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Is a retweet taking action? How much action is enough?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011 by Marianne Elliott

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Last week an article published in Psychology Today asserted that black women were less attractive than women of other races. I really don’t want to give too much more attention to the article, nor do I want to debate the methodology of the researcher. But I do want to talk about how I reacted to it.

When I was alerted to the article I read it, was more than a little horrified that Psychology Today had published it, sent out a tweet saying as much and then didn’t think or do much more about it.

First thought: sending a tweet is not really taking action.

I mean, it has it’s place. And it was only because of someone else’s tweet that I knew about the article in the first place. But unless I take a step beyond simply passing on information – unless all of us do – real change seems unlikely.

What I didn’t do is write to the editors of Psychology Today to express my concern. That’s what I could quite easily have done and what I ought to have done if I was truly concerned and wanted to ensure change.

Why didn’t I?

Honestly? I was caught up in my own world. Opening the restaurant. Waiting to hear from editors who are at this moment considering whether or not they want to publish my book. Preparing to launch my new 30 Days of Yoga course.

I was busy, so I sent a tweet and left it at that.

A few days later I was chatting online with a friend, a black woman, who told me that she was stunned at the silence in the blogging world in response to this article. She’d seen more outrage and comment, she told me, in response to the use of the term ‘Mommyblogger’.

I blythely – and rather snidely – replied that some people had trouble seeing past their own noses. And then I stopped in my tracks because – I realised – I was talking about myself.

When was the last time I really took action for change? Probably when I helped coordinate the letter writing campaign for women’s shelters in Afghanistan. Or maybe when I raised awareness and support for Suraya Pakzad last month. Before that? Well, I sign plenty of online petitions and send the occasional form email to my MP about coal mining in New Zealand.

Is that enough?

Thought two: How much is enough? What does it even mean to be a change-maker?

When I worked at the New Zealand Race Relations Conciliators office I took action on racism. When I was Climate Change advocate for Oxfam I took action on climate change. These days I’m more likely to forward on a tweet or click like on a Facebook status than I am to take real action.

Now that I’m no longer paid to take action all day long I’m in the shoes of most of the world. Often overwhelmed by the sheer number of human rights and environmental challenges facing our species and too easily tempted to make myself feel better by taking symbolic actions via social media.

These days I focus on how I can lead change by supporting people to take care of themselves, connect with their true nature, deepen their empathy and strengthen their sense of purpose. All of that is good work. I’m privileged and happy to be doing it.

And yet.

I wonder if I am doing enough. If I’m doing all I can do to be an ally of the oppressed and a champion for the equal rights of all.

Thought three: We lead change by doing what brings us alive.

Then I see something like this, a stunningly beautiful and powerful response to the Psychology Today article from Karen Walrond of Chookoolooks, and I remember that the most powerful change work we can do is the work that brings us alive.

I urge you to watch this video, which uses Karen’s particular superpower – her ability to see and capture the spectacular Beauty of Different in everyone – to respond to that article with potency and grace:

Meet ugliness with beauty.
Pure, simple genius.

She’s a wonder, that Karen Walrond. And I for one am inspired.


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13 Responses to "Is a retweet taking action? How much action is enough?"

  1. This is so true! We have all become very lazy through social media. Have you realized that instead of calling or meeting someone up for their birthday people just write “Happy Birthday” on their Facebook?

  2. Thanks so much for the kind shout-out! Although I have to say, I am guilty about not seeing past the end of my nose as well — or, sometimes I do see, but am afraid to get involved, or stir up more controversy, or whatever. But your words remind me that when it comes to injustice, if not me, who? If not now, when?

    I’m going to vow to be more proactive about this. So thank you. Seriously.


  3. This is a question I ask myself so often. Similar to your story, I feel like I used to “do” so much more to create change. But your post inspired me to think that, although I send less emails to my government officials, I am still doing work toward the world I want to see–just in a different incarnation (although the former is still important!).

    Karen, I thought your video was incredible. Thank you!

  4. Emmanuelle says:

    Oh yes I feel the same too, and then I remember what you told me when we met 🙂 We have on own individual way to make a change.

