New Year’s Resolution: Complain Less, Envision More

2 Jan

I’ve had a lot of new year’s resolutions. I’ve had some successes: I still take a dance break every week and write letters by hand and many more failures: I still over-caffeinate, overspend, oversnack, and answer many questions with questions (not answers).  After a lot of thinking and reflecting and writing, I’ve realized what I really want to say I’ve done a little better when 2013 rolls around.   In 2012, I resolve to complain less, envision more.

See, I’m good at complaining.  As a social worker, I advocate professionally.  Part of being an educator on sexual violence is talking about injustice and what needs to change.  I agitate for pay, and I like to think for a good cause.  I call “bullshit” on the regular.  I look at my accomplishments as an activist and justify my outlook, even as this behavior breeds negativity and enervates me.  I can see a change made in the life of one of my clients and can go home to come back again tomorrow and kvetch some more.  I can practice self-care and think I’m doing what I need to do to sustain myself, at least in the short-run.  I channel my perfectionism and my outrage and my ire into trying to make the world a little less fucked up, one person or group of people at a time.

A lot of what we do as activists though is respond to attacks, and it can be engaging but also exhausting. I rally against much more than I rally for. I fight back much more than I fight for.  I am often reactive, rarely proactive.  I feel like I did as an awkward middle-schooler playing dodgeball.  I’m balled up in the corner, ball in hand, fending off an onslaught. I’m dodging, not throwing.  My glasses knocked on the ground, my vision obfuscated, focused on doing what we need to do to survive, feeling too overwhelmed to remember that we deserve to thrive.  And because this seemingly endless barrage mirrors the greater injustice those I serve (and let’s be real, I personally) have experienced, I often feel I only have enough energy to mount an admirable defense.  And that’s ridiculous and unsustainable.

I am not in middle school, and I do have some amount of power and control over at least a small piece of the world.  I can lob my own ball. Better yet, I can change the rules.  I can pick my own team. I can look around and see that I’m on a really fierce team already and use that to my advantage.  I know that I can’t play this game this way forever.  Burnout is real, and I don’t want to quit.

I let myself off the hook because I sometimes see my current paradigm as the only one that will ever exist.  I get self righteous.  Forces seemingly beyond my control (bigotry, violence, oppression) seem way too gargantuan when I have fires to fight right in front of my face.  I am deciding, despite my good intentions, to at least partially believe that change is impossible on a grander scale and that all we can do is keep helping individual people not have to face these injustices alone.  I can justify this as better than ignoring the problem, but I know I need a reframe.  Despite my privileges, I choose to push back rather than push forward.  I dwell in bullshit rather than in possibility.

So, for 2012, I resolve to create, to brainstorm, to envision, to bring together, to build, to facilitate conversation, to ask what if.  I resolve to not only deflect dodgeballs but to figure out how to inch toward a world where the rules are different.  I resolve to take time every day to imagine the world I want to live in five, ten, twenty years from now, the world I want for my children, the world I want for my grandchildren (should my children choose to have children). I resolve to start there and work backwards to today and to do the creative rather than defensive work I need to do to help us get there.  I resolve to, as my mentor has always said to me, use my powers for good.  I will use my power, regardless of how limited in scope, to move beyond fighting back.

We deserve sustainable movements. We deserve to be able to come together, empowered to articulate our own futures.  If we don’t come together to create our future, who will?  Even though there are days I still feel like it, I am not in middle school. And I am not last-picked in dodgeball. We are in this together, and we have the skills.  What do you want to see, and how can we work together to get there?

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