By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO
Internal Activism essentially means being the change you wish to see in the world. It is a concept that Mahatma Gandhi became known for and a teaching that Martin Luther King Jr. carried forward. Before one can be the change they wish to see in the world, they need to understand truly what the change is they wish to be.
Sounds logical and simple, however simple doesn’t mean easy and even the logical can become confusing when the volume of information and data becomes too much to discern. Our world is becoming increasingly more complex and there is a common desire for many things to change (and change all at once). It’s easy to become either demoralized or paralyzed with where to best focus energy and attention to be the change you wish to see.
When feeling overwhelmed, it’s tempting to get angry at people and situations and cast blame outward. The pull toward trying to change others behavior, to get them to act or do certain things, is a powerful one, one that can lead you to use manipulative behaviors that only compound your feelings of powerlessness. A more powerful and impactful action is to choose to change what you can change about yourself when you are engaged in situations where you desire an alternative outcome. It is through trusting the process of taking internal, thoughtful, individual action that lasting activism is born.
Internal Activism is a process that uses the skill of awareness to help people identify the change they wish to see in the world. When individual action is created around that change, it can transform singular effort into community or global activism and shift the environments in which we live and work. There are 3 steps to discover your path to Internal Activism.
What is the change you want to see in the world? Your world can be defined as your family, your work, your community, your country or even yourself. Where do you desire a shift, a change, a new direction? In what way would you like to see your world different? Notice the articles you read, the shows you watch, the people you talk to. What is stirring you up and making you uncomfortable? What is it that you are avoiding or ignoring? What is it that gets under your skin? What are you ready to stop tolerating or accepting?
If you are like most people, you’ll notice more than one thing you want to change. Start simple and pick one issue or trigger to focus on for now. (Don’t worry about picking the “right” thing – if you care about it, it’s right for you.) For example, you might be bothered by bullying behavior at work, issues around diversity and inclusion, or people obsessed with their devices. The size and scale of the issue doesn’t matter – only that you care about it and wish to see a different outcome.
Take the trigger/issue you picked and isolate it from all the others. For right now make this your focus for action. Consider the issue from all sides. What is it about this issue that triggers you? How does it make you feel? How often do you see it and where do you see it? How do you currently respond and show up when it occurs? Consider the desired end state for the change you wish to see. What do you want to be different? Now make a list of the behaviors you can take to support that outcome. What role can you play?
For example, if you picked workplace bullying, start by creating awareness around your own behaviors to determine if any of your actions could be considered bullying by other people. Perhaps some can and you were previously unaware of it. Next, notice how often it happens, where, when, who and what meetings do bullying patterns emerge? Finally, decide the behavior you wish to model when you witness bullying in a meeting occur. Perhaps you have a go-to phrase, “I’m interested to learn your thoughts/feelings, however, I’m not comfortable with that language in this meeting, in the future talk like that (give example) isn’t acceptable.”
Now the hard part – putting it in action. It’s much easier to contemplate being the change than it is to actually do it. Being the change means you will likely upset your world in some way. Setting a boundary or addressing unacceptable behavior will cause some discomfort and maybe even some tension at the start. The same is true with learning to undo something that you’ve noticed is a behavior that you no longer wish to do – it’s common to feel exposed at the start of being the change.
Behavior change takes time. It also takes courage no matter how big or small the change is you wish to see – you will likely feel vulnerable at first. Stay with it and trust that over time, the more deeply connected you are to your action, the more confidence and empowerment you will feel each time you witness yourself being the change.
The key to successfully living a life of Internal Activism is consistency in your behavior (words and actions). Stick with the behaviors you’ve chosen and at every opportunity, be the change – offer others an example, become the presence of the possibility until it becomes as natural as breathing. Then begin again to become the next change you wish to see in the world.