How to be a social activist at work

Turn helplessness into effective action and apathy into compassionate response

How to be a social activist at work

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Mindfully take social activism on social justice issues and respond to humanitarian needs through your work. Turn helplessness into effective action and apathy into a compassionate response.


Climate change denial. Anti-war. Eco-terroism. Anti-immigration. Anti-establishment. Smash the patriarchy. Corporate accountability. Anti-elitism. Anti-colonialism. Anti-corruption. Racism. Ageism. Sexism, sexual bias, harassment and #metoo. Animal rights, sentiency rights … and the list of humanitarian causes and social justice issues goes on.

We’re seeing a global and unprecedentedly visible (c/o social media) rise in awareness and reaction against complexes of oppression, models of monarchy, institutions of injustice, corrupt leadership and unsustainable systems and processes fueled by greed while producing untenable waste.

We’re entering 2020 at a tipping point: from Amazonian deforestation, entire countries on fire (Austrialia) to a world in protest and ancient monarchies re-negotiating their roles and their impact on their countries.

We’re entering 2020 at a tipping point. The Amazon rainforest, the world’s lungs and a major water source (via sky rivers), has now become The Royal Statistical Society’s most troubling stat of the decade: 10.3 million American football fields of land have been deforested.

And, step aside, California, the entire island of Australia has caught fire resulting in almost half a billion animal deaths and counting, threatening to completely wipe out entire species and ecosystems.

And, protests literally everywhere. Hong Kong, France, Australia, Iran and the U.S. “2020 begins as 2019 left off – dissent,” reads a Euronews headline summarizing global protest on everything from impeachment and anti-war to climate change, pensions and pro-democracy.

Social activism and humanitarian movements are gaining support as we collectively watch the underdog get taken under, while our story’s evil villian seems to reign-on unchecked.

Even the oft-adored British Royal Family is feeling the tipping point as the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, announced they’d be stepping back as senior Royal Family members, changing their focus to becoming financially independent.

In Finland, the youngest female prime minister was recently sworn in, prepared to lead a coalition of mostly 30-something female-led parties.

Movements are gaining support as we collectively watch the underdog get taken under, while our story’s evil villian seems to reign-on unchecked.

The macro meets the micro: now’s the time to take action

Aquarian the humanitarian

During the last half of January,  the story gets more interesting—for the underdog. The sun enters Aquarius (Jan 20), followed up by an Aquarian new moon (Jan 24) three days later. You’ve probably heard about The Age of Aquarius, or maybe you can hear a groovy soundtrack from the 60s playing in the back of your mind right now. Either way, what these astrological events invite us to do is to harness the natural energy in the macrocosm (the heavens) for use in the microcosm (our lives, our work and our crumbling systems here on planet earth).

Aquarian social activism and humanitarianism at work | person looking up at starry sky.jpg
Photo by Klemen Vrankar on Unsplash

If you’re not already starting to feel that natural energy, the sun entering Aquarius on Jan 20 may certainly awaken within you a call to explore studying, learning or doing something new, and maybe even unconventional. The sun represents conscious awareness, light, action and our masculine, future-focused tendencies. Aquarius energy represents the humanitarian who, with a 3,000-foot perspective, can step back and see the whole system’s innerworkings while zeroing in on where the system’s getting blocked. Aquarian energy maintains a positive mindset, approaching the blocks in the system with a creative, experimental attitude that invites innovative new ideas to emerge to address old, worn-out approaches, processes and systems.

Together, the sun’s active, forward-thinking energy combined with the big-picture down to the details perspective and experimental approach of Aquarius makes now an excellent time to find ways we can be humanitarians in our own work and lives.

These astrological events invite us to harness the natural energy in the macrocosm (the heavens) for use in the microcosm (our lives, our work and our crumbling systems here on planet earth).

