An Accumulation of Small Actions

This may be one of those cases where I’m over-explaining. But I prefer to be crystal clear so, since this is a matter of some sensitivity to me, I’ll dish the details. And hopefully I won’t get so lofty that you’ll want to barf all over your keyboard.

Since I talk a lot about changing the attitudes of women – and since I want to encourage any and all of my awesome readers to do the same – I want to give you some background on my philosophy of activism.

An ex-boyfriend became frustrated with me when he realized I didn’t want to change the world in the same way that he did. His was the visible-action, large-view, hit-’em-where-it-hurts method. He wanted protests and petitions and phone calls to congress. He was a traditional activist.

And, for a while, I was unable to articulate why I couldn’t engage in that method of expression myself. I mean, if you want change, you’d better get out there and be public about it, right? Tell onlookers, the media, the government, and anyone else who’s tuned in exactly what you think. Loudly and utilizing hand-written signage. That’s how it’s done, that’s how it’s always been done. And although I wasn’t afraid to do it, I knew it wasn’t my way. And I didn’t figure out what my way was until long after I’d ended it with this man, so he may still think that I’m a spineless coward.

Much like dentistry, airplane piloting, and road construction, public activism is something I’m glad other people want to do. Some folks feel potent and passionate and driven when campaigning hard for the issues that stir their souls, and I am seriously so glad. I’m grateful to those who brim with optimism and energy and the desire to kick change into gear by any means necessary. They make things happen through their willingness to declare their beliefs publicly. Often they are unsung heroes, but I’ll sing a little tune in their honor right here. These people do, in fact, rock.

For me, though, it just doesn’t work. Chalk it up to a need for instant gratification, or Gen X impatience, or anything you like, but I want to see and feel the impact of my actions. I don’t enjoy craft fairs selling wares I can’t afford – I’d rather go to a flea market where I can buy everything. I don’t read Vogue, which caters to a far more informed and wealthy woman than I’ll ever be – I’d rather read StyleWatch and use my own creativity to knock off its accessible outfits. And I don’t campaign for body image issues by lobbying Congress or sending endless letters to magazine editors – I’d rather work within the circle of people whose lives I can touch. Directly.

Affecting the people you can touch directly is simple, rewarding, and lasting. Just one well-timed compliment can cause someone to open like a flower. Reaching out to someone who already trusts you reinforces that trust and creates safety. The simple act of listening reminds people that they are valued and cared for and supported and loved. And by working within your personal circle, you can not only witness the influence of your actions, but perpetuate that influence through repetition.

Simple, rewarding, and lasting.

If I start by being kind to myself, and then extend that kindness to the wonderful people in MY life, and then encourage THEM to do the same, isn’t it feasible to assume that meaningful change is possible? Not vast, immediate, earth-shattering change, but subtle, vital, and potentially permanent change. That’s what I want. That’s my way.

And part of it is that I have limited energy and am unwilling to put any of my meager supply towards pushing for change that I cannot see. As I’ve said, I admire those who are moved to protest in public or voice their concerns on a larger scale. But to me, an anxious introvert, it just feels like yelling into a well. And I realize that could be considered selfish and lazy on a certain level. But I know my limits and must work within them. When I do that, I’m happy and successful. When I don’t, I suffer. And willfully introducing suffering into my own life is just no good. It goes against the whole “being kind to myself” deal.

I wanted to explain this because I’ve realized that I advocate “spreading the love” pretty damn frequently, and people might want to know why. But also because anyone who reads this blog is officially part of my circle, and I don’t think I’ve ever bothered to mention that. I am beyond thrilled to have expanded that circle to include you lovely, brilliant, supportive, amazing women.

