Why do we despair? We look around and see the state of the world, the layers upon layers of destruction and suffering. And it is hard not to despair. Capitalism and our general dominant culture have taught us that to be happy we just need to be more, do more, work more, consume more, buy more. But this is a false quest.
We are actively manipulated and coerced into distracting ourselves from our internal signals that something is not right, with entertainment, technology, objects, comforts.
But it never actually brings us what is promised or what we hope for - happiness, peace, fulfilment. It takes effort to resist and to follow another path. Many people have always held this strength, others of us need to work at this.
Perhaps the first step is to connect deeply with ourselves and find what it is that we really want, what we really need. And to do this we must also meet ourselves where we are at. We may not have a lot of practice in observing all our emotions, regulating, managing, processing our emotions, since for so long we have been taught to, even forced to repress and ignore our feelings - the signals that have been telling us that something is not right.
Despair can arise when we do not give space, time and support to ourselves to work through our sadness and grief, or even our fear or anger. The skills for working with emotions are an area of cultural deficit at this time and an area of great need.
There are supports out there, helping professionals, books, articles, podcasts, videos, even Instagram gurus. We just need to make sure that we don’t fall back into the same traps of capitalism, consumerism and the dominant culture and that if we are looking for support, we are actually finding what we really need. To do this we need to keep coming back to our own selves, checking in with ourselves, getting closer to understanding who we really are, and what we really want and need.
This is why I run the Good Grief Network program “10 Steps to Personal Resilience and Empowerment in a Chaotic Climate”. I first joined a program as a participant in 2019 and it is one of the ways I have found that really supports me to learn and heal and grow, as I face the challenges of these times and take meaningful action for change, so that is why I run it, to give others this opportunity also.
For me, this is just one part of what I have found that I need and that I need to do. I have learnt this through reflection, introspection, discussion and experimentation. Overall just taking the time to assess and adjust as needed.
Why do we need to act? Despair comes when we feel powerless, hopeless, helpless in the face of big emotions. But actually we have agency and the ability to make change. Sometimes we just need to find out how.
There are many stories of how change happens and there are many parts to it. If big rallies are not your thing, then you might write letters to your MP, or even take time to organise a meeting. If the idea of this leaves you quaking in your boots, join a group and take on other support roles, or, perhaps, muster some support and some courage to step out of your comfort zone and into the growth zone and feel the fear and do it anyway.
If big rallies are your thing, then these times are hard as we are prevented from gathering in large numbers, but there are other ways to connect and feel part of a crowd and other ways to hold signs and shout chants and make yourself heard.
If one thing is clear, action is needed. This is not the time to stand by and watch and hope that someone will do something about it. You are someone. And you are needed. The bonus is that by acting, by taking your part, you also get the antidote to despair. You get to feel empowered, you get to witness the changes that are happening, each smaller change part of a broader movement, and you get to feel satisfaction that you have been part of it all.
The important thing is to follow your own deepest knowing about what is yours to do. The right action for you may sometimes feel hard and challenging, but it will still feel right, it will feel fulfilling. You will feel supported, part of a team and that you are 110% behind the goal of the action.
For me, I have found this by volunteering with the Act on Climate Collective at Friends of the Earth for the last two years. The values and goals of Act on Climate and Friends of the Earth more generally are in alignment with my own, and I love working in the collaborative collective structure. I have been challenged, I have pushed through personal obstacles, and I have always been supported and encouraged as I have learned and grown and contributed my little part of a bigger picture that I am so grateful to be part of.
How can we act? For me I have found that I need to work in the area of emotional resilience, I have to come back to this for myself as I continue to grow and I find sharing this work with others absolutely fulfilling.
I also really resonate with working locally on positive, community-based solutions, such as joining in with my local Repair Cafe and running a Cloth Nappy Library. Sadly these kinds of activities have been very interrupted by the restrictions of our times, so I find ways to keep connected with my local community however I can along the way. I also always continue to work on my own personal footprint though I have learned that I need to acknowledge what I can do in this regard and where I feel my efforts are better spent on changing the systems that make it hard for us to make this personal change and to feel like it makes any difference.
Which brings me to that last kind of change, the systemic change. There are so many ways to work for systemic change and at this point we just need all the help we can get to push for the level of change we need. Lastly, I will note that it is also really important to continue to remember that we are each just one human being. It is not possible to work on everything that needs work all the time, we need to keep checking in with ourselves and where we feel we need to contribute our energy and where we need to pull back from one thing to have enough energy for another, and when we need to conserve our energy and recharge.
We cannot change everything by ourselves, but together, we can vision a new kind of future, and do the work that it will take to get there.
Liz is currently coordinating community resistance to gas across Victoria with the FoE Melbourne No More Gas working group and is a trained Good Grief FLOW facilitator - creating spaces where people can lean into their painful feelings about the state of the world and reorient their lives toward meaningful efforts while building resilient communities. Get in touch at [email protected]