A few days after the sun moves into this global humanitarian and activist energy, we get a new moon entering Aquarius. New Moons mark the beginning of the lunar cycle and are inner-focused, contemplative and intention and vision-setting in nature. Perfect time to really get clear about how you want to show up in the world—and in your work—in an active, restorative, supportive, humanitarian way. A way that unites for the common good through awareness, education or, better yet, action.

How are employees at large tech companies being social activists?

2019 was the Year of the Social Activist at work for tech companies, and 2020 isn’t looking much different.

Google employees faced off with their employer, staging a 20,000-employee global walkout and actively engaging the company through their engineering skillsets on social issues ranging from a lack of diversity to sexual assault to protesting Google’s anti-organizing behavior as they systematically let go of a handful of mostly Trans teammates.

At Facebook, hundreds of employees organized against the founder’s stance on transparency and fact-checking process for political advertising, among other issues.

At Amazon, employees concerned about climate change and calling the company’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, to take action have reported warnings they may be let go for speaking out on the topic.

At Uber, contracting employees using the hashtag message #DeleteUber uncorked a stream of Twitter activism that gave way to accusations of sexual misconduct in management and eventually led to a commissioned study of the company’s management requested by its board of directors, and the eventual call for the resignation of Uber’s CEO.

What does social activism look like in other lines of work?

If we’re embodying the spirit of intentional Aquarian energy, there’s no limit to the ways social activism and humanitarian action can show up in our work and lives. Meet three humanitarian activists using the spirit of these times and this energy to change broken global systems locally.

The visionary and spiritual humanitarian

How to be a social activist at work | Vanessa stone transformational facilitation classroom students
Photo from Vanessastone.org

Vanessa Stone’s visionary humanitarian work comes through in the act of being in service—to self, to other and to the whole of your own life as the spiritual path.

Her body of work, which began 15 years ago, moves from a deep “inspiration to cultivate visionaries and mentor heart-centered global leaders. She has a passion for actualizing authentic visions in the world, and serving as a catalyst for unifying people from all walks of life,” according to her Facebook page.

She carries out her work in the world both virtually and in-person in California and Hawaii through “public teaching, apprenticeship programs, residential immersions, retreats, international humanitarian service, photography and writing.” These are just a few of the creative, innovative ways she shows up as a humanitarian, a spiritually-grounded leader and social-spiritual activist.

Her most recent work focuses on preparing others to bring their humanitarian visions into being through transformational facilitation.  Ever approaching learning as a co-facilitator with Nature, she also offers contemplative farming immersions on the big island of Hawaii where the farm sanctuary she’s creating acts as a “natural living classroom … to explore our sacred relationship with Nature (both inner and outer).”

The relational theatre-artist activist

How to be a social activist at work | man relating with another by holding hands
Photo by mostafa meraji on Unsplash

Nathanael Card is a Producing Director at Dragon Productions Theatre Company in Redwood City, Calif. who wears many hats including Master Electrician, hiring actors and managing production budget. Also known as, “a wizard of the theatre arts. Some would say a jack of all trades. A person who sort of fits in where there’s the most need I can fulfill.”

Using his work as a labratory within which to practice and study his unique humanitarian offering to the world, he makes a point to vocalize his emotional experience with his colleagues and address the impacts his coworkers have on him (and he has on them) as they happen in production meetings or roundtable discussions.

“I see theatre, and art in general, as a necessary outlet for the collective emotional experience.”

When those emotions aren’t expressed or stated thoughtfully then they are carried out of the office into homes. And, I suspect that has lots to do with problems in personal life—from binge drinking after work to domestic violence. Those problems being the inability to manage anger, sadness, frustration, for example, without it all building up. When I feel those emotions arise, rather than close up and swallow them, I take a breathe, ground myself and say that I have something that I need to say just to clear the air and move past it. It’s still kind of an experiment,” he relates, recalling how he approaches his relationships in his daily work at the theatre.

But, he’s not stopping there. “Because I see that all of our actions are connected. And if I want my world to be better, then that means everybody I interact with needs to be better as well. I see theatre, and art in general, as a necessary outlet for the collective emotional experience.”

