One of the things that was really nice about my VISTA PSO training is that I’m among like-minded people. I have “found my people” if you will. These are people who use words like intersectionality and privilege in everyday conversations, people who are committing a year to service, people who are social justice minded and educated. And oh boy does it feel good to be around them. These kinds of experiences can be great, but they can also be a bit dangerous for social justice advocates, or those who want to make a difference in the world. What do I mean? Well, you can become complacent.
Let’s break it down. When you find your people, you can feel a lot of relief. Particularly if you’re a social justicey person you might be used to doing Racism or Feminism 101 every day. Every interaction might feel a bit hostile. People call you uptight, and they don’t understand your passions. So when you finally find people who are like you, it feels like coming home. Barriers fall, conversations are easier, there are common cultural touchstones. Here are the people you don’t have to argue with! It’s so relaxing! You feel loved and safe, you feel like the world’s finally ok.
But here’s the problem: the world hasn’t changed, only your situation has. These kinds of communities can become a siren song that lures you away from the rest of the world and the projects you used to be so passionate about. It can easily turn into the classic social justice circle: everyone hangs out and talks, but no one does anything. It can lead to complacency, and I’ve found can even result in discomfort around anyone whose priorities and thoughts don’t match your own. You become too comfortable. You rest on your laurels. You forget why these people made you so happy in the first place: because you want the whole world to be like this. You may start to resent the rest of the world for not being like this. This is a problem if you want to be an effective advocate for change. When you find home you don’t always want to leave.
And so as per usual, I find myself advocating a carefully chosen balance. If you are lucky enough to find a community that makes you feel safe and secure, that is GREAT. It is essential to have a place to relax and recharge if you want to be an effective advocate or even just an effective human being. But when you find yourself beginning to slip away from the things that were important to you in the past, it is important to plan out how you want to continue to engage. Forcing yourself into situations that might make you uncomfortable for a time can be a good thing. Adding activities like volunteering, writing, or going to rallies onto your calendar and asking your friends to help you stick to them is crucial. Sometimes you may have to leave your happy comfort bubble, but it’s worth it. With some careful effort you can be revitalized through a safe and comforting community while still staying in touch with the reality you want to change.