I’ve mentioned that helping women recognize and accept their own beauty has become an important goal to me. I could really use a hand, if any of you feel up to it. Fighting body image dysmorphia can be a guerrilla war that we wage together. Because it’s a quiet, insidious, deeply personal issue that doesn’t respond well to legislation. And although I’ll sure as hell sign petitions for related causes, and speak publicly if asked, and vocally support campaigns toward overarching change, I know I’ll feel most effective and valuable in this war when I witness the affects of my small actions on the people in my life.

That’s what I want. That’s my way. And if it’s yours, too, welcome to the battlefield.

Originally posted 2008-09-08 06:11:00.

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25 Responses to “An Accumulation of Small Actions”

  1. casey

    BRAVO for posting this! I think it takes a great amount of courage to blog about what you do, and I am so thankful to be able to read your thoughts on beauty and body image. It’s been a real encouragement to me. 🙂

    Anyway, I love how you put it that you know your limitations. That is something I get so caught up in often: feeling like why should I try to make a difference, because I just can’t do it on a large scale (too much to do = very stressed Casey!). Great reminder–I needed that!

    I just want to encourage you to continue with what you’re doing. I really admire gals like you who are willing to speak up for the millions of us that don’t feel they can, for whatever set of reasons. Although I do try to advocate embracing who you are, you body, and yourself, I still struggle on a daily basis with a low self-image and have battled anorexia in the past. In that sense, I feel that I’m not terribly qualified to write about something I still have bouts of, and am still recovering from years of damage. I do hope others will have the courage (myself included… getting outside of my comfort zone sometimes can be good!) to step up and help this grassroots effort to reestablish a new, healthier image of beauty and self.

    All this to say: keep it up! You go girl!!!!!

  2. Shannon

    Thank you for helping me to feel beautiful on such a regular basis. I don’t even know you, but you make me feel good about myself 🙂

    Oh and quite often you make me giggle myself stupid, which is a good thing too 🙂

  3. Kelly

    “But to me, it just feels like yelling into a well. And I realize that could be considered selfish and lazy on a certain level.”

    This sums up how I feel, exactly. I hate when I feel inadequate just because I don’t do thinks on a grander scale. And I know that many of my more politically active friends think I’m lazy and apathetic, as well. But, for better or worse, the people in my life are the ones I choose to extend my love and charity to. People I can see and touch and know.

  4. fresca

    The pictures you chose for this post remind me of a series of images I always thought were great Politics on Film:
    The images of people (real people!) greeting each other at Heathrow Airport (I think Heathrow? in London, anyway)–at the end of “Love Actually.”
    I loved those ending shots–regular people of all sorts of ages/looks/ethnicities etc. showing each other love in public–capturing and sharing that is a kind of activism too.

    Of course, we can no longer greet our loved ones at airport gates… and there’s a sad statement on humanity.

    This post really hit home, because I was reminded this past week with the RNC (Republican National Convention) here in town that it’s quite a trick to get out there and be an effective activist unless you ALSO know how to love and take care of yourself, and stay sane too.
    It’s like everyone on all sides was frightened and angry, and it was just a mess…

    (I know some beautiful people who work in political ways, but many so-called activists in my life have been some of the angriest people I’ve ever known, and hardly contributing to peace on Earth, even when I’ve agreed with their politics on the surface.)

    Now, I *know* there were people who were praying/meditating/sending love through the whole thing, but mostly I felt disheartened at the spectacle–and I don’t just mean the police being aggressive, I mean the conversations I heard from protestors in coffeeshops and on the bus that were mean-spirited and ungenerous…

    This has really been bothering me for days, because like you, of course I see the value of Big Action Activism, but I’m afraid if it’s not rooted in a loving self, it can too easily become just as violent as whatever it is protesting.

    I end up thinking we need both–we need to do our “personal work”: practice cultivating peave, love, and understanding and not responding out of fear with more violence, which escalates the problems [and I think this has to be far *deeper* work than just blithely saying, for instance, “Oh, I’m not racist” or whatever–I find Buddhist practive helpful, but hey–it could be practice through clothes!] ;
    and we also need do our “political work”: practice being as public as we can, in whatever way suits us, about shared human issues—and that can include blogging!

