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Life Kit: Activism doesn't have to be intimidating


We all have different causes that call us to action. These days, there are plenty to choose from - whether it's gun rights, the abortion debate, or even the war in Ukraine. But with so many big problems out there, the idea of working to make real change happen can be intimidating, or it can feel futile - or both. Life Kit's Andee Tagle offers a different view on what it means to be an activist.

ANDEE TAGLE, BYLINE: There is no one way to change the world. That's what Karen Walrond, leadership coach and public speaker, came to realize when writing her book, "The Lightmaker's Manifesto: How To Work For Change Without Losing Your Joy."

KAREN WALROND: In my mind, activism was something that you did and got arrested for - that it was something that you did and got tear-gassed, and police dogs get set on you.

TAGLE: Yes, activism can look like big, flashy, vigorous action, like chaining yourself to a tree, climbing atop a pipeline or marching by the thousands.

WALROND: And if that is your jam, then for sure keep doing that. But what if activism didn't have to be 100% sacrificial? We're all different people, and we have different ways that we can sort of hook into activism in a way that really sort of enriches us.

TAGLE: She calls this idea lightmaking, a more expansive view of activism that includes...

WALROND: Any time you are led by your values to do purposeful action in the hopes of making the world brighter for other people.

TAGLE: In this frame, no action for the greater good is too small, and there are an infinite number of ways to start. Lightmaking can look like speaking up for a teammate at a work meeting, translating your passion for cupcakes for a charity bake sale, or using your social media reach to raise the profile of a cause. Becoming a lightmaker is similar to building a campfire, says Walrond.

WALROND: And so the first thing is that you have to find a clearing.

TAGLE: That looks like tossing away your notions of what activism should look like and focusing first on defining how much time and space you have in your life to offer. Then, consider what gifts and skills you bring to the table. What lights you up? What activities do you enjoy most? That's your tinder.

WALROND: Even - don't think of it as, well, that's not an activist thing. That's not the point. It's about sort of doing the inventory in your own life about the things that you already love to do that you would do anyway and figuring out - how can I use that to be of service?

TAGLE: Bring your interior design skills to your local women's shelter. Offer your Rubik's Cube mastery at the preschool down the street. Don't sell yourself short.

From there, you need to find your spark - your core beliefs and the causes that fuel you.

WALROND: What are the values that we hold? What are some of the things that keep us in our integrity that we always want to keep mindful of? And also, what are some of the causes that make us angry or that break our hearts or make us think something has to change, right?

TAGLE: Once you've got your campfire going, you have to tend to the flames.

WALROND: Let's face it, we don't get into activism because things are great. Like, we're usually angry or upset or sad about something. Joy is how we gather the energy to go back in to do the work. Joy is how we remind ourselves what we're fighting for.

TAGLE: Often, the ills of the world can feel too big for any one person or group to solve. That's OK, says Walrond. Change takes time, but everyone can make a difference in their own way. It's about the longevity of the work, not the finish line.

WALROND: Our job is to take the baton from the people who came before us and then pass it along to the people. And the way that we do that is we focus on the progress as opposed to the focus on the actual eradication or complete success.

TAGLE: Because at the end of the day...

WALROND: All activism is good activism.

TAGLE: For NPR's Life Kit, I'm Andee Tagle.

PARKS: You can find more tips and life hacks on NPR's Life Kit. Just go to npr.org/lifekit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andee Tagle
Andee Tagle (she/her) is an associate producer and now-and-then host for NPR's Life Kit podcast.