Don’t Try to Save the World All by Yourself!

partners_optTrying to accomplish any kind of activism, community, or systems change on your own is a recipe for disaster. First, it won’t work. More importantly, it’s sure to burn you out, make you crazy, and leave you lying in an angry or despairing puddle of ineffectiveness on your kitchen floor.

The Buddy System. In the Jewish tradition, people are not supposed to study all by themselves! People study in pairs—with a partner, called havruta (meaning friendship). Why do people study in pairs? For all kinds of reasons: because it’s not possible to find all the answers on our own; because studying with a partner makes each person accountable to the other; because having to articulate your ideas to someone else helps you express those ideas better. According to the Talmud, “Two scholars sharpen one another” (BT Ta’anit 7a).

In your advocacy and community work, you need a buddy. Here are some ideas about who makes a good buddy:

  • Someone who lives or works close to you, so you can meet regularly; or
  • Someone who lives far away, but with whom you have regular Skype or Zoom conversations.
  • Someone who isn’t exactly like you—maybe he’s older (or younger); maybe she practices a different religion (or none); maybe he is passionate about the environment while you are passionate about immigration; etc.
  • Someone you like, respect, trust, and want to learn from and with.

Here are some ideas about how to start working on activism as a pair:

  • In your first intentional “buddy” meeting—whether it’s in person or online—outline some basic understandings with each other about how you will work together. In the Unitarian Universalist tradition, this is called “creating a covenant.” Write your understandings down. Revisit them each time you meet. In creating this understanding (or covenant), consider:
    • Ways you want to speak to each other: with respect, with full attention, without interrupting, etc.
    • Ways you will honor each other’s commitment: making your meetings a priority, being prepared for each meeting, honoring the confidentiality of some sharing, etc.
    • How will you challenge each other, encourage each other, and help to (gently and lovingly!) hold each other accountable?
    • Is the central purpose of your partnership to learn about current issues or other perspectives together? In that case, you might decide to read a book or an article between meetings and discuss your learning together. Or:
    • Is the central purpose of your partnership to support each other in grassroots activism? In that case, you might focus on sharing updates from the community work with which you are each involved.
  • Next, consider:
    • Setting a regular time to meet: every two weeks, perhaps, or once a month.
    • What will the format of your conversation be? Perhaps allow time for a brief personal check in before diving into issues and updates. Perhaps you want to take turns in closing each meeting with an inspirational or thought-provoking quote, prayer, or poem.

Sharing your intentions for 2017 activism with each other could be a great thing to do during your first meeting! Then as the year progresses, revisit those intentions—along with your mutual covenant or agreement—each time you meet. That’s an easy way to make sure you’re on track with your goals and intentions, even as you move your activism forward this year.

So: what do you think? What are your 2017 goals and intentions for your activism?


Above “Me and Kimpanties” photo used courtesy Aoife via Flickr Creative Commons.

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