Day Five: Passion & Slacktivism

One of the main aims for Civicization is to spark conversation about engaging in the communities around us – to find out about what people read, think, do, and desire.

So I’m aiming to make an ongoing feature Convos from Comments, where I pull out some comments folks left for various posts throughout the week, and put the ideas raised front & center.

Convo #1: Passion

The first comment comes from The Good Doctor – whose excellent blog about fighting medical inequity in South America & right here in North Carolina can be found here – who was interested in the idea of finding one thing around which to become active and engaged.
She wrote:
Finding out where to focus is a MAJOR dilemma. I find that part the most overwhelming. There are so many good causes out there – how in the world does one manage to pick THE MOST IMPORTANT one?! When I started residency I thought that my hot button issue would be childhood obesity. While, of course, this is a very worthy cause, it didn’t end up being the one that made me feel. It made me whine. It made me judgmental. It turned me into the kind of person who complains without doing anything. I stumbled on an issue this year that I didn’t really even know what an issue – early childhood literacy. I know we’ve talked about it a lot but it was like a light turned on and all of a sudden I knew that this was what I wanted to work on. The same thing happened by accident in college when I discovered that I wanted to be a doctor. So my advice is to investigate lots of things – go to lectures, read new books. You might stumble on something you didn’t even know existed but with spark inside you the passion to move forward with it.
What are your thoughts about this?

I agree that figuring out your personal “hot button issue” is beyond complicated. I am curious to know more about how the Good Doctor – and the rest of you – know when that light goes on? Was it a fast or slow process? What was it like to distance yourself from the idea that you initially went in with, and come to terms with the fact that plans – and passions – have changed? How did you know that you were on a new path, as opposed to just toying with the idea?

One thing this also makes me think about it the role of passion. I feel like this is one of those words that gets tossed around a lot, like purpose and balance and deserve. I kind of hate these words, but use them all the time as well. In their good spells they keep us moving towards what matters. But when we’re unsure of what matters, they can intensify feelings of confusion, putting energy in the wrong place, shame, and exhaustion.

We all know folks who lack passion – who are good at things but aren’t driven by any real connection and zest for a particular activity or issue. But what about the opposite? If it isn’t just that there are so many important things to choose from, but that you care deeply about so many of them, how do you choose one without feeling like King Solomon?

Also, something I’ve been thinking about a good deal – what about when anger is mistaken for passion? For example, I felt angry about the conditions in which my students lived when I was a teacher. This made me feel I was passionate about helping urban youth and working to eradicate the social/emotional impacts of poverty on young people. Now I am questioning whether this is truly a passion, or perhaps just something I feel angry and upset about? How do you define a passion?

Convo #2: Action
Our second comment comes from The Collegiate, a clever senior in college who is looking to parlay her interests in psychology, criminology, and prison reform into a potential career in urban education or restorative justice. She also commented on the post regarding creating a petition, but from a different angle:
You know, sad to say, but I generally tend to not hold internet petitions in high regard–something about the ease of just anonymously signing your name online just doesn’t feel like real action to me (which I’m sure you realized!). I’m also doubtful as to their ability to change anything: who are you really petitioning? Why them? Can they truly help?

Obviously this is no attack against you, just something I’ve realized as I’ve grown along with the internet.

I think it’s important to avoid slacktivism of any kind. You know what I’m talking about: the KONY 2012 video, posting pictures of starving children in Africa on Facebook, and yes, signing internet petitions. It’s nice to think that these types of things actually do something, but unfortunately, only actual actions will. I’ve never been a fan of just raising awareness (Susan G. Komen foundation, I’m looking at you). I think it’s important to also set an example of how to start solving a problem.

Sadly, focusing on one issue can be really difficult, but worthwhile for really making a change. Is there anything you feel particularly strongly about? Anything not getting enough attention? There’s so many causes that do get a lot of attention that many others are ignored; I’m always a proponent of helping out those who otherwise wouldn’t get the help.

I’m sure you’ll figure it out just fine, though–and I’m sure I’d definitely be on board!


This, for me, raised a fascinating question. What defines an “actual action”?  Can an action online be “actual”?  I read this article in the Times a few weeks ago about etiquette in the age of texting, and basically how when we remove the face-to-face confrontation from our interactions, it opens the floodgates for us to be inconsiderate assholes – it also makes it possible for us to be well-intentioned, without having to put our pants on or leave the house. Is that worse than doing nothing at all, because it desensitizes us to the hard work of really solving problems?

In your experience, what separates “actual” and “slactivistic” actions? What separates just awareness-building from setting an example and starting to truly chip away at a problem?

As The Collegiate’s college experience has been bookended by the last two presidential elections, I’m particularly interested in what “doing” looks like to her. For those of you with different perspectives, what does “doing” look like to you?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the reply section!


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