Standing boldly in support of a better world often clashes with my introverted personality, which just wants to stay home and read a book.
I firmly believe inaction in the face of injustice is a form of acceptance. However, my ideal of standing boldly and visibly in support of a better world often clashes with my introverted personality.
Sure, I could go knock on strangers’ doors and ask them to support a social justice campaign. But it often feels a lot more appealing to snuggle up under my weighted blanket and read a book about changing the world instead.
That said, activism has been a defining part of my adult life, during time spent in both Ireland (where I live now) and in the United States. I’ve called registered voters, asking them to give their support to Barack Obama during his first campaign. I’ve protested against Wall Street banks, racism, and queerphobia, and supported climate justice, equality, and refugees.
It hasn’t been easy, and it took some time to figure out how to embrace my inner drive to change the world — while nurturing my introverted personality. (Fun fact: Many U.S. leaders and presidents were introverts!) While I still don’t get it right all the time, I’ve found lots of things that help me stay involved, and be successful, without burning out or getting overwhelmed.
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3 Ways to Be an Activist as an Introvert
1. Participate in ways that feel best to you — even if that means working behind the scenes.
I’ve always been someone who wants to live my life to the fullest. That means I often find myself wondering if I do “enough” as an activist. I’m especially likely to play the inevitable comparison game when I hear about a fellow changemaker doing what sounds like much more than I ever could.
This is why it’s important to keep in mind that activism is not a competition or race. Participate in ways that feel best to you — it still counts.
For example, protests and rallies are full of many of the things that make me wish I’d just stayed home and let other people do their best to improve society. The crowds, megaphones, and chants quickly threaten to send me into an anxiety spiral, even though I’ve attended such events for decades.
However, I eventually learned that I tend to have a more enjoyable experience by staying on the edges of an event rather than getting in the thick of it. Sometimes, that decision leads to unexpected discussion opportunities, too.
Several years ago, I was protesting against agrochemical company Monsanto in Dublin, Ireland. However, the march was going at a faster pace than I expected. Eventually, I felt frustrated trying to keep up. So, still wearing my homemade protest sign around my neck, I decided I’d take a short break to regroup, then catch up.
I unintentionally caught the attention of a man who was unaware of the protest in progress and had not heard of Monsanto. We got into a brief chat, and I eagerly explained some of the reasons for my participation. I usually become quite reserved when talking to strangers, but in this case, I felt at ease and happy to share my perspective with someone who’d not have otherwise gotten to hear it. After all, we introverts can talk a lot when we’re passionate about something!
Remember, being an activist at large events doesn’t require getting into any situations that make you feel uncomfortable. It’s always okay to step back, knowing that even the intention to participate is important enough to matter.
2. Know, and express, your boundaries.
Over the years, I’ve attended most activism events alone. But several years ago, I became involved with a small, highly engaged and all-together lovely group of activists in my community. One of the things I appreciate most about this amazing group of friends is that they always accept and support how much — or little — I want to participate in a campaign.
If they invite me to a gathering and I regretfully decline due to not feeling up to it (needing alone time is real!), they understand and don’t push me to provide specific reasons. Sometimes, I’ve wanted to participate in our group’s events, but needed help to do so. The other participants are always ready to provide it, while still letting me advocate for myself.
They’re also supportive when it comes to my abilities to help. I was born with a physical disability that requires me to use a walking aid. Whenever we’re planning to meet in a new venue that has stairs or other potential obstacles, at least one member will let me know well in advance, then be ready to offer whatever assistance I need on the day of our gathering. Knowing those details, and having that support, makes me feel more at ease in a new social setting. Even though I still experience lots of unfamiliar things, the group members provide comfort with their consistency.
I’m a committed activist, albeit a particularly quiet one at group meetings. I’d rather listen carefully and take detailed notes than offer campaign ideas while all other attendees watch me expectantly. And guess what? This is no problem for any of the other participants. Over the years, some have learned that I’d rather provide ideas in a Facebook Messenger group chat than speak in the company of other activists — not all of whom I know.
I’ve also learned to recognize when it works best for me to focus on non-public-facing activism because I need to recharge my batteries. Take it from me, it’s far better to know when you need to take a step back than to make yourself push through the stress. So confide in others when you feel like you’ve hit your limit or need some extra support. They’ll almost certainly appreciate that you’re listening to your needs; having boundaries in place is important!
Do you ever struggle to know what to say?
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3. Don’t forget about your creature comforts.
For instance, I never attend rallies or protests without bringing at least one pair of earplugs and some sunglasses. I know I can’t escape all the stimuli I’ll encounter, but those essentials at least shield me from a lot of it.
I also set aside some time before and after activism events for meditation practices. Being an activist in such a public way can be mentally, physically, and emotionally draining. Luckily, I’ve found that meditation helps me get rejuvenated and restore my inner calm.
In addition, I try to keep myself as relaxed as possible before and after events. That might mean listening to soothing music or a humorous podcast or reading a favorite book. Since the environment of an activism event will be largely outside my control, I do what I can to cherish familiarity before and afterward.
So, reward yourself by setting aside time for whatever activities feel most nourishing once the event is over. Does that mean getting settled on a plush couch in a quiet cafe to sip on a cup of chai tea? Or would you rather go straight home to soak in a hot bath and play with your cat? Or just decompress and “do nothing”?
Point being, don’t feel pressured into doing whatever you think other activists might expect. Tune into your mental and emotional state while paying attention to how your body feels. Maybe you feel up to joining a few others for a drink at the bar across the street. But if you’d rather find some time for yourself, that’s absolutely okay. After all, we introverts need time to recharge so that we can be the best versions of ourselves.
You might like:
- How to Be an Activist When You’re an Introvert
- 9 Famous Introverts Who Have Been Hugely Successful in Life
- U.S. Presidents Who Were Introverts (And What Makes Them Great)
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