Using theatre as his platform, he’s written and will direct, come this summer, what he terms, “devised, immersive theatre of social activism” to address one of the key social issues he sees we’re facing collectively. One that feels like “a flavor of fear,” he describes. “Uncomfortably crude. Like if there was a block of wood underneath your mattress. It feels like there’s no way to get comfortable.”

Card’s theatre of social activism is mean to bring awareness to a “uniquely masculine, male struggle to communicate and respond to our emotions in a way that’s ultimately beneficial and constructive to the ones we care about,” he explains.

Card’s show intends to address some of the most visible and socially fragmenting topics impacting our culture including domestic violence, alcoholism and racism in a humorous way that “instills a sense of hope.”

“There’s a general sense among men,” he goes on to share, “that we’re tiptoeing on our own broken glass when we want to participate in general conversation or topics we really care about.”

“There’s a lot of men who are just afraid to speak in general because they’ve either heard ‘you’ve had your chance to talk, no more talking’ or every other word out of our mouths gets called out for privilege. As true as some of that may be, it becomes emotionally exhausting.”

Card’s show, AJ’s Annual Party, is as he describes it: “in the spirit of the happenings of the 60s, but more grounded. There’s some clowning happening, because I think this sort of subject matter needs some levity. We have to face this shit everyday, so you have to have a sense of humor.” The show intends to address some of the most visible and culturally fragmenting social topics including domestic violence, alcoholism and racism in a humorous way that “instills a sense of hope.”

“If we’re not able to better communicate our emotions, that becomes everybody’s problem,” Card relates.

The eco-artist, herbalist and plant conservationist

How to be a social activist at work | growing pots of herbs
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Histotech by day, eco-artist, herbalist and conservationist by night, Nicole Klinge, has been making “sacred art out of trash for 25 years as a way to educate people on the trash problem, transform ‘trash’ into something beautiful and offer it as gratitude to creator for all the abundance we are given,” she shares.

“Our disconnect with spirit and our disconnect with nature is really at the heart of the problem.”

What’s the problem she wants to address through her life’s actions and her work? In the U.S. she shares “it’s our disconnect with spirit, true spirit, not bullshit religion (which I think is a major part of the problem) and our disconnect with nature that is really at the heart of the problem. If we all understood our interconnectedness with each other and all living creatures, our decisions and ways of being would be very different. Our social and cultural issues are largely because of these disconnects. Societies where people still have a connection to nature, spirit and each other are very different in their values.”

While her workday is comprised of doing medical pathology testing in a histology labratory, she relates that she doesn’t believe in the waste and profit-driven culture of contemporary western medicine.

“It’s amazing how many people want to be healthier and use natural therapies. So, I feel like I’m changing healthcare for the better—just a little bit—by having conversations with people.”

“Being in the medical industry I talk to many people about natural medicine and herbal therapy,” she expresses with hope, “and it’s amazing how many people want to be healthier and use natural therapies. So, I feel like I’m changing healthcare for the better—just a little bit—by having these conversations with people.”

Klinge began her study of plant medicines and herbalism 15 years ago. While she’s watched this facet of her work take many forms since that time, she’s currently practicing as a plant healer and herbalist “growing medicinal plants and teaching people how to utilize them for personal health,” while simultaneously advocating for native plant restoration, which she feels strongly, can work to “restore environmental balance, feed wildlife and pollinators and change the current mindset of what a ‘yard’ should be.”

Klinge is able to fulfill all of her produce needs, including growing more than 100 medicinal plants using native woodland and prairie gardens on 1/3 of an acre.

She champions back-yard gardening, or “growing your own,” and started teaching gardening over the past year, sharing how she’s able to fulfill all of her produce needs, including growing more than 100 medicinal plants using native woodland and prairie gardens on 1/3 of an acre.

