One reason society sucks is the bad guys are working harder than us. Greed and power are very motivating on account of the concrete personal benefits they can offer. We who try to do good, however, have to feed our appetite for accomplishment with abstraction and patience. In the absence of observable results, we satisfy ourselves by thinking about the long game, and about what good people we are for our efforts. Seldom do we actually get anything out of it or see anything change.
I was interviewing a volunteer the other day for a mentoring program and they said they didn’t care about what they got out of the program, that they just wanted to do something good for the mentee. That’s a nice sentiment, and I have a lot of respect for this person, but I had to carefully explain: you have to get something out of it too otherwise volunteering will become a chore and you will burn out.
Our activism has to be like this: we have to get something out of it too. Something direct and tangible, and I don’t mean free pizza at the phone bank. And I don’t mean a pair of TOMS or a Gap (Red) T-shirt. What I’m talking about might sound like it’s informed by the same thought process behind consumer activism, but it’s actually the opposite. Consumer activism exploits selflessness for purposes that are ultimately selfish. The kind of activism I’m talking about has to exploit selfishness for purposes that are ultimately selfless.
We won’t fix the world unless we work for it, but people don’t work for free.