Should you introduce changes in your own life to change the world? Is individual change even worth it? Isn’t it the system that’s corrupted, evil, and vile?
The past year laid a solid foundation for a new decade. Times of political changes and social breakthroughs seem to be on the rise. For some time we have observed worldwide activist movements spread all over the globe.
I used to be an activist myself.
At the turn of 2019/2020 I was actively engaged in my local branch of Fridays For Future, a movement started by a teenager, consisted mostly of teenagers, and aimed predominantly at teenagers, trying to make their voices heard by the politicians of the highest status.
Generation Z at its best.
The Swedish girl’s speeches spoke volumes to me – inspired me to action, filled me with energy, made my chest inflate abruptly. The idea of becoming a part of something bigger than myself and making a difference was exhilarating.
Hell yeah I wanted to change the world. Like I still do.
This is a truly noble goal. An ambitious one too. If that’s your aim as well, there’s just one thing I can tell you: more power to you! Go get’em tiger, the Earth’s waiting for you.
I must admit that I’ve got a lot of respect for Greta Thunberg, for her courage to stand up for a cause she believes in. It also fascinates me, how small such actions can lead to a worldwide shift. Because of the Internet, the whole globe heard about climate change.
When I was part of Fridays For Future, man, was I all in. Many a time did I give up sleep only to manage a couple more things before nodding off. Post another social media announcement, arrange another meeting, have some people do something.
A devotee, that was me. I sacrificed myself for the cause. You bet that I truly believed in it, doing my best, so that my words actually overlapped with the values that I pursued.
As you may have figured it out by this time, I no longer am an activist.
I don’t mean to undermine the importance of climate change. We’re all witnessing what rising temperatures trigger. Natural calamities happen in front of our eyes, one after another.
To say that’s this piece isn’t criticism would be a lie. And there’s no place for lies in this new digital world. Hence, to be clear: I am going to present the life philosophy I pursue and values that are at the forefront of my mind. Both of those are somehow connected to my activist-ish past.
In fact, this is a critique of my past self (yup, it’s complicated).
It’s going to be harsh, but it’ll be honest.
To all activists and social workers – no bad blood. The reason I decided to share my personal experiences is that I hope they will make your life a bit better.
And the lives of your friends. And family. And those you may consider as your enemies. And the system that you either spit at or praise.
Or at least they’ll make you think.
Ipso facto, don’t draw foregone conclusions. I neither am nor consider myself a preacher. In fact, I’m still a teenager with acne, but I try, and I think a lot. It’s these thoughts I want to share with you.
I’m a digital native. Hence, writing these words at home, I use all available resources to convey my knowledge to you – other digital natives.
Ad rem, why am I no longer an activist? It wasn’t an event that led to this but rather a process.
Because of the books I read and, let’s be frank, YouTube videos I watch, I have begun to develop my critical thinking skills. To undermine that which I take for granted, question what is certain.
Through social media and loudspeakers, I was the herald of liberal notions more times than I can count. With a banner above my head, I would manifest how much I cared for the planet and the future of our children.
But was it actually so?
As I began to look at my life from other points of view, a different message emerged. Trying to see with other people’s eyes, I started to read between the lines. It seemed to me that going to the streets and organizing strikes wasn’t campaigning for the Earth, as it was crusading against the system.
The bad greedy businessmen who exploit our planet’s resources.
The wicked politicians driven by authoritarian motives.
The older generations, ignorant of the arising global catastrophe.
And maybe that’s true. Maybe somebody has made a bad decision in the past or pretended not to see what was going on. My knowledge on the matter isn’t deep enough to make accusations.
First of all, pointing fingers and public shaming isn’t going to get us anywhere – at least anywhere we’d like to be. Second of all, having done some research I can say that the matter is way more complex than we’d like it to be.
Sure, I do care about the future, but was that the way to go?
So there came the decision. In the entirety of my life I don’t want to stand up against another human being, ever. As my spiritual mentor, Marcus Aurelius, put it:
(…) Neither can I be angry with my brother or fall foul of him; for he and I were born to work together, like a man’s two hands, feet, or eyelids, or like the upper and lower rows of his teeth. To obstruct each other is against Nature’s law – and what is irrational or aversion but a form of obstruction?
I came to realize how each of us, regardless of our preoccupation or position on the political axis, stands in a particular place because of the experiences we’ve been through and the decisions we’ve made so far.
Here’s another bit of Aurelius’ Meditations, the part I begin my every morning with:
Today I shall be meeting with interference, ingratitude, insolence, disloyalty, ill-will, and selfishness – all of them due to the offenders’ ignorance of what is good or evil. But for my part I have long perceived the nature of good and its nobility, the nature of evil and its meanness, and also the nature of the culprit himself, who is my brother (…); therefore none of those things can injure me, for nobody can implicate me in what is degrading.
Now, don’t think living this way is easy. It’s everything but easy. It’s much easier to go out on the street and criticize the wicked systems. It’s easy to spread fears of a climate crisis. It’s extremely easy to tell people what they’re doing or have done wrong.
But looking at yourself, finding fault in your own character, facing the true you?
That’s difficult. Being hard on yourself, it’s rough.
Ergo, we got to the other reason why I decided to wave good-bye to activism (again, not activists!).
Sure, maybe your life is perfectly in order and you’ve got nothing to complain about. Maybe you’re ready to go out and find fault in what everyone around is doing. Maybe you’re the true role-model for masses.
But are you?
For the whole time what I actually did was hide my own problems under the sheet of moralistic values pushed forward by an ideology I found charitable.
Let’s get precise with this one.
Sleep deficit I already mentioned, everybody experiences it at some point in their lives. Besides that, I was an arrogant asshole with over-the-top ego. Looking down at people, laughing behind their backs, oblivious to the consequences of my actions.
And I did that. I hurt people.
Relations with my closest of kin – my parents – well, there were fat years and there were lean years. Still, I could give a moralizing speech on Dostoyewski’s idea of social radicalism in front of hundreds of people, but I couldn’t have a decent conversation with my dad, or speak my mind up in front of my mum in a way that wouldn’t insult her.
And I did that. I was arrogant, and I hurt people.
Where did I find solace? Incapable of facing my own struggles, I succumbed into a dangerous world. Alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs slowly consumed me. My recovery is a whole different story, maybe for another time, but you get the idea. Pleasure-inducing substances are still a way out for many.
And I did that. I was arrogant, I was lost, and I hurt people.
I was weak.
Sure, each and every one of us has problems. Point is, I didn’t even try to address the issues strictly related to me and the people I love, whilst condemning capitalists in suits and the corrupt system.
What the hell does that even mean? And more importantly, what the hell did I try to achieve?
How could I be a leader without knowing the way myself?
That was it. Responsibility is the word. The meaning of my life is to change the world and inspire others to do the same. To my mind, taking the responsibility is a pretty good start.
Responsibility for myself, my words and my actions.
Responsibility for my family, to build a loving atmosphere in my home and a strong foundation for the future.
Responsibility for the people around me. So that wherever I go, I share love, I make people smile, and I help. So that I feel good around them, and they’re happy with my company.
Despite all this, I’m still weak. But I am getting stronger.
The ambition to be a better person is virtuous in itself; the pursuit of integrity and meaning within oneself.
Four weeks of caring for the people around me did more good than four months of being an activist, this I can tell you. Again, it ain’t easy – but who said that it was supposed to be easy?
As one of modern public intellectuals says: “It’s tough, man.”
Activize your life. You don’t need a banner for that.