As an active member of a Central Illinois-based conservation organization, Friends of Horseshoe Bottoms, and in hopes of restoring animal and ecological habitat while inspiring others, Klinge works with the group restoring a 160-acre corn field in West Peoria area to its native ecology: prairie and wetland. “This year will be our third native and medicinal plant sale to raise money for the project and make these plants available to people who want to have a healthier ecosystem in their own yard,” Klinge passionately shares.

How to mindfully address social justice and humanitarian needs through your work

With the energy of the cosmos on your side and a few tips and examples from those modeling what it looks like, turning helplessness into effective action and apathy into a compassionate response isn’t just for the Martin Luther King Juniors, Sanna Marins or Greta Thunbergs of the world.

Using a simple yet natural, cyclical approach to taking action, like Hakomi method’s Sensitivity Cycle, can help you prepare both mindfully and intentionally.

1. Identify where you’re at right now

Effective action is the second stage in Hakomi’s Sensitivity Cycle after rest/relaxation or completion and awareness/clarity. The Sensitivity Cycle is a four-stage cycle of human experience the founder of Hakomi method, Ron Kurtz, conceptualized in order to provide “a theoretical map of optimal life functioning emphasizing the need for sensitivity to one’s internal experience in relation to four essential stages.”

The Sensitivity Cycle Hakomi Method Stages of Experience

INFOGRAPHIC: The Sensitivity Cycle | Stages of Experience | Hakomi Method

The Sensitivity Cycle, “suggests that for a satisfying life an individual needs to:

  1. (Awareness / Clarity) be aware of, or sensitive to, one’s own essential situations and needs,
  2. (Effective Action) take appropriate action based on this clarity,
  3. (Satisfaction) experience satisfaction as a result of successful action, and
  4. (Healthy Rest / Relaxation or Completion) be able to rest and regenerate in order to become aware and clear about what is needed next (start over at Step 1).”

But, “when sensitivity is impeded via a barrier, the loop is either stalled or becomes a shallow or unsatisfying journey,” describes Kurtz in his 1990 book on Hakomi Method. “The sensitivity cycle is a process and barriers are its interruptions.” Kurtz describes a barrier as a habitual way we block increases to sensitivity in each stage of the cycle.

So, identify your current stage on the sensitivity cycle. It’s important you work to complete that stage before you’ll be able to move on to the next. Until you’re able to naturally be at an organic and intentional place of action-taking.

Don’t forget to consider where your organization might be at in terms of the sensitivity cycle. If they’re just getting started, and have yet to define their own vision, mission or company values, they might be early in the awareness/clarity stage. Timing is important here, so approaching your company once they’ve reached a level of awareness and clarity about their own business proposition or strategy is key for engaging them in support of the causes or social issues you feel strongly about.

2. Clarify what you value and what your company values

The start of a new decade and a new year is a great time to get clear on what you value—from the inside out. From this place of knowing what you hold dear comes your boundaries, your goals and your purpose. And from this place you’ll more easily be able to focus in on the social issues, humanitarian efforts and causes you really care about rather than blindly, randomly reacting to every situation, cause or organization vying for your attention.

Help your organization understand, from a values perspective, why the cause is something they should care about.

If your values don’t align with your company’s values, then it’s time to look elsewhere. But, if your values do align with your company’s values, then using that as a bridge to supporting causes important to both you and the company can be powerful. Help your organization understand, from a values perspective, why the cause is something they should care about. Then, suggest opportunities to be in service to the cause you and your company care about like volunteering, donation-matching programs or using the company’s network and reach to amplify social and humanitarian issues you both agree are important.

3. Practice self-forgiveness

There’s a lot going on both globally and locally, and it can feel overwhelming and inundating at times in our around-the-clock, virtually-connected world. Practicing self-forgiveness is foundational for preparing yourself to take loving, compassionate and helpful action in your life and your work.

“I think self forgiveness is really important for that—being able to learn from a moment and move on. So, you can just enjoy the day-to-day,” advises Card.

Start with this simple, Sahaja yoga-inspired affirmation:

“I am not guilty of anything at all.”

