It’s tricky to criticize a person that works in social activism. Whether you’re a businessperson, athlete, unemployed writer, or high-price escort, you’ll be starting with considerably less credibility from an altruism standpoint. Who are you to be critical of how they go about their work? They’re out there trying to make the world a better place, and you’re out there whoring yourself for bigger paydays (literally, in the final example).
If they’re dedicating their entire week – if not their entire life – to a cause greater than their own bank account, then logic seems to dictate they will, in fact, do much more than the average member of society to make the world a better place.
In theory, yes. In practice, though… not so straightforward. For every Mother Teresa, there are far too many Al Sharptons. For every individual who is truly and unquestionably dedicated to the Greater Good, many more are interested in pursuing adulation for their personal benefit. Their work becomes less about affecting the cause they champion, and more about creating an identity – or even worse, a brand – that can be promoted for individual reward.
In the process of creating that identity, enhancing their reputation amongst their colleagues is given a higher priority than advancing the cause. Eventually, their words and actions begin to serve as circular back patting to win praise and admiration from a group of people who already agree with them. Their social media posts and organized events become an echo chamber of self-congratulation, encouraging mocking – or simple exclusion – of differing viewpoints. Subsequently, the activists within a movement are so concerned with one-upping each other for greater street-cred within their camp that they lose interest in swelling their ranks by educating and relating to people outside the movement.
Consequently, some activists fear they might be viewed as “soft” in their beliefs or suspiciously out of line with the group mindset if they extend an olive branch of acceptance. So, they emphatically brand the person a foe, and turn back to their colleagues to receive high-fives for setting them straight.
Any actual change in the mindset of a society is going to be borne of relating to others – not from categorizing and demonizing those who even partially disagree with your viewpoints. When those who would have us believe they desire progress hammer their stake in the ground, then paint any individual who doesn’t sign up to every tenet they espouse as one of “them”, no progress occurs – and the stage is set for regression to begin. Where a mutual understanding and a movement towards reconciliation could have taken place, instead an Us vs. Them ethos intensifies.
If a person, for example, is pro-same-sex marriage, and in support of legislation to ensure equal rights and access to all people, regardless of sexual preference or identification – but brazenly refers to the person with lipstick and heaving breasts in front of them as “she” without first inquiring how they self-identify their gender in social situations, is that person a friend or foe of the LGBT movement?
A friend – you would think. A friend that, at heart, shares enough beliefs to be considered an ally in the movement, and an ideal candidate for further education or discussion of the points they don’t currently view the exact same way equality activists might.
If you ever had the feeling that the amount of organizations, rallies, activist groups, and protests you witness seems greatly disproportionate to the amount of actual progress taking place, consider for a moment that amongst the people driving them – just like people in any other line of work – there are simply a lot of them that just aren’t very good at what they do.