I'm watching some of the best of mine destroyed by their own empathy.
Brilliant, passionate, dedicated people surround me, people committed to causes like equality and social justice. They have jobs, hobbies, and interests that give them opportunities to make the world a better place, and knowing them makes me a better person. They challenge me to follow where they lead, to question my assumptions, to do my own work in the world. The world shows me fearless warriors of justice, every day, calling me to stand with them.
Lately, I've been watching them get eaten alive by the world they're trying to save.
Outrage fatigue is real. There is so much out there, so many things to leave you speechless with grief, and push you shouting into rage, that at some point your fury turns to despair. You begin with the belief that you will change the world, sure the love that burns so passionately inside you will catch like wildfire and carry away the old structures, the ones that keep some people bound more tightly than others. Most people begin from a single point of activism (gender/gender identity, race, religion, sexuality, ability, the list is as endless as the ways of oppression). Many embrace as a guiding star the idea that if we are not all free and equal, then none of us is free and equal, and from there it is a short but difficult step to intersectional activism.
It is at that moment, when you turn to the world with an open mind, to contemplate all the possible faces freedom might take, that you make a horrible discovery.
The world is a terrible, terrible place. There are people in it so consumed by hatred and greed that they can't even see someone you love as a person. There are people being beaten, starved, executed, bullied, and abused in ways you could never imagine, all in the name of hate. Twisted moralities destroy families and communities, attack children and target the weak, in the name of loving gods or simple societal stability.
There is just so much to do. Injustice grinds, all day every day, against anyone who resists it. You could give your whole life to the fight, and while you might make a difference there will always be more hate, more evil, more pain. It's brutal.
One day you look at your fire, and it's not the one you lit. It's not the passionate flame of a loving heart, because it changed, when you fed it your joy, when you fed it your optimism, when you fed it happiness and good cheer and lazy Sundays and just sitting in the garden with the sun on your face. It's an angry burning now, and it will consume you whole if you let it.
It is possible to pour out so much of the love inside you that you have none left for yourself. I never would have believed it, when I started down the path of love, but it's true. I have seen people so moved, their love so transformed by outrage, that I could not tell it apart from the hate they fought with it.
It's sobering to stand face to face with hate and find it a mirror to your own despairing rage.
We who fight for love must learn to tithe, if we can. Many faiths have some practice by which you give of your assets, be it time or money or goods, in an established amount to support the common good. They do not ask for everything you have, only for a tenth part, and allow you the rest to support yourself and your family, to expand and grow, to find joy and beauty without feeling it's at the expense of what you believe in. A tithe is, most of all, a sustainable practice that will allow you to structure the balance between life and dedication.
Compassion is the cornerstone of an activist's faith; empathy is the heart of our shared religion. It is past time to embrace the notion of tithing to that faith, not being martyrs to it, because the fight we face is a long and brutal one, one that will outlast all our lives. What we can build with a sustained and sustainable commitment will stand far longer than what we can create by throwing ourselves wholesale into burnout.
I love you all.