August 23, 2018

Activism + Perfectionism =

I've tried to write this post three times, all deleted before the first paragraph was finished. I've known I was a perfectionist for a long time, through schoolwork, skateboarding, and now, activism. Debate has shown me impact as the most important thing- whether it be positive or negative- as long as its quantifiable. But activism isn't. You see the start, and eventually the results, but your left wondering what the hell happened in between.

I've labeled activism as a science and an art. The perfectionist side of me likes the science, because my "worth" is easy to calculate. Imagine you introduced a bill to congress- you campaigned for it, you gained support, and finally (after all the bureaucracy stuff I forgot after sixth grade), it was voted on*. Let's say congress voted yes. Congrats! A quantifiable ending makes it a lot easier to figure out what you did right or wrong throughout the process. The perfectionist side of me likes this the most. Even when the results aren't great, at least I can still measure them (and then myself).

The art of it, which honestly makes up a vast majority, is a little tougher. Writing articles without trying to make an argument, interacting with opposition, becoming proximate to the people you wish to represent, making the personal the political, or simply making art to spread a message.

I'm beginning to appreciate the art more and more, even if its harder for me to understand. The scientific results (monetary, legally, etc) are useless without a movement and connection between people. Looking back, I can't believe I didn't come to understand this sooner- So many things from the past that I thought I understood make so much more sense seeing now.

"Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no Constitution, no law, and no court can save it" -Learned Hand

"Never underestimate the power of a small group of committed people to change the world. In fact, it is the only thing that ever has" -Margaret Mead

"It is in proximity that we begin to understand the world" -Bryan Stevenson

All activism, art especially, revolves around people. The perfectionist in me can't seem to grasp that almost all advocacy has no measurable impact, so the aftermath of everything I do is pretty crappy and un-motivating for me. Take Constitution Day (an ACLU event I hosted), for example. Not many people showed up and I lost a lot of hope. I thought it had to be equal to or better than my last event to even be worthwhile, rather than understanding that the people who showed up and all those who couldn't still cared, and no matter what, everyone would learn.

I get a high from any activism I do -writing a new piece or hosting an event- but afterwords, I always find a way to put all my focus on what went wrong, not what went right, or what really matters- the people. 

Putting all my focus on impact, not people, has definitely stunted my growth and my impact as well. I tried to get a bigger impact by trying to get my newest article somewhere bigger, better- more impact, I thought. I had already declined an offer because I thought the other people I wrote would write back, but when no one did, I was crushed. I had failed, the perfectionist in me would never forget it. But the non-perfectionist side took control- it learned to focus on people, not impact, even if this realization took a few months.

The point is- focus on people, understand some things can't be measured, and appreciate your mistakes. My mistake is that, for the past year, I maintained focus on impact, and I have been doing everything from the sidelines, not being proximate to who I need to be. But understanding this gives me an opportunity to spread my message and add it to the movement, a whole of parts which adds to an immeasurable effect.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for your article, Henry. I learned in recovery that I'm responsible for the effort, not the outcome. And sometimes we can't know the effects of our actions-- how what we've done has affected others--- for years, if ever. But I think the most important thing is to do what we feel called to do. If we don't do that, then maybe we failed.