|Image by Cynthia Changyit Levin|
Sadness is our indication - our admission, even - that something is very wrong. And as we work through our grief, sadness organizes our mind. Crying - and I mean a good, solid, sobbing cry with stuff coming out of your nose - is a cathartic tool our minds can use to clear a path for useful thought. And a clear thought path is a very, very useful thing for an activist mom fighting for the lives of children.
|Image: "Inside Out" by Disney/Pixar|
After the crying subsides comes a critical moment: the balance point of when we either slip into hopelessness or get down to the real work of changing the world around us. We can dry our eyes, blow our noses, and look at the problem with new clarity and sense of purpose. This tipping point leads to either action or acceptance that things are never going to change. It is a vulnerable time. The difference between these two reactions can have a lot to do with who is around us to help pick us up after we fall. Can we find supportive family, friends, and allies to help us move forward?
At a 2013 Clinton Global Initiative panel, Khalida Brohi - a Pakistani activist who founded the Sughar Empowerment Society at the age of 16 - spoke of how her father taught her to turn from frustration and sadness to action:
"Growing up I've cried a lot, a lot...I saw my cousins getting married very early age 9 years 11 years of age. My mom was married at 9 years of age. I saw my aunties and neighborhood women being beaten. I saw things happening and I could not make sense of it. I could only cry. I would go and hide myself in the house and I would cry and cry. But a lot of times I would cry in my father's arms and he would actually say something to me that I would always remember. Whenever I ran to my home and just hugged him and cried, he would say: "Khadila, my dear...
Don't cry. Strategize."
|Khadila Brohi with Bono. Image: AFP|
As an activist, I sometimes get out of touch with my own sadness. Doing this kind of activism every day, I kind of have to be to some extent. I build up a wall to keep moving through the terrible stories and statistics routinely coming through my in-box. But it's a mistake to be completely out of touch.
There are moments when a certain personal story tears my walls down, reduces me to tears, and ultimately makes me a better activist. One such moment came when I was listening to Raj Shah - then director of USAID - give a luncheon speech in Chicago. He spoke of horrible statistics of child mortality and malnutrition, all familiar to me. Then, he showed a picture of a trip to a refugee camp and related the story of a mother who travelled many miles to bring her child to the camp where he received life-saving care. It was an uplifting story. But then he called our attention to something in the background of the photo. At the time, he'd thought it was a pile of blankets. Instead, it was revealed that the small bundle of material actually concealed her other child who had not survived the journey. This mother had to literally put her dead child behind her in order to care for her surviving boy and talk to a visiting American to help her people get the aid they need to survive.
I broke in a big, fantastic way with tears and removal of myself from the room. When my dam explodes, there is a lot of salt water behind it. I cried and I didn't truly stop crying until later that night when I had a work call with RESULTS volunteer, Beth Wilson. In the midst of our work, I told her what was going on that day and wept for that child and all the children we haven't been able to reach with our advocacy and aid. She listened with great understanding and helped me re-commit myself to our work with a greater sense of urgency than existed the moment before I saw the picture.
So, the next time you break down, I hope you will take the time to listen to yourself about what is causing the tears. Seek out others who are willing to listen and support. And, finally, say to yourself with compassion and understanding, "Don't cry. Strategize."