I’ve been thinking about activism, burnout, and social change, and I’ve noticed some patterns I’d like to share. I believe that there are 2 main types of activism, and that understanding the 2 types can help you predict others’ behavior and make healthy choices.
I’ve never seen anyone else discuss this before, so I’m inventing my own terms: positive and anti-negative action.
Today we will cover:
- What these labels are
- How their effects are different
- How to use this knowledge to improve your experience & effectiveness
- Final thoughts
What are they?
Positive action creates something good.
Anti-negative action takes a stand against something bad.
I’ll share a few examples of each to help you visualize them.
- Discussing ways that family members and friends can be helpful and understanding to autistic people
- Teaching white people strategies to help respect and include people of color
- Drawing positive LGBTQ+ artwork and posting it publicly
- Writing an article called “7 Ways to Make a Friendlier Workplace for Women”
- Taking a public stand against things that hurt autistics, like Autism Speaks, harmful “therapies,” and anti-vaxxers
- Calling out white people on bad behavior that harms people of color
- Drawing a comic explaining why TERFs, ace/aro exclusionists, biphobes, and others harm the LGBTQ+ community
- Writing an article called “7 Harmful Ways Workplaces Shut Out Women”
If you’re the type of person who tries to make a difference in the world, then chances are you’ve done some of both. (You may have even done some of both in the same instance, like in the same Twitter thread.)
How are their effects different?
It’s my belief that positive and anti-negative action are equally valuable. We need to create more good. We need to stop more harm. Both are amazing.
However, their effects are not alike.
- How you may feel: Proud of yourself and happy to create something uplifting
- How supporters might react: Getting excited, sharing, praising you
- How average people may react: Smiling, sharing, saying “that’s nice!”, or happily learning something new
- How haters may react: Mocking you, often behind your back (because they lack positivity in their lives)
I engage in mostly positive action. I get a lot of positive comments from well-meaning people. The haters mock me, question my competence, or make dirty jokes about my art behind my back. But 99% of people who speak to my face are nice to me.
- How you may feel: Proud of yourself and/or stressed thinking about the badness
- How supporters might react: Saying it bugs them too, stating agreement, sharing
- How average people may react: Filing it away as “good to know,” scrolling past, not getting it, or awkwardly learning something new
- How haters react: Getting defensive, turning vitriolic, or even making threats if they think you’re too outspoken
Anti-negative action calls attention to badness. While badness needs to be fixed, it also makes people uncomfortable. You might feel uncomfortable thinking about the bad. Other people might feel uncomfortable, especially those who do bad things, and sometimes they will lash out at you (even if you don’t deserve it).
While anti-negative action is just as important as positive action, its effects are a lot more difficult to handle. Especially if the haters turn abusive.
And there is no easy answer for that.
I wish I could tell you “just do X and you’ll be fine.” But I can’t. All I can do is encourage you to be mindful and to recognize your limits.
How can I use this knowledge to improve my experience and effectiveness?
Positive action and anti-negative action feel very different and will have different effects. Understanding the difference, and making mindful choices, can help you do what’s right for you.
If you lose yourself in your cause, you risk losing touch with your needs and suffering activist burnout. That’s why I strongly encourage you to stay mindful. You can’t fix a broken world if you’re breaking yourself. Fix yourself first.
I have a few ideas on how you can make the best of things.
Choosing what to do
A well-thought-out decision is likely to be a good one, so think before choosing action.
- Try reframing anti-negative action into positive action if you think it could work. It takes some extra effort, but may also have a good payoff.
- Positive action gets people thinking about how they can help, which is good.
- Taking a positive approach can result in new allies and less backlash.
- This isn’t always possible or necessary, but it’s worth considering.
- Consider limiting your anti-negative action if you are a minor, struggling with serious mental illness, or going through a stressful time in your life. Your well-being and safety come first.
- Pay attention to your mood and how much stress you’re experiencing lately. If you’re having a hard time, now might be a bad time for anti-negative stuff.
- Set boundaries and don’t be afraid to step away.
- Remember that you can’t fix everything, so don’t pressure yourself to engage in anti-negative action if you aren’t sure you can handle it right now.
I have struggled with life-threatening anxiety and depression, which I keep at bay by trying to lead a fairly low-stress lifestyle. While I am not a minor, I also struggle with judgment sometimes and thus could unwittingly put myself at risk. For these reasons, I choose to engage in mostly positive action.
You know your own lifestyle and needs best. Use this information to help you make choices that feel right for you.
When you engage in positive action
Positive action usually has positive effects. Make the most of them when you can.
- You’ll get more supportive comments. Save screenshots or bookmark them in a folder. They’re worth re-reading when you need a pick-me-up.
- Don’t take haters too seriously. They’re probably leading sad lives right now and they don’t have enough positivity, so they mock what’s positive.
- Most of them will lack the courage to talk to you directly. They’ll just make threads on the ugliest parts of the internet.
- Still, don’t be afraid to block and report if someone actually talks to you. It may happen from time to time.
- They’ll probably look back on this and cringe when they’re older.
- Don’t be surprised if a few ignorant people come and ask questions. They are potential friends and allies who just need a little education. Try to point them in the right direction and treat them well.
- Enjoy feeling good about doing good things. You deserve it.
When you engage in anti-negative action
Anti-negative action can involve a lot of pushback. Take extra care of yourself.
- Stay aware of your emotions. If you’re getting overwhelmed, slow down or walk away.
- Make time for self-care. Do things that help you feel better. Spend time talking to your favorite people. Talk about nice things, or ask if you can vent.
- Try not to reply to the haters. It may feel like a relief to diss or disprove them, but it also emboldens more. The block button is your friend. So is the report button.
- If you don’t want awful comments to go unchallenged, try replying with “blocked and reported.” Then block and report.
- You don’t have to follow my advice, of course, but it can reduce the hostility that you experience.
- Trust your instincts if someone seems dangerous. Take screenshots and report it. Your safety is important.
- Remember that you’re making a difference, even though it can be demoralizing.
Seriously, this stuff is so hard and I have a lot of admiration for the people who work on it.
Both positive and anti-negative action are crucial for an imperfect society. Positive action creates more good. Anti-negative reduces the bad.
Understanding and balancing them can help you make the right choices for your life. If you’re doing the extra work of anti-negative stuff, make sure to take good care of yourself and don’t be afraid to scale back or refocus on positive stuff for a while. Your well-being matters and going into activist burnout won’t help anyone.
And support your friends: share their work and voice appreciation. Boost the positive stuff, because everyone needs positivity. Be a little extra kind to your friends who do anti-negative stuff; it can be difficult and demoralizing and they could use some love.
The world needs a lot of help. Anything you can do is amazing. Make sure to take good care of yourself and others, so all of you can continue making a difference and living your best lives.
Much love to you all.
Footnote: Please remember that many factors can contribute to activist burnout (like people reacting unkindly), and that bullying is caused by people choosing to bully others (not by victims acting “unwisely”). This is one part of the picture, not all of it.