Editor’s note: This beautiful piece is written to the audience of those considering activism.
Judging by my wild hair, piercings, tattoos, and affinity for skulls, leather jackets, and playing the guitar, most people don’t realize that as a child, I wasn’t even allowed to celebrate Halloween. That was pure evil in rural Oklahoma. But once, at a church-approved “harvest festival,” a particular candy donation slipped through the cracks.
I don’t know what it was about that white front, black backed, grinning piece of sugar on a stick that called to me, but I felt a pull deep in my soul. I heard murmurs about the inappropriate nature of the confection.
“That’s death,” the pastor said softly to my father, a church deacon, holding one of the offending treats so it stared my dad down with its sweet, hollow, sockets. But something in me had to have it. I left that night with one of them in my candy bag, but my prize and I were soon parted as my father took the contraband and disposed of it.
But that skull never left my mind, and I spent the next years of adolescence toeing the line of alternative fashion and dreaming of leaving home to grow my hair out over one eye, dye it pink, and get a lip ring.
Truth is, I’ve always had a deep urge to rebel. Not necessarily for rebellion’s sake, but I always needed to push the boundaries. To ask questions. To find my authentic self past the barriers of the tight fence I was raised in.
I’m living life now as an artist, exploring themes of monsters and what makes us revile the differences in others. I’m out as being bi/pansexual and trans-masculine, and enjoying the freedom of my universalist philosophy by practicing an as-close-as-possible reconstruction of the Ancient Egyptian Religion called Kemetic Orthodoxy.
I have a fiery and projective personality, the quintessential Gryffindor, a real fighter at heart. I definitely project a persona that I am willing to tear down the system at any moment, guitar blaring. Because of that, I think people tend to underestimate the other side of my philosophy.
I am not an aggressive person when it comes to my ideals. Sure, I’ll speak my mind, and I’m pretty likely to tell a friend they’re doing something that’s hurting someone’s feelings, or that they’re doing something that’s hurting themselves.
But when it comes down to my activism and goals to make the world a better and more accepting place, I typically take a non-confrontational approach. That breaks down pretty simply– I don’t waste my energy trying to break the wrong things down, but instead I use it to build the right things up. With compassion as one of my main ideals, this works for me on a functional level, but it actually goes a little farther than that.
I want you to think of a time your mind was changed, a time when you were coming from a place of ignorance or anger, and you changed to a position of tolerance and understanding. Who influenced you? How did they do it? For me, I think back to a few specific cases, mostly surrounding my upbringing.
I was raised in a culture that considered being gay a sin. It was not okay to extend the full measure of acceptance to people who weren’t straight or cisgendered; because of this, I wasn’t even out to myself until my early twenties.
But when I was about 18 or 19, I went with my older sister to meet up with her male friend from our church. He tearfully admitted to us that he was gay. He told us that he had always felt that way. He had tried everything the church recommended to “stop it,” but it never left him. He couldn’t control how he felt.
He said that the church was going to take him out of the worship team and no longer allow him to volunteer with the youth because he just couldn’t keep living a lie. I felt something that day. I experienced the strength in that man’s vulnerability, and immediately felt compassion for him. That was when I started to really have some tough questions about what I had been taught, and I’ll forever be grateful to that friend for having the strength to show us his heart.
I’ve experienced many other changes of heart and have seen others go through them as well. I’ve never seen it happen because they got slammed by enough memes and clapbacks about the ludicrousness of their opinions, or were argued into submission. But I’ve consistently seen people change through contact with vulnerable, open people being willing to meet them where they stand.
I’ve seen real heart to hearts make a difference, and that is what I strive to cultivate. At the end of the day, you can’t fight fire with fire, and you can’t fight hate by being louder and angrier than the other side. You have to fight fire with water, and hate and ignorance with love and understanding. Sure, you may not change everyone. You may get hurt being open, but you’ll be a person of love and integrity, and that’s a person worth being.
Truthfully, it feels great to attack things you don’t like. It feels empowering to bash other political beliefs, other ideologies, other groups, and other ways of being human. If it didn’t, America’s political system wouldn’t be broken by a war of polarities. When we fight each other without stopping to consider what both sides really want to accomplish and why, we end up in a gridlock that prevents progress.
