How to Keep on Keepin' On
This is a marathon. The calls, protests, emails, petitions, meetings, sit-ins, organizing … let alone witnessing the onslaught of information bombarding from every news source.
We all have homes, people we love, and selves to tend to. We have to give each other permission to tap out so we can recharge and come back with gusto. It’s easier said than done, so here are some tips to help channel your energies:
PACE YOURSELF. With everything. Become intentional about when you take in new information (e.g. don’t log into social media right before bed or before an important meeting or before the neediest person in your household is about to need you). Become intentional about keeping pleasant things pleasant — what you eat, time with those you adore, exercise, sleep. There are canyons-worth of outrage everyday. Protect your cup of goodness. The outrage will be there later.
SET LIMITS. Think about your core home values (as opposed to your core social values). Protect those. If meals are a time to re-connect, ban cellphones during meal prep and when you eat together. Agree to table Outrage Talk while at the dinner table. If you need your transit time to calm, not enrage, you — control what you listen to while in transit (I’m a big fan of audiobooks for this.) Put a buffer between your core self and the outside world. Then, thoughtfully decide how to titrate your exposure to news updates. How much can you take in at once? Is it more important to take in the details of information or to protect the time/energy for when you take action? There’s no right answer. Just be true to yourself and prioritize where your energies go. Whatever you do, don’t sacrifice exercise, nutrition, or small pleasures. These actions of self-care will keep you going for the long-haul and remind others how to have some sense of balance amidst turmoil.
BE REALISTIC. Some of us have set up time for daily calls to government officials. Some of us read a lot, integrate it, write, and post. Some of us give our time, money, and energy to large civil rights efforts. Some of us give our time, money, and energy to hyper-local grassroots efforts. It’s all valid and all appreciated. Look closely at your life. How much of yourself are you able to give? If you are spread thin, but make a monthly donation and try to keep informed, great! If you can make phone calls, but cannot take on coordinating efforts or physically protesting, that’s great! If you have time to give deeply, wonderful! There is room for all of us. We have to rely that the things we cannot personally do will be tended to by someone else on this giant team.
FOLLOW YOUR PASSION. If you do have time to give deeply, choose a civil rights cause that resonates for you. Don’t worry about where anyone else thinks you should give your time. Citizen engagement works when people enjoy giving to the community. You have to find an organization or cause that makes you feel like an amplified version of your self. Otherwise, I assure you, you will run out of steam and your gift will turn sour.
GIVE DEEPLY AND OFTEN. I’m not talking about money. Make a three to five year commitment to become an integral part of an organization or social movement. Why three to five years? Because nonprofit organizations suffer from turnover. A healthy organization needs stability over time (otherwise, kind of like government [ahem], there are constant changes and adaptations to new teams and there is never time to self-reflect or evolve, let alone thrive). Whether you are volunteering to answer phones, to mentor, to organize, or to be on a board of directors, your greatest gift is a deep and prolonged commitment. When several of us do this at one organization or for one cause, there is an infusion of strength and capacity-building. Look within yourself — do you want to give your time hands-on, behind-the-scenes, or in a leadership capacity? All are great options. There is room for everyone.
BE INFORMED. BE THANKFUL. For the issues you cannot give time to, keep abreast and take the time to thank those who give where you cannot. And encourage them, too, to pace themselves and to prioritize self-care.
It’s a long haul. We have to take care of each other and ourselves so we can remain clear-headed, strategic, resilient, and joyful.
Mostly a mom, Shari Nacson is a freelance editor, nonprofit consultant, and child development specialist who makes her home in Cleveland Heights. Nacson writes occasionally for The Heights Observer, for Safe & Sound Schools: A Sandy Hook Initiative, and some parenting blogs. She believes that local volunteerism, by community members of all ages, is essential to citizen engagement.