How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Modern "Slacktivism"

January 18, 2018

With the #MeToo movement in full force, and the women’s march just about a year behind us, January 2018 is the perfect time to pursue your activist aspirations through whatever skillset you can offer. Are you good at Photoshop? Every movement needs some funny posters to maximize its meme-ability. Do you make a mean vegan sloppy joe? Provide XYZ marchers with a bite so they can keep on their merry way. Do you have no marketable skills whatsoever? Hey, just show up and walk. Or stand and support. However, while any entry point into whatever revolution you’re fighting is no doubt appreciated, it’s more important than ever that you also take the time to be aware of what you’re fighting for. There are nuances to any cause, and being attentive to how they’re perceived is one of the most important aspects of being an activist. Not to get all meta here, but once the #Kony2012 (remember that thing?) shirt becomes more about the shirt than its message, are you even helping the message? So, here are our four steps to combating “slacktivism”—while you’re simultaneously combatting patriarchy/sexism/racism/income disparity/unethical treatment of animals/the fact that there isn’t an adult-only area at Sky Zone (hey, everybody’s got something to fight for, right?).

Engage in Critical Thinking

Whether it’s through our language, or through our broader behavior, we’ve seemed to develop a society predicated on the binary. Yes/no. Winners/losers. Black/white. Chicken/egg. It works because it’s easy to understand—but we all instinctively know that there are also “maybes” in this world. Between the winner and the loser, there’s an inherent struggle to become one of the other (probably the winner), and in that battle, there’s nuance and subtlety that are as defining as the outcome itself. As we all attempt to juggle the many causes we so strongly support, it’s important that we also take the time to engage in the minutia of each. Understanding the journey between the dark and the light not only helps each of us make a stronger case for the end result, but allows us to dig even deeper—perhaps discovering a broader self-identity through that greater understanding of what we’re fighting for in the first place.

Put Your Time Where Your Mouth Is

It’s easy to complain. We hate the way that some barcode stickers never fully peel away from the product they’re temporarily associated with. See? Simple. We also hate when people in the aisle or window seat jockey for the middle-seat armrest—as if that’s not the sole privilege bestowed on the middle-seat person during his/her sardine-esque flight from Denver to New York. That’s two right there, and this paragraph is only five sentences long so far. While getting your concerns off your chest is a big and valuable first step in becoming an activist, it should never be your last. If anything, this is the hallmark of slacktivism: complaining without follow-through. So, when you’ve got a gripe that you really believe in, take the necessary time to advance your case. This could mean volunteering at a food bank because you’re concerned about how much food some restaurants are wasting. It could mean spending a few extra hours alone in your basement trying to create a new adhesive to sell to sticker manufacturers with a penchant for ruining perfectly good wine bottles. What it doesn’t mean is taking advantage of your virtual anonymity, and choosing to simply argue with strangers on Facebook.

DialogueNot Damnation

With that segue, let’s dig into a trend that we’re far too familiar with now: keyboard jockeys. While it may be cathartic, simply vocalizing a strong opinion across any social media platform you can get your hands on is not activism. Why? Well, we all have strong opinions—and, in a space where those strong opinions define the virtual identity we’ve created, we encounter a proverbial social media Dunkirk anytime someone else feels his or her strong opinion is under attack. It’s easy to mistake activism with having a strong stance on an issue, and it’s easy to mistake having a strong stance on an issue with writing a strongly worded comment on someone’s opposing post. But, as you're probably well aware thanks to years of trial and error, that doesn’t really help your cause. What does, however, is making a sincere attempt to understand your perceived opposite—and, the best way to do that is through engaging him or her in an actual conversation.

While the last few years have given us an unprecedented amount of what many would deem “conflict,” they’ve also forced all of us to take more time to think about what we really believe—and whether or not that belief is something we feel is worth fighting for. We’re lucky to have this luxury, because as we know all too well, many of the world’s people do not. This, more than any other reason, is why it’s important that we wield this right responsibly: that is, with awareness and grace. We’re on the verge of helping open doors for people who haven’t had them opened before, and that fact right there totally rules. In fact, it might be worth putting on a super cool t-shirt…as long as the shirt doesn’t become cooler than the reason it came to exist the first place.