of the political arena. The environment is too toxic and it’s best if they keep politics at a minimum for their own well-being. Other activists simply need a break. Maybe you took on too much, too quick, and it was all a bit much to handle. The level of help found in most levels of politics is very limited except for presidential election years, and oftentimes one can find themselves with far more to do than their limited resources can handle. Man-hours are few and far between, and a person can easily find themselves burned out. There’s no shame in pulling back for your own health and wellness. If you aren’t at 100%, is that good for you or the organization you are representing?
Come back when you’re ready.
Take the time to get your own affairs in order. Enjoy your friends and family. Keep your news intake at a minimum (if there is a national emergency, I’m positive someone will let you know). Enjoy the upcoming fall colors. Give commentary about the market saturation of pumpkin spice…everything. Fondly remember when life was simpler, and the worst thing about the President was his grammar. Laugh at something stupid, and laugh at yourself when necessary, because we don’t have to be serious all the time. Make an underprivileged child’s Christmas a memorable one. Pick up some trash in your community. Go through your pantry and bring some cans to a food bank. Hug your kids. Pet your dog. Call your mother. Help a neighbor. Have a beer.
Remember how to enjoy life and do it.