The Problem-oriented approach
As in “positive psychology” and the problem-oriented approach in traditional psychology, similarly, other applied areas including activism have been problem-focused. The problem with traditional activism is that it works similar to the media where it attracts attention to the problems and the negative aspects of the world. As a result, this constant exposure to bad news and stories can play a significant role in making people either emotionally-charged or apathy and numb. This could also affect activists and cause psychological problems such as secondary trauma stress disorder (STSD).
Thus, a positive approach to activism, called positive activism, has emerged to be driven by love and passion instead of hate and anger. Thus, PA is based on a premise that activism must be driven by love, hope, excellence, pride and passion in order to establish a constructive activism that seeks to construct concepts and practices rather than destructing. As a result, it is more likely that positive activism is more sustainable.
In this post, I will briefly discuss positive activism as opposed to the problem-oriented conventional activism.
The problem with conventional activism:
People are bombarded with incessant news of violence and destruction every day where they are constantly exposed to depressing photographs, statistics, and events. Usually, in media, there is so much focus on bad news and a tendency to demonize those who cause harm but hardly to highlight those who improve our lives. This, according to psychologists, is due to our negativity bias nature which is, unconsciously, more drawn to depressing stories. As a result, this constant exposure to bad news can play a significant role in making us emotionally-charged and triggering our fear that the world is falling apart. Consequently, the increasing negative emotion we have, could obviously be reflected on our behavior and judgments. On the other hand, rather than being emotionally-charged, such an exposure might play a contradictive role by making us apathy and numb to our problems, which could result in perceiving them as cultural norms.
The problem with media is strongly paralleled with activism. Just like journalists, what activists do usually is adding more focus on negative aspects of our world. Most of the causes they raise awareness about are negative, depressing and violent. It is said that “What we focus on grows”.
Thus, a website like Positive.news has started an initiative to promote and disseminate positive news and inspirational stories. In his Ted talk (video below) the founder of Positive News Sean Dagan Wood observed that “A more positive form of journalism will not only benefit our well-being; it will engage us in society, and it will help catalyze potential solutions to the problems that we face.”. He also remarked that “media does not only mirror society, but it moves society”.
Many activists end up suffering from burnout, having low energy, high anger and no patience towards others. This burnout can lead to ‘unsustainable activism‘. According to Melanie Joy (video below), “sustainability is when what we take into our lives is greater than or equal to what we put out”. Thus, it is crucial when activists put out physical and emotional energy, social time and effort that they take equal or more results conversely. Consequently, happy, compassionate and stable activist lead activism more effectively and sustainably.
At some point, according to Joy, it is common that activists start to classify people into heroes, victims or perpetrators. This thinking is damaging to “us, we see ourselves as heroes and our opponents as perpetrators which could make them more defensive”. In more sever cases, activists might suffer from STS (secondary trauma stress) which is normal and healthy human reaction but it could turn into a disorder STSD.
- STSD secondary trauma stress disorder is like PTSD but it is not for the direct victims but rather those who witness violence.
- STS is normal and healthy but could turn into STSD which is likely to happen when we have low psycho-emotional immune system
- “when you’re very depleted, it takes a tiny stressor to impact you”
- “the work we do is constantly exposing us to trauma” “traumas are contagious”
- “emotions are contagious” “the stronger the emotion the more contagious it is”
- Trauma is a very strong emotion
- Being around traumatized people makes us traumatized
- Developing a sustainable activism starts with developing resiliency
Witness carefully (eye, mind and heart), don’t over witness , this a counterproductive and could be damaging for us
- We are susceptible to what we are exposed to. Laura Dernoot. (a trauma exposure response)
- “Nonviolent Communication (NVC) by psychologist Marshall Rosenberg 1960s = a way of communicating more positive and constructive.”
- Victim orientation or mentality vs creator
Positive activism (PA), as opposed to conventional activism, focuses on the bright sides of things and seeks to leverage them. The term PA might refer to positive causes like achievement and excellence or positive approaches such love and compassion, positive methods of expression like art, sport, humor and funding (this could be illegal). However, PA does not mean ignoring the pain and suffering but rather balancing them with positive emotions. PA mainly calls for and drag people towards something rather than calling against or dragging people away from something. This represents hope and fear, or “Appeal and Appal”. The focus in PA is on what we all have in common as a shared ground to construct our activism
PA is based on a premise that activism must be driven by love, hope, excellence, pride and passion in order to establish a constructive activism that seeks constructing concepts and practices rather than destructing. However, we should test the power of positive emotions in driving changes and compare that to the power of “anger” or “sorrow”.
Other terms: nonviolent, constructive activism, positivity movement (positivism), sustainable activism
Postive Activism is based on philosophies of nonviolence like Gandhi’s and Luther King’s, and methods of arts like photography, paints, songs .. etc in expressing our message. It can use almost the same tools used generally in activism (protest, social media.. etc)
- PA has much lower risks (e.g. legal risks, or even physical or mental health risks)
- PA has more supporters
- PA balances the mainstream in activism and add more positive energy and emotions
- PA is easier, more effective and more sustainable
The positive activist’s manifesto:
- Focus: focusing on a positive aspect (whether or not to solve a problem or to increase positive emotions) (not dragged into confrontation and negative criticism, but constructive engagement, People who want to be part of the solution and not the problem. )
- Roots: draws on positive psychology where focus is not only on the first layer (happiness)
- Parties: does not assume there is someone to lose (as in revolution/war), it could be with ourselves not other parties ( self-activism) centeric-activism (many of the roots can be found in our very own apathy)
- Strategy: provide alternatives or call for positive causes
- Tools: it could be through positive methods rather than preach, to argue, or to condemn., we can use art, sports, music, humor, creativity and constructive dialogue (dialogism – experience-centered design)
- Goal: positive change vs solving a problem
- No absolute truth: let go the need to be right and in control
- Thirteen Principles of Spiritual Activism
There is a saying that Mother Teresa
would go to Peace events
but not to Anti-War events.