The Looking Glass

The Looking Glass

The Department of Psychology


Rick Rodriguez

Brazilian Rain Forests. The Ozone layer. Animal experimentation. Nuclear testing. Feeling stressed about the situation the world is in? Does it seem like there's nothing you can do about it? After all, you are only one person. What can you possibly do alone? A lot. There are over 60 million people who consider themselves social activists. And they are doing a world of good. I recently spoke to Dr. Bert Somers, Emeritus Psychology professor at CSLA, and asked him about his days as a social activist. The stories he told me lifted my spirits and decreased the helplessness felt about doing something good for the world.

How do you know if you're cut out to be a social activist? Well, first off, you have a well-established belief system. You feel for the underdog, and always feel bad if something happens to the little guy. There is a sense of hope in your eyes. Even in the bleakest of moments, you can still see a glimmer of light to help you along. You feel a degree of separateness from the norm. This doesn't mean you're a social outcast, it simply means that you see yourself apart from all the rest. And most of all, you have a passion for fighting the wrong. You have that hero/heroine within you. The one who wanted to find the cure for that incurable disease. That's who the social activist is. A person who strives to find the remedies for problems that are bigger than themselves. And more often, they, like Don Quixote, dream that unreachable dream.

What will come of it? What can you gain? I can sum it up in one word—stress. Most social activists at heart feel that the world is progressing at a rate they can't keep up with. They feel lost and confused in an environment that's hostile and foreboding. This can generate quite a bit of stress. Being able to deal with that stress is what social action is all about. You can find people like you, people who share your ideals and beliefs, and want to do something about the helplessness they are feeling. They are people who have found a way to deal with their stress. There is a therapeutic value in what they do. They feel connected to other people, and a sense of detachment from their own egos.

As always however, nothing is without its faults. There are negative aspects that you should be aware of. First, be prepared to be seen as a deviant. Imagine yourself as one of those activists who has just handcuffed himself to the fence of a nuclear power plant. Now imagine how the person's family feels as they see him displayed on the six o'clock news. Get ready for that.

You'll also be giving up plenty of your leisure time. This is not some hobby that you can do on the weekends, this is a full-time commitment. Even if you don't think you'll become committed, you will. Every time you get out, they pull you back in. And if you go too far, you can even become disconnected from the very cause you are serving. This is the worst case scenario: The rescuer/hero who doesn't see the implications of what he's doing. He simply fights the fight, confronts the bad guys, and tries to win the war. Sometimes, he even forgets what he's fighting for.

Being aware of your actions is the key to the success of any type of social action. Once you lose sight of yourself, the loss of the war won't be far behind. It's best to find some stabilizing quality within yourself first; something you can always rely on to give you that extra strength when you need it most. Usually, it is another person. Love can be a powerful driving force. When a loved one is the center of your stability, it's very hard to lose your way. Always be aware of the world around you. Compassion and concern are the foundations for hope. You may feel despair at first, but it will also empower you at the same time. Other people can make your transition easier, and the support they lend is a two-way street (they expect support in return).

The world is changing at blinding speeds. It's being run by politicians and businessmen who care more about re-election and money than they do about the Northern Fur Seal. Life is a precious thing. And we must all work together and do our part for the greater good. Remember, life can pass you by. As Ferris Bueller once said, "If you don't stop and take a look around once in a while, you might just miss it."


There are, of course, many ways of dealing with social action. One may decide to get involved at various levels; another may also decide to just look the other direction or one may decide to do as most people do . . . that is to follow the example below. - Editor


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