How To Fight Fatigue In The New Era Of Civic Engagement


Quick question: How did the news of FBI Director James Comey’s firing hit you? We’re not talking about your feelings on the actual firing — although reading that Comey learned of his dismissal via television may have resurfaced all those memories of high school pettiness — but what you felt next. Did you read a few news clips, say “that’s that” and switch off your phone? Did you text your friends in order to gauge their reactions? Or did you, like so many people, spend the rest of the evening with your palm firmly rooted to your face as you devoured take after take after take?

How did that work out? Did you feel more and more helpless? Like there was something you should be doing, but couldn’t? Welcome to the club. It feels like every day some strange new piece of governmental chaos comes rearing its ugly head, reminding us that the world is a strange, chaotic place. And as we grow more confused, we begin to wonder whether all the tweet storms we’re reading, the marching we’re doing, and the phone calls we’re making to our elected officials are actually changing anything.

“Could I do more?” we ask ourselves as we rush from work to appointments to studying for finals to political rallies. “Will it be enough?”

First the good news: If this describes you, it’s great that you’re becoming more aware of the complex political landscape and our society’s pain points. Dr. Rachael Goodman, an associate professor in counseling and development at George Mason University tells us that in a world that’s casually tipping closer and closer to disaster, it’s important to know where your values are.

“Sometimes it’s helpful for me to think on the positive side,” Goodman says, “and the positive is that many more people are becoming aware of injustice, paying attention, and seeking ways to act. It’s heartening to see so many people want to act.”

But how do we act? When every crisis feels like it’s the BIGGEST CRISIS — climate change, the immigration ban, the border wall, women’s rights, science — the pressure can be debilitating. And unless you’ve got lots of time on your hands (and most of us don’t), it can also feel like whatever you do is inconsequential. Especially if you’re trying to do more than one thing at a time.


“We each have to figure out where to be active,” Goodman says. “Think about where your passions are, where your hearts is, and where you can be most effective.”

For some that might mean a march on the capitol every month, but for others, it can look quite different. Here’s the most important part, though: If you want to feel less helpless, don’t let anyone tell you that you have to do everything. It’s impossible and it will push you to the brink.

“I’ve had to tell myself that, because there are so many causes I’d like to be involved in,” Goodman says. “I make my decisions based on my personal capacity as well as where I think I’ll be most effective.”

If you think that means that whatever you’ve been doing already is not enough (assuming you’re civically involved in some manner), you’ve got to stop and refocus. Anything that you do that works to end injustice — whether it be marching or an editing a newsletter or helping run a social media campaign — counts. It’s not a competition (though sometimes it can certainly feel like one).

Goodman, for instance, has a background in cultural competence. Her work to end injustice (besides teaching and research) is to serve undocumented immigrants in Virginia. It’s where she feels that she has the most connection, she says, and that connection leads to impact. While some might tell you that you can always do more, trying to pull yourself in all directions will only end in burnout. If you don’t know what you can do, think about what’s most important to you (and it doesn’t have to be one of the immediate issues of the day; they all tie together), research organizations that are in line with your viewpoint and then see how you may be able to help. And no, you never have to chant or wave signs if you don’t want to. There are plenty of methods to be politically/socially/civically involved.

Here’s something else to keep in mind: We all react to feelings of injustice differently. Some of us, when faced with a reminder that rights could be stripped from us at any moment, are immediately ready to fight; others, Goodman says, may need some time to process. And if you’re one of those people who needed to take a breather after some big new grabbing event — to sleep, to cry, to pound at a wall and drink a little too much — there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

If you need to hibernate before you take action (as long as it’s not just an excuse to do nothing, ever), that’s your prerogative. Trust that the world’s ills will be waiting for you when you’re ready to fight them and that you are strong enough to aid in shifting the culture.


Self-care — the idea that we should do things that are restorative to keep our health in balance — is important, but Goodman proposes widening that lens to your entire network, effectively transforming self-care into community care, so that everyone who’s fighting the good fight right along with you has strong support.

“I think it’s really important we respect each other’s ways of being,” Goodman says. “If we’re only focused on self-care, it puts the responsibility back on me to take care of myself. But what’s also important is the need to set up norms and expectations in formal and informal settings, like with our friends, who are also trying to fight injustices, to make sure that we’re supporting each other.”

On top of this, In order to feel less helpless, you’ve got to be more conscious of what you consume. Goodman doesn’t advocate getting off social media entirely — I mean, how could you in 2017? — but she does suggest that you limit the time you spend processing the news and its related accessories (the takes, the tweets, the livestreams).

“If you’re not mindful of what media you’re consuming,” Goodman says, “without realizing it, you may drain your resources, maybe re-traumatize yourself in some way. Being thoughtful about how much and what you’re consuming is important.”

“Ask yourself, ‘what’s driving my consumption?’ Are you reading articles or listening to podcasts because you want to know something? Is it informative? Or is it compulsive and making you feel worse? Be mindful of the impact that your choices are making.”