    And loooved Karen’s video, incredible indeed! Love her work anyway too 🙂

  5. this is such the burning question for me – I feel like what I want to do, and inspire others to do, is work for change all the time, but it has to be in a joyful, savoring, feeds us way and yet it can’t be in neat pies – here is my work for change and healing the world, here is my life. You are trying to knit the two together, my dear, and that is one of the many reasons I wish you lived next door!

  6. Brigitte says:

    You may not know this, but my PR background is in public affairs, so I was involved in politics and advocacy work at the beginning of my career. I participated in demonstrations at the capitol, drafted countless letters to the editor and spied on opposition groups (all for clients, of course).

    And I burned out. I went from someone who attended one of the earliest Obama fundraisers at a bar where we brought our own pizza and emptied our pockets for this senatorial hopeful to a very jaded woman. I went from a person who hungrily read every newspaper I could get my hands on to one who only read design blogs and The New Yorker, because I just didn’t have any outrage left.

    I’m slowly re-engaging with politics and advocacy issues. I can’t wait to get home tonight and watch this video, because I’m hoping it will offer guide for my own path forward.

    Thanks, Marianne, for offering your unique perspective on an issue so close to my heart.

  7. keli aiello says:

    I am new reader of your postings and boy howdy you always ring my bell!
    Each time I am challenged and left with a feeling of being poked……like I remember as a child while sitting in church. Is that you God? Or just butterflies in my stomach.

    I am still working on how the words…….Peace and Change come together……..and am glad you are here to help! I for one Love the gray matter and Difference!

    • Marianne Elliott says:

      Hi Keli,

      Thank you so much for your comment. It tells me that I’m listening to the wise one in me, because you and I have the same wisdom within us so when my words make your wise teacher sit up and give you a wee poke that tells me that I’m speaking from my own wise place too. Thankful we are both listening!


  8. Marcela says:

    Ah…the question I have been asking myself for a few months now, joined by a “how can I do more without burning out?”because that is what happened to me, just like Brigitte.

    This is one of the reason I’m starting with your yoga course in July, to try to ground myself before getting involved again. I want to take better care of my energy this time, while still doing something of help.

    BTW, this morning I saw this:
    and thought to myself that maybe there could be a “peace and human rights bloggers without borders” too 🙂

    • Marianne Elliott says:

      Hi Marcela and Sabrina, learning to serve wholeheartedly while still caring for myself has been (and continues to be) the major challenge and adventure of my life. Someone who teaches me a lot about this is my friend Jen Louden, who is experimenting with the power of ‘savoring and serving’ – a balance which I think might be part of the secret to sustainable and nourishing service. For me, yoga is a key tool because not only does it nourish me and keep me well, it also keeps me clear and honest – which means whether I want to or not, I see where I’m overstretching myself, where I’m ‘serving’ from a place of neediness or ego, and when I’m scraping the bottom of my own barrel and in need of replenishment.

      Marcela, I hope you find the yoga course helps you too. And I reckon there is a space for a Peace and Human Rights Bloggers Without Borders too!

  9. Sabrina says:

    This post struck such a cord in me. I often ask myself if I am doing enough. In the past, there were times when I struggled. The more I did, I became burnt out. My body became fatigued. My mind felt unfocused and foggy. I grew cynical and fearful. I realized that the way I was trying to induce change wasn’t productive for me. My dedication to making a difference was tearing me apart. I forgot that I could do so much more with a bit of self nurturing and a little less sacrifice. I still struggle with the balance at times. Yes, I still work for change, I just have to do it differently now. With various life stages comes the need to contribute to the world in different ways. What I did in my twenties is far different in my thirties. Now, as an expat, my desire to contribute to the world continues to evolve….in a completely different context. I have followed your blog for some time and enjoy it immensely. Thank you.

  10. […] her blog post with the same title Marianne Elliot argues that retweeting is not much of an action really. I won’t repeat that […]

  11. Mocha says:

    I’m late to this but I just got word of it from my friend Karen of Chookooloonks because issues of race are bothering me (AGAIN) and she left this as a link in a comment on my recent post. I’m so glad I read it and that you have seen both sides of doing the “work” and have worn different shoes to do so.

    This, especially: “Meet ugliness with beauty”.

    There’s really no other way.

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