    Thanks for giving me the place to try to untangle some of my thoughts on this tangled-up issue.

  5. Sharon Rose

    Hi sal-what a wonderful, thought provoking post!! You are such a gorgeous gal and I really enjoy reading your posts, keep up the good work my dearest!!

  6. miss cavendish

    Change is change, no matter the format. I have some crazy CBC archive footage of me protesting on Parliament Hill, but I now try to work my activist magic in smaller ways–educating my daughters, showing my students that professors don’t *have* to be musty and tweedy. Keep doing what you’re doing!

  7. Abby

    I don’t know you but through your blog – I’m a friend of Jerri’s and started reading your blog because it’s linked to hers but now I read it because it’s just so good, positive and affirming – and funny. Don’t forget funny! I even thought of you last week and imagined what you’d write in your blog about the situation I was in when trying on several pairs of pants that used to be big and are now small – discouraged at first, I folded them back up perhaps for later. Or perhaps not. Fine either way 🙂

  8. Hammie

    Ah Sal, this is a great post and I am glad to read it. I know you don’t realise but what you do is pretty macro, big picture too.
    As you are a singer with a very pretty voice, perhaps you will permit me the indulgence of posting up an excerpt from one of my favourite, and most inspirational songs:
    From Little Things Big Things Grow

    …Then Vincent Lingiari boarded an aeroplane
    Landed in Sydney, big city of lights
    And daily he went round softly speaking his story
    To all kinds of men from all walks of life

    And Vincent sat down with big politicians
    “This affair” they told him “Is a matter of state
    Let us sort it out, your people are hungry”
    Vincent said “No thanks, we know how to wait”

    From little things big things grow
    From little things big things grow

    Then Vincent Lingiari returned in an aeroplane
    Back to his country once more to sit down
    And he told his people “Let the stars keep on turning
    We have friends in the south, in the cities and towns”

    Eight years went by, eight long years of waiting
    Till one day a tall stranger appeared in the land
    And he came with lawyers and he came with great ceremony
    And through Vincent’s fingers poured a handful of sand

    From little things big things grow
    From little things big things grow……….

    By Paul Kelly and Kev Carmody ©1992

    It is a story of landrights in Australia, but also how instead of direct action, a gentle man did what his people had always done: used the aural tradition to spread a message.
    A blog like yours, when linked is just another example of the story told by the fire to the traveller, who then visits another group, another fire and passes it on.
    Story telling is powerful. We won 12 state funded Applied behavioral schools by telling our stories. Yes we marched and made banners; but it was the stories that swung the politicians, that persuaded them to approach their leader, and change policy.

    If you can make Women love themselves more, you have achieved something even bigger. Imagine what those women are capable of doing for all the people in their care?

    Thanks to you (and Skye) I am thinking of posting a few fashion photos, of me wearing the clothes. And I will only post the positive comments, and not the little voice in my head.
    More Power to ye Sista Soldier.

  9. Make Do and Mend

    Sometimes – just being, listening and leading by example is the most effective way.
    I don’t think you should have to explain but it is a great explaination with fab images.
    I have lots of don’t in my field of work which really limits me at times – as in no fur for starters, no Burberry ref work, shopping or personal purchases as they made 300 people redundant in a poor area of the UK just to cut costs and move the operation to the far east. I could go on, no rants just doing – being an principaled stylist ain’t great for work!
    Keep as you are x

  10. Skye

    I’m the child of activists (pro-choice, environmental issues, sex education, home-birth, anti-nuclear, indigenous rights, the list goes on and on), and they sure as hell changed the world with their organising and lobbying and petititioning and shouting and educating, but looking back on their lives (they’re in their mid-late sixties now) it’s really clear that their greatest and largest legacy has been the individual lives they have touched.

