This feels to me like one of my most touchy subjects. I know some people who pretty much identify themselves with being an activist. To me (and mostly to them), that means that they are prone to see the goodness of their lives in terms of the causes they have fought against, for, been arrested about, or campaigns they’ve worked on. They have been at it since the Vietnam War, the environment has been a strong concern, and a myriad of social justice issues have been surfaced and attended to, by them. I know I can’t, and don’t want to, paint them with a broad all-inclusive brush. I know I have a lot to thank them for. So that makes what I want to explore, that much more difficult. I think that activism looks and feels different from the perspective of aging.
Aging brings about change for some people. I am often fond of saying, that aging is a more effective consciousness-changer than even LSD has been. Wrinkles, medical and identity crises, losses of all sorts, and the approach of death, alters everything. Life becomes something else. So, in my opinion, does activism. I’ve noticed this has become important to me, as I’ve changed, and as I see many of my old behaviors in the new light aging reveals.
To some extent I have identified as a social and environmental activist myself. One part has come out of my time as a park ranger, and another out of my passion for community. Both of them have grown with me, ripening as the years have passed. So that, the activism that now speaks to me is not the activism I grew-up with. This is a wonderful, paradoxical, poorly understood situation. Being active, and being an activist, isn’t what it used to be. I like the change, I think it is a good one, and I’ve never heard anyone speak of it. So, I’m going to try to give this new form of activism a voice, and I’m also trying to convey why I think this is an important development.
I’ve noticed that aging seems to be shifting my awareness, from outside to inside. Along with this move toward a more interior life, my sense of responsibility has blossomed. I’m much more likely now to confront my self than others. This has changed the focus of my activism in interesting and humbling ways. I tend to be a lot less angry about the way things are, instead I feel a lot more grief, and a great deal more responsibility. The old self-righteous high, I used to get when I arrived at some analysis of conditions, has given way, to a more compassionate viewpoint. I feel like I am deeper in our shared human dilemma.
Depth seems to be the biggest change in my perspective. I’ve heard it said, that aging is about integration. For me that has been true. Now, for me, integration not only includes lining up thoughts and ideals to make sure they are congruent, but lining up my relationship actions, interior life, and sense of overall perspective. There is a continuum of connection that makes even the 1% my family. As a result, I feel I have to be at work cleaning up my own environmental messes, as I’m addressing someone else’s. Justice has as much an internal dimension as external. My doing of action now comes from a more being place inside.
This change has been confusing, to me, and to others. Activism has always been associated with activity. Thus activism has unwittingly participated in the ageism that runs unconsciously rampant in this culture. If one pays attention, old people may be seen on the lines, but one seldom hears of activism growing up. The prevailing form of activism is still about changing the world — it is based on the assumption that by altering the world one alters the choices available.
This is tantamount to one in a relationship assuming, that they should be able to alter their partner. Marriages, and all kinds of partnerships fail, because of that wrong-headed and immature assumption. Grown-ups know better, as a result now activism has more choices. There is a level of activism that is now possible; when social and environmental justice become fully about caring, instead of ideology, then it takes on a kinder, more responsible and friendly human face. I would add more effective, but I actually don’t know that yet. First, I need to escape my long association with the activity-preference of ageism, and then find more mature feet.
I’d rather be changed by magnetism, being drawn voluntarily into a new world, than by the old methods of protest, harangue, guilt-induction, and interference. I think a deeper pursuit of change will probably be slow, but as I age, I see inherent wisdom in slowing down.
I think I am a reborn activist, one who instead of always trying to change the world is learning more about what is. My hope, my current plan, is to align my actions more fully with what is miraculous about this world. I haven’t forsaken those less privileged than myself — I’ve just raised the bar, and conduct myself accordingly.