As part of my involvement in a Facebook support group, I recently had a rather heated online discussion with a young, gay-rights advocate. (It's true: I don’t just have confrontations with Fundamentalists and political extremists!) In the course of the conversation, he proclaimed himself as THE standard to measure success, and essentially declared himself as THE example of what it means to be an activist:
“I have more political clout than any of you do here…[Your] opinion, is just an opinion… [while my] opinions actually have substantial work and experience behind it.[sic] Get on my level [of] activism and experience…Otherwise, you're just a bunch of people behind [a] keyboard doing nothing.”
(Note: I’ve condensed his remarks, which took place over a long thread, but did not change what he said)
He implied that we were lazy, and compared the impact of his work—he did more, we did less. He ridiculed us because we weren’t as well known. (“Google me, then Google you,” he insisted.) Though we were in a Facebook group, he made it clear that he didn’t see Facebook as activism, and using a Straw Man argument (not actually knowing any of us personally, nor what we did off line), criticized us for not doing enough to advance the cause of LGBT equality.
Those of us in the discussion were shocked at the arrogant outburst. For me, as someone who’s been involved in gay rights and equality since before he was born, I wanted to continue the conversation, to get some clarification. But alas, the petulant activist exited the group. (If it had been a physical location, I would say he stormed out in a tizzy, and slammed the door behind him.)
There were two aspects of this encounter that intrigued me, and got me to thinking. And writing.
First was the self-important comparing of his service to that of others, carrying a distinct put down for the rest of us. We didn't "measure up."
When I was in the ministry, I saw this mentality often from church members, though rarely as blatant. It usually centered on those who felt they deserved special treatment because of their financial backing or how much time they invested. It’s apparently not a new problem. The Apostle Paul obviously addressed the same conceited, condescending actions in the church of Corinth, using a physical analogy, showing the audacity of one part of the body saying to another part of the body, “I don’t need you because you aren’t as important.” (cf: I Corinthians 12).
Yes, this young activist has many fine qualities. He's good looking, articulate, and does an excellent job on TV and radio; I know, because for 20+ years, I prepared people to do media interviews. But what if an organization needed someone to write a donor letter, or stuff the envelopes, or answer the phones? Those who perform those tasks probably won't show up on Google, but is the task any less important? Do we measure the impact of their service by that of someone who is more visible and vocal? Should we require they do...more?
Which brings me to the second aspect of the confrontation with the young activist that I continue to ponder. His comparison comes the underlying accusation that the rest of us aren’t doing enough.
For the record, I do know that activism is not about posting pictures and quotes on Facebook. I’m aware that it’s not using my Facebook feed to highlight the harsh and hateful words of right-wing politicians and preachers. (As fun as that might be.) But I won’t say that's of no value.
There was a time when there was more “active” in my activism, but my health now enforces limits, but my health now enforces limits. However, I still think of myself as an activist, with my writing as one of the key elements of that role. No, I’m not a blogging superstar with thousands of readers, and Huffington Post doesn’t know that I exist. But writing is something I can do. And I feel that's better than doing nothing.
I will be the first to admit that the concept of “enough” carries triggers for me. In the Fundamentalist circles of my early Christian life, it was used repeatedly to push us to those activities that displayed (verified?) our devotion to God.
Did you read the Bible enough?
Did you pray enough?
Do you love God enough?
Did you witness enough?
When I was in the “ex-gay” ministry, this word was often used to rebuke those who were not successful in their quest to become…not gay.
You didn’t pray enough.
You didn’t read the Bible enough.
You didn’t want it enough.
I recently finished reading a book entitled Leaving Church, written by a former priest in the Episcopal church. While not about activism, she does refer to the “compassion fatigue” of trying to do…enough, something those of us who've been in the ministry have experienced.
We all know that when it comes to working for good, there’s always more to be done.
Should be done.
Must be done.
Is it ever…enough?
How do we measure?
Is it fair to compare?
I don’t have a great answer. (I hope you weren’t expecting me to solve this one.) I’m convinced that we can all do something, and each of us doing what we can is a great place to begin. Individually, we determine our own abilities, our resources, our involvement…and our limitations. Together we support those who are active, even if we aren't doing the same thing. And we encourage one another for what is being done rather than scold others for not doing…enough