Sphere of Influence

Earlier today, I posted an FB status that has reflected my mood this week: “I’m worried about the people of Japan, the women of America, + the people of Libya.” Even though it’s Spring Break, and the boyfriend and I took a little trip out of town, we couldn’t help but saturate ourselves with news about Japan, Libya, and the GOP’s attack on women.  I’ve spent all week taking turns shaking my head (and fists!) at each of these news lines, feeling disappointed, distraught, and helpless.

Not a great feeling for an activist, right? I find anger to be much more empowering than sadness, but this week I just couldn’t convince myself that I could make any impact on these crises. Sure, I educate the people around me, volunteer escort at Planned Parenthood,  try to teach my students critical thinking skills, and give small amounts of money to the Red Cross, but I can’t possibly do anything to help the solve the huge problems on my mind. The problems are so huge, the obstacles so complicated, the solutions ambiguous–and I am drained.

I’d like to think we all feel this way sometimes as activists. We forget that our contributions to society (and the Red Cross!) actually do matter, even if they pale in comparison to The Problems. Sometimes I feel this way about blogging–what’s the point of WRITING about things when I should just get out there and try to DO something? I downplay, and end up downtrodden.

Apathy about world events just isn’t a state for me–I’ve tried it, even with a bottle of my favorite wine, I can’t swallow it. I am a compassionate person who is constantly concerned about current events.

On our wine tour this week through the beautiful Hill Country of Texas, we chatted with another couple. After learning about my thesis topic (anti-Human trafficking organization) and dissertation topic (Organization that works with abused and neglected children), I recited the joke I always tell to make my interlocutor more comfortable — “I guess I really like to be depressed!” “No,” she responded, shaking her head, “It takes a special person to do that, a special person.”

I had never thought of it that way before.

I work and write and agitate about tough topics because I CAN’T BELIEVE I live in a world where children are ABUSED and people are SOLD. Like I really can’t friggin’ believe it, and I refuse to accept it. It’s a compulsion– I didn’t choose this topic, these voices chose me. A professor once told me that we research that which we don’t understand, and in my case I think it’s true.

All of this is to say, that sometimes I need someone to pull me out of my “desperation place”– or that place where I believe the lie that I can’t do anything to help. This time it was another professor who commented on my status:

“Although I agree that all these folks are in sad straights, I try to keep this in mind: “Worry is energy that pretends to be useful.” Instead, I think about what I can do within my sphere of influence, and then spend my energy likewise.”

I love the idea of examining what I can do within my sphere, and acting accordingly. I don’t get held accountable to how much good  Rachel Maddow/MotherJones/NOW does, because I don’t have their spheres. I have this one, where I can stand outside Planned Parenthood and smile at protesters, where I can include a bunch of feminist writings in the classes I teach, and where I can blog about the issues that I care about, even if only a few people are reading.

So here’s to letting ourselves be disappointed, but always finding a hand to pull us up.

The question becomes, what can you do this week in your sphere?


Posted on: March 19th, 2011 by Fair and Feminist No Comments

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