Social activists need to grow as humans as well because the greatest enemy isn’t outside, whether it is white supremacy or colonialism or patriarchy; it is the untamed ego or shadow side of us. (We can have a holistic t’shuvah understanding of ourselves, recognising that while we bear the image of the divine, we have a capacity to do tremendous good or terrible evil.)
When we succeed in bringing about a revolution and challenging and dismantling white supremacy, for example, the question is “what’s next?” Is the response “who’s the next enemy?” If so, it can become a means to not deal with our interior life and stay preoccupied with fighting against an external perceived enemy all the time. This can lead to infighting in social activist groups or movements as the members begin to turn on one another. But if the response is “how can I continue to create a better and more humane world?” then one can find creative ways to bring about or facilitate restoration and reconciliation. It might mean working through one’s own pain and suffering to experience healing and peace more and more; it might mean reaching out to help the oppressed heal from their pain and suffering; it might mean working with the white people who are aware and willing to bring about equality in real and tangible ways in society, and so on.
To be sure, social activists are human and have their own fears and egos and insecurities. But are they going to allow these to override their primary motivation in activism, which is a love for oneself and others and working towards their emancipation? If others’ freedom and well being are their top priority, they can choose to not their own hurt pride and wounded ego get in the way of their mission to alleviate the oppressed of their pain and suffering.
Social activists have to learn to develop a thick skin and a willingness to be open and receptive to questions and criticisms. They have to realise that as public figures who have a platform that is open to scrutiny from the rest of the world, they cannot be shielded or sheltered from opposing views or different perspectives. Instead, they can choose to learn from the criticisms and different perspectives to do their own soul searching, to grow and expand, to become stronger and bigger persons.
Social activists need to create a space for themselves to embrace their own brokenness, weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as that of others. Only then can they live an honest and authentic life, and continue to inspire others with their humanness.
Social activists can choose to learn from other role models who have been through struggles and upheavals themselves and who are open about their struggles. People such as Rob Bell and Carlton Pearson, who have suffered and been ostracised in their work to challenge oppressive systems and mindsets and who have worked through their struggles and shared openly about them, can serve as such role models.