Activism, Activism Fatigue, Bob Geldof, Feed 5000, Giving and Receiving, Heroes of the fight, If you're not outraged you're not paying attention, It's all about the Source, Live Aid Anniversary, Outrage, Outrage and the loss of self care, Outrage finds its source in the violence paradigm, Saint Bob, Self Care, The difference between a drain and a conduit, The Hollywood Curriculum, The loss of self care, The perils of activism
The “Live Aid” concerts that raised more than $127 million for the victims of African famine, raised for a short time the consciousness of the west. Like all things entertaining, it lasts as long as a news cycle or as long as it is entertaining. Not so for Bob Geldof whose response was personal and passionate. In a new interview to mark the 35th anniversary, Geldof says the shows had a huge personal cost on his life:
“For a while I was bewildered,” he tells the Associated Press. “I didn’t have much money at the time. It impinged entirely on my private life. It probably ended up costing me my marriage.”
“No one was interested. Saint Bob, which I was called, wasn’t allowed to do this [pop music] anymore because it’s so petty and so meaningless. So, I was lost.”
This isn’t the first time a person has been caught up on a righteous endeavour only to lose their way, some even to lose their life. Tooker Gomberg is one example: a local, and then national politician/ecological activist would be found dead by suicide (Globe and Mail, 2004). One wonders what life depleted from him well before he took his own.
Outrage and the Loss of Self Care
Noam Chomsky famously said,
If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention
In the theme of outrage, John Eligon wrote about activists like Erica Garner in “They Push. They Protest. And Many Activists, Privately, Suffer as a Result“:
“Over the last two years, at least five young activists who gained national prominence amid the Black Lives Matter movement have died. The causes range from suicide to homicide to natural causes…
The deaths have their own unique causes. But with each fallen comrade, activists are left to ponder their own mortality and whether the many pressures of the movement contributed to the shortened lives of their colleagues.
Along with the long hours, constant confrontation and frequent heartbreak they experience, activists work for little or no pay and sometimes struggle for basic needs like food and shelter even as they push for societal change.
An essential part of activism these days, those on the front lines say, is ensuring that they and their comrades work through all the stress, whether it’s with meditation, therapy or just taking breaks from the struggle.”
It sounds good, but I contend these self-care measures are stopgap strategies for a life draining away – rather than becoming a conduit from an unending source. When considering the likes of Dorothy Day, Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King Jr., you see the spiritual well-spring that fuelled their endless activism and service. Eligon notes:
“In many ways, Ms. Garner’s story represents the perils activism can inflict on a life. She grew up poor in New York. Her father [Eric Garner] died a very public death in 2014…
Erica Garner, who fought unsuccessfully for years to hold the police responsible for the death of her father, Eric, died last December  from a heart attack. She was three years shy of her 30th birthday.”
[For more, see Jillian Kramer’s article identifying “11 Change-Makers” who share how they deal with Activism Fatigue. In every case the “change-maker” is asked about what cause they are “fighting for.” Outrage finds its source in a violence paradigm]
The Hollywood Curriculum
Despite the reality of activists who drain away, Hollywood tends to idolize heroes of the fight. Mary Dalton, Associate Professor of Communications wrote The Hollywood Curriculum: Teachers in the Movies.
“She analyzes over 165 films distributed throughout the United States over the last 80 years to construct a theory of curriculum in the movies that is grounded in cultural studies and critical pedagogy.
The portrayal of teachers in popular movies focuses on individual effort rather than collective action, and relies on stock characters and predictable plots, precluding meaningful struggle. Conformation to these conventions ensures the ultimate outcome of the screen narratives and almost always leaves the educational institution—which represents the larger status quo—intact and dominant.”
If you look at the Top Ten Inspirational Teacher movies, for example, invariably you will find singular heroes who sacrifice their careers, their marriages, their families, and/or even their health/lives to what they think is the greater good of a cause. Often based on actual real-life stories, these movies look past the love ones lost in the shadow of the heroes’ cause.
Movies like “Music of the Heart” featuring Meryl Streep playing actual music teacher Roberta Guaspari, or Dangerous Minds about which Roger Ebert wrote, “we have seen this basic story before, in Stand and Deliver, Lean On Me, Teachers, Dead Poets Society, and so on.” The loss of marriage or relationship with children are treated as incidental shrapnel of the cause.
And at no time is a spiritual dimension revealed, even if one existed. The heroes drain their lives away, rather than act as a conduit sourced by the One who made us for Himself.
Still Famine in the World
Despite Bob Geldof’s selfless efforts and personal losses, there is still famine in Africa (and around the world). There are still wars in diverse places, natural disasters that exacerbate economical depressions, and a host of other impoverishments that beckon our attention.
Jesus reminds us, “the poor will always be among you“. This is not meant to be deflating or overwhelming; it is meant to be an invitation to go to Him as we live the reality of poverty. We learn to respond as we can and become a conduit of His grace and resources.
“What do you have”, Jesus asked in order to feed the 5000.
“Two fish and five loaves.”
“That is enough…”
When you’re a conduit from the source of life, it is enough.
Simply brilliant, Rusty. I recall how Dorothy Day’s story fascinated me some years ago.
It’s difficult to not feel overwhelmed by the need, and I’m not an activist by any means. Helen Keller (1880-1968) helped me years ago in facing the needs of the poor around me on a weekly and sometimes daily basis: “I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something. And because I cannot do everything I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” I have this quote stuck just above my desktop computer, ‘lest I forget.’
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R.H. (Rusty) Foerger said:
Thanks Erroll; I too am prone to be overwhelmed by the need so that there are number of responses – including unending draining oneself into the “cause”, or evading the need, or as I hint – be supplied by a different source so as to do His will rather than my own. I have to remember “the need is not the call” – that is there will always be needs – but I may not have either influence, capacity, or access to co-labour with those for whom the need is so great. I like your quote; it is a good reminder.
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Rosaliene Bacchus said:
Wise words from Helen Keller for me to hold onto.
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Rosaliene Bacchus said:
An interesting topic, Rusty, with lots of insight for those of us who seek to bring about positive change in our world. I hold onto the Source that gives me strength and purpose to do the little I can each day. I will not change the world, but I can make a difference in one person’s life.
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R.H. (Rusty) Foerger said:
I like the saying that “even Jesus did not have a messiah complex” – that is, He didn’t go around trying to fix everybody or everything in the shadow of overwhelming need. That He passed on His mission and authority to quite ordinary and inadequate folk is a testament to His trust that He will work through whomever lives in, with, and through Him. Thus may we be found ready to make the difference in the person(s) we encounter.
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