The status quo can never stop dissidents, but it can render them useless via conflict. It can stop the minority from getting traction by keeping them focused on attack and defense instead of spreading the truth. So yeah, I’m a punk. I’m a rebel. I think one of the most badass things you can do is fight the system, and the biggest system there is is the culture of division and the human nature of defensiveness.
So I’m going to fight the system and bring down the man, but I’m going to do it with the power of my own vulnerable positivity and willingness to listen. You can call me a bleeding heart, but honestly, that just sounds pretty hardcore to me.
If you’re ready to rebel, and want to make the world better, I’d like to end on some tips and guidelines for making real change around you.
Disclaimer: remember that sometimes strong action does need to be taken to protect those who need it, and sometimes listening and being compassionate has its limits. Remember that these are just tips for when you want to see change in the world, and it is always okay to remove yourself from toxic people in your life.
If you are getting filled with negativity, you can’t spread positivity, so make sure you surround yourself with people of similar values. Also, it’s very easy to think “Why should I have to work so hard on myself for the sake of others? Why do I have to be so good just because they are being bad?” Even I feel this way sometimes. But remember, you’re not doing this for the people who cause problems. You do this to remove yourself from being the problem. You do this to rise above. You do this for yourself.
1. Get Gandhi about it.
Mahatma Gandhi is quoted as saying “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” What does that look like? Take a second to think about your values and what you’d love to see valued in the world. Do you want tolerance? Time to let the other side talk and live and let live, even when it’s hard. How about authenticity? Be yourself, no matter the pressure. Let people see your flaws, and I guarantee it will inspire confidence in others even if it’s uncomfortable at first.
2. Approach with caution and care.
If you’re about to have a conversation with someone about their views and you know you don’t agree, take a deep breath and make sure you don’t fall into the trap of acting overly aggressive or overly defensive. Cool confidence and active listening are key and keep them from shifting into a state of mind that’s not receptive to alternatives to what they already believe.
As humans, we tend to become very defensive about things that matter to us, and being challenged aggressively makes us more likely to shut down internally. A great question to ask them to get the wheels turning is, “What do you think might persuade someone to my point of view?” Allow them to ask the same.
3. Don’t re-blog destruction.
This can definitely be something to keep in mind in real life, but I see it very frequently online and in social media. If a meme, post, story, or pic is rooted in tearing down the other side of an argument and not supporting yours, it’s not going to be helpful. Some of these are phrased in a thin veil of supportiveness, so think critically.
Yes, some of these posts are hilarious and seem harmless, but remember, even if your followers enjoy it, you’re reinforcing an attitude to your own brain that may come back to bite you in the end. Before you hit share, ask yourself, “Does this come from a place of love, or one of aggression?” Act accordingly. Clapbacks don’t change hearts.
4. Invest in your own story.
People are much more likely to take you seriously if they make an empathetic connection with you. Being open with your own struggles on a human and personal level is absolutely paramount, but it isn’t easy.
The only way you’ll have the strength to tell people what you struggle with and why you stand where you do is to build yourself up to a point that you can handle the rejection that will inevitably come from some people. Don’t neglect therapy, self-care, and positive self talk.
5. Remember who you’re fighting for.
I’ve heard it said that there are two types of people in the world: those who think others should have to face the same hardships they did, and those who don’t want anyone else to go through what they had to experience. Think for a moment about which one you want to be.
It isn’t as easy as it sounds. Being jealous and dismissing those who haven’t “earned their place” in a community that has faced a lot of hardships is common and natural to feel. But that means progress is being made and people like you are suffering less! I hit my rock bottom between the ages of 17–19. I was abandoned and betrayed by all the people I looked up to. I felt absolutely isolated.
I vowed then that I would do anything in my power to keep people from going through what I had to. I am open about my autism because I want it to be okay for others on the spectrum to accept themselves. I am open about my anxiety and depression so people can feel less alone. I came out of the closet not just for me, but in solidarity with every person, young or old, who might still be afraid to be who they are.
I want to make it okay for people like me, and the only way to do so is to openly be myself. If you do nothing else, I encourage you to do this. Come out as the person you’ve been afraid to be, and you’ll be surprised how many others you’ll inspire.
I hope I’ve helped you come up with some ideas for how to change the world with a big voice and bigger heart, or at least given you some insight into my philosophy as a compassionate punk. Please never forget, I believe in you, you are capable of changing the world, and no matter how sweet your heart is, you have the soul of a badass.