    Not to mention the fact that through leading by example and living by their principles they managed to raise a bunch of kids who are now all environmentally aware, socially responsible adults raising their own kids the same way.

    So, what I’m trying to say is that you’re on exactly the right track and I salute you!

  11. K.Line

    Also, gotta say Sal, I’m loving these comments. Miss C, you intrigue me with your little snippets about your life in Canada. Hammie – um, hello, you so have to post your pics. And Skye, your parents sound so interesting. Were you born at home? My daughter was.

    What a great post Sal, when people get talking this much.

  12. up and down town

    you know, you post your good-vibes stuff and it always gives me pause and is a helpful reminder, so you are making a change, one busy blog reader at a time. 😉

  13. drwende

    My belief is that it doesn’t matter if you spread the love by jumping and shouting or by whispering, provided you spread it.

    Love is supposed to win, but first it has to get in the game.

  14. Songy

    I have to thank Hammie for encouraging you to post this. A very good read to start my day. I read one post in the morning before work and yours was it! 🙂

    My geeky nature tells me that it’s all just matter of having a different ‘operating system’. We all work differently. I don’t agree with you when you said you could be considered selfish and lazy compared those with louder voices. Those have different set of selfishness when they pitch their seemingly righteous causes. Would you agree? Spreading ‘love’ is extremely healthy and I get that healthy dose from your writing so you’re doing something right.

  15. a cat of impossible colour

    Bravo, and thank you!

    When I left Zimbabwe and arrived in New Zealand, I felt a lot of guilt at not being an ‘activist’ for Zimbabwe. For some reason people here expected it. They asked me what I had done to protest against the government while I lived there and … well, I had to say nothing. I was sixteen when we left, and I was scared. We all were. Being an activist would get you hurt. We protested in little ways, instead – no grand gestures, just small acts of rebellion. We supported each other, sharing what food and petrol we had. We formed our own neighbourhood watch groups to protect against the violence and crime. Some of us drew satirical cartoons or ran pirate radio stations. And I wrote. The book I have written about Zimbabwe is my form of activism. There are many ways to make a difference, and they’re not always obvious. People shouldn’t be reviled or ignored because they’re not leading big, loud protests … they could be making huge differences on a smaller scale.

    Anyway, hope that all made sense, my head is a bit flu-y and fuzzy today. This was a great post, and I really very strongly agree with your philosophies of leading by example and living your principles … and spreading the love, of course!

  16. Sal

    YAAAAAY! Thanks to ALL you amazing women for sharing your own stories and feelings about activism and positivity and the value of doing what comes naturally to us. You are all brave and generous and miraculous, and I hope you know it without me saying so. But believe me, I’ll keep saying so till I’m stone cold in my grave. I’m simply thrilled to know that you’re all out there, changing the world one small action at a time.


  17. enc

    I admire all your efforts in this area. That’s why I come back for more every day.

    Your letter to your body changed something very significant for me, I want you to know that.

  18. Imelda Matt

    Whatdamean? I love Girl Power, if I didn’t, then I wouldn’t come time-after-time.

  19. Memphis Evans

    I totally agree with this post. All those people blocking cars at conventions are doing far less “for the world” than someone being kind to a single other human being.

  20. ambika

    The 'why' can be so hard to articulate sometimes and I think your eloquence on this point is beyond impressive.

    & given how less visible public protests are given the media's focus on Britney's latest breakdown, these small steps are starting to be on the same level of supposed visibility anyways.

  21. Hyena In Petticoats

    I am so pleased you posted this – and I think the type of activism you are speaking of is a typically (though not exclusively) feminine type – change through nurturing – whether that be relationships, community, growth in our children, or the attitude of the person at the bus stop.

    There is a lot of change to be made at this level, and I applaud you for speaking about it, and I join you in that mission in my own small way.


    Leah xxx

  22. WA_side

    Thanks for linking back to this post Sal. I hadn’t seen it before but it really resonates with me and helps me understand myself a little better.