Sometimes people ask me for ideas or advice about how exactly they could or should help animals. They are trying to find out what kind of activism fits them best.
Basically, I think we need to find some kind of sweet spot that is on the junction of three different aspects. You can see them in the drawing below:
What you love, or are passionate about: don’t just say “animals.” That’s probably a bit too general. Find something more concrete than that. Maybe it’s vegan cooking to help animals. Or public speaking about animals. Or maybe you are very passionate about people and how they function.
What you are good at: you may have a certain skill set. Maybe, because of your education, talent, or experience, you can do something many other people can’t do, or not as well. You might be a graphic designer, an IT-person, a teacher…
What has an impact: this is about what really helps animals. Everything has an impact, of course, but some things have more impact than others (some things may even have a negative impact).
The overlap between these different aspects can vary: it may be small, it may be bigger. You could be one of those human beings for whom effectiveness and feeling good entirely overlap. That is, you only feel good about your work when you know you’re having the most impact (don’t think you’re like that too quickly though, you might be overlooking things).
This is probably the exception, and more often the overlap is smaller, and there may be contradictions. You may love doing something, but that something is maybe not the most effective thing you can do. Or you may love doing something (like public speaking) but actually you suck at it (you may need other people to tell you that). Or you may be the most effective when you use that skill set of yours, but maybe you need some variation and you don’t feel like using it as a volunteer, outside of your day job (it would be a pity, obviously, if you have a degree in cellular biology and could make a contribution to cultured meat, but you choose to leaflet instead).
When there is little overlap or when there are conflicts, you can basically choose what you prioritize. Most people in general (I’m not talking about vegans or activists now) usually prioritize their own happiness. As activists or people concerned about the world, we can probably expect a little bit more from ourselves: we can at least give some weight to the impact that we have with our actions, and not just do what feels good. I would say it’s good to give the impact-factor a lot of consideration. Some people, however, may go too far in this, and will unequivocally prioritize impact, at the expense of their own well-being, which is probably not the best or most sustainable idea.
Of course, you can make combinations: distributing leaflets about animals seems to be a pretty effective investment of your time, but imagine you don’t really like it. Then you can do that maybe one or a couple of hours a week, and devote the rest of your volunteer time to something you like better (but which may be less effective).
Basically you want to do good for animals, but you also want to feel good about what you’re doing. If you do something that doesn’t make you feel good, you will probably be able to keep that up only for a limited time. This may be worthwhile in itself, because it is, after all, time that you have given to the cause. However, there is always the risk that people seriously burn out from doing something that they don’t like — even if it is effective — and that makes them give up on activism altogether, which probably would be a loss.
So my message is: make a healthy mix. Don’t just do anything because it makes you feel good, but don’t go all out on effectiveness either, because that may burn you out.
I’ll write more concretely about activism and what you can do in some future posts.
12 thoughts on “Finding your activist sweet spot”
It’s important to point out that Earning to Give—working to donate a significant portion of your salary to effective animal charities—is one of the best ways to help animals! This is a great option if you have skills/interests that have nothing to do with animal activism but can earn you a fair amount of money.
yes, good point. i’ll talk about this in another post
Great post, as always, Tobias, and I love Jesse’s comment. 🙂 My hunch is that many activists feel as if it’s somehow lazy to write a check rather than leaflet or engage in other forms of labor-intensive activism. I’ve wondered along the same lines as Jesse, though: if someone’s skills and circumstances make traditional forms of activism untenable, why not consider just donating as much money as possible? As a hypothetical, if I live in a small town where leafleting is impracticable, but I decide to hold down a part-time second job and donate all or most of my earnings to animals rights groups, wouldn’t that be almost as effective (or even equally effective) as using that same time to leaflet? I’ll look forward eagerly, Tobias, to your discussion of this topic in a future post.
yes, sure, if people have money, spending it on an AR cause might be more impactful than what they can do with a bit of time. the “earning to give” idea is based on that: instead of doing a fulltime job for a good cause, you can earn money enough to pay for two people to work fulltime (of course, you need quite a bit of money then). if you want more info, google “earning to give”. but yes, i’ll write about this in the future
What a great little post! This is such concrete, down to earth advice I had to share it everywhere 😉 (and applicable to so many things in life, not just vegan activism!).
This is another wonderful post, thanks, Tobias!
Thanks a lot for touching on the topic of the importance of a ” healthy mix” and avoiding burn out, something which has affected me personally. If you are dealing with burn out, it won’t matter what you love, what you’re good at, or what will have the biggest impact, because burn out will take precedence over all those things and your ability to do them.
Although I can’t be the gung-ho activist I used to be, but I’ve tried to adapt my “sweet spot” from direct work towards the more indirect work of trying to help other activists avoid burn out. While this means I’m less directly involved, my hope is that by avoiding or lessening the impacts of burn out, I can help other activists remain as active and effective as possible.
And on that note, for those who may not have heard of it, In Defense of Animal’s Sustainable Activism Campaign is wonderful. They are actually having their monthly “Animal Activist Online Support Group” webinar today, and they offer many other webinars and resources, as well.
Everything is free, so check it out! 🙂
Even if you currently aren’t dealing with burn out, compassion fatigue, and/or trauma, I hope other activists will at least take a look or bookmark the link so they can familiarize themselves with these topics in case they do come up for them.
Animal Activist Online Support Group:
4th Thursday of the Month, 5-6pm Pacific Time
“Discuss burnout, self-care, compassion fatigue, infighting, anger, grief, depression, communicating with non-activists, and other activist concerns. Participate in this free, confidential support group by phone, smart phone, or computer.”
IDA’s Animal Activist Helpline
Phone: (800) 705-0425
Do you struggle asking for help? Are you discouraged by conflicts among animal activists? Are members of your community overshadowed by dominant personalities? Do you have trouble delegating activist work or balancing activism with your family life?
At IDA, we believe that every single activist is needed to bring about animal liberation. That’s why we’re excited to offer this innovative new service for animal activists, which includes supportive telephone and e-counseling, contacts for local and national activist resources, and referrals for psychotherapists who are sensitive to animal activists’ concerns.
All of our Helpline Counselors have been trained in nonviolent communication and are passionate animal advocates themselves. Even if you only have a few minutes, we can help! Whether you need a momentary pick-me up or someone to listen in-depth. The Helpline is available to activists in the United States and Canada via our toll free number, 1 (800) 705-0425, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Christine: This sounds like an amazing organization, and one that can help activists stay engaged and focused for the long haul. It’s also heartening to see the recognition that activists need to look out for one another. Thank you for the heads up!
You’re very welcome, Elizabeth. IDA is having actually having a Sustainable Activism webinar later today if you’re interested!
Free & no cost to participants!
Thursday, August 4
8:00 PM – 9:00 PM EST
5:00 PM – 6:00 PM PDT
Register link and more info:
“Real Life Activist Challenges”
In this webinar, International Speaker and long-time animal activist Rae Sikora answers our questions about how to face these challenges while maintaining our integrity and protecting our soft-center. Rae will respond with tangible tools to deal with each situation by removing roadblocks, improving communication, and promoting self-care.
As animal activists, we’re often at odds with mainstream society. Walking the path of compassion for all living beings means making life choices that differ from others, actively promoting kindness and respect for nonhuman animals, speaking up in every situation that smacks of animal abuse, and debunking myths about other animals. By choosing to live compassionately, we face challenges with our family, friends, coworkers, and even with authorities.
Fantastic Tobias! It’s important we don’t burn out emotionally and physically. Also important to step out of our comfort zone as long as we don’t lose perspective and think we have to save the entire world … just the world we interact with.