  1. Find a quiet moment in a quiet space.
  2. Sitting comfortably in your chair, place your right hand on your left shoulder at the place where your neck and shoulder meet.
  3. With sincerity, say to yourself: “I am not guilty of anything at all.”
  4. Repeat this statement at least 3 times, or until you really believe yourself.

Because, let’s face it, “there are days where I feel like I am not really doing enough to be part of the solution,” says Klinge. “I struggle with my job, which is laden with plastic waste and chemicals. Does this make me a bad person for working there against my better judgements on what is right and good? I do what I can with the time, energy and life I have. I try to show up to good things and be a part of the solution and walk my talk the best I can.”

4. Work with what you’ve got 

As Klinge wisely suggests, “I would ask: what do you love? What are your natural skills and talents? What is easy for you?  Work with what you got!

Activism takes many forms: it can be someone meditating and praying by themselves, it can be someone doing web design work for a non-profit, starting and organization, speaking out or simply teaching by example.

Klinge shares Conscious Content’s personal passion and knowing that “if everyone was doing the work they were made to do then people would be much happier and everything would get done with gusto. Activism takes many forms: it can be someone meditating and praying by themselves, it can be someone doing web design work for a non-profit, starting and organization, speaking out or simply teaching by example. Perhaps it is about finding your truth and living it in whatever way your individual self has the desire, experience and love of.”

5. Take baby steps. Don’t try to solve everything at once.

A wise, South American friend once told me, “piedra por piedra la tortuga cruza el rio,” or stone by stone the turtle crosses the river.

And Card agrees, sharing his own personal process: “Don’t try and solve everything at once. Everytime I’m intentional about communicating my emotions or doing emotional work, even if it’s an abject failure on the surface, that is a baby step.”

What is one, extremely simple thing you can do in service of what you care about each and every day? Something so simple that it would be silly not to do?

As with anything in work and in life, we’re going to need to take our unique flavor of social activism and humanitarian work one step at a time. Afterall, what our very own version looks like has yet to be seen by the world. (Here’s where that Aquarian experimental attitude really comes into play.) Taking our time to just do a little each day in the direction of what we care about, stone-by-stone, will eventually lay the groundwork for our own unique humanitarian offering.

To break it down ask yourself: what is one, extremely simple thing you can do in service of what you care about each and every day. Something so simple that it would be silly not to do. And, do that one thing. On repeat. Every. Single. Day. It just may become a habit. Then, add another.

6. Seek support

From your relationship with your partner, your dog, your family or your larger community—seek support from those who get it and especially those who care too.

“Surround yourself with people who are supportive of this work,” advises Card, “supportive of you. It helps a lot. Being around people you love or care about can help you relax. Those who are able to provide a safer or more comfortable place for you to work through this stuff.”

Align with others who share your values and the causes you care about and spend time with them. Pick their brains. Observe them as behavioral models and lean on them when you need to. Keyword search hashtags on Facebook to find a local, national or global group aligning around the cause(s) you care about.

7. Allow yourself simple pleasures

The work of social activism isn’t for the faint of heart. And yet, as Card suggests, “It doesn’t all have to be profound.”

Pleasure and play is a way we rejuvenate. A way we can refill our cup so that we have the energy, mind and emotional space to be in service to the people, issues, causes and organizations we deeply care about.

Make sure you’re finding time for play and pleasure to balance out the more serious work of righting what you might believe are the world’s wrongs.

From playing video games with a friend to drawing, dancing, walks in nature, gardening or adventuring in a new neighborhood with your dog. Make sure you’re finding time for play and pleasure to balance out the more serious work of righting what you might believe are the world’s wrongs.

He urges those wanting to be activists and humanitarians in their work to, “give yourself a break, but also be aware that taking a break can turn into escapism. Just be prepared to address that honestly if you find yourself escaping rather than doing the work … which just might indicate there’s a step missing that needs to be addressed first.”



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