In August of 2019 I was feeling tired. This happens to human beings. It was happening to me. I noticed that I was feeling a great deal of resistance to sitting down at my desk. Things that once came easy were getting more difficult. I still felt motivated by the work. But I could not access my energy for it. At that point I had offered over 250 presentations across Washington State and beyond to counter anti-Muslim bigotry. I had been working for the Treacy Levine Center, guiding its transition from running an interfaith camp to taking interfaith to people.
I am a worker. I started working mowing lawns in second grade. That is how I bought books and some of those berry pies and an occasional Hostess chocolate thing. I started working on a farm in the sixth grade, getting up at 5:30 AM and going to bed at 10:45 PM during harvest. But all of a sudden my capacity for work was not working for me.
It is a common thing for human beings to feel tired from time to time. We are not machines, after all, but mortal and lovely beings.
Yet, those engage in allyship can experience a particular form of weariness. I can identify a few reasons why I felt tired out, maybe they can help you.
Why I Got Tired Out
First, when we take on a struggle for human rights and human dignity as our own, we have a lot to learn. This involves deep listening to people, reading books and taking classes, and challenging our assumptions about what a group is facing, and how to effectively respond. Because the practice of allyship is complex, we can become overwhelmed and need some time to regroup.
Second, the practice of allyship is all about hope for a better world. But change is slow, and sometimes we cannot see even the small changes we are helping to bring about. Other times, we may fail altogether. When naive hope dies, it can feel like hope itself as withered away. It takes energy to cultivate a more durable, long-term hope.
Third, for those of us who were born into a higher status in the nation, we can begin to see the ways we have benefited from what is denied to others. This often leads us to question the basic assumptions and narratives of our society or in-groups. We may find, as we begin to question some of these we may find ourselves in conflict within ourselves and within our own group or family. They may resent how our engagement with complexity is complicating their own lives in ways they did not sign up for.
Lastly, the practice of allyship puts us in proximity to real pain. Human life includes pain. But here we are talking about pain that is unnecessary, pain that is the result of a toxic and unjust system that hurts all of us, but does not hurt all of us the same. We can experience compassion fatigue when we engage with people in pain.
How I Responded
The key thing was that I noticed how I was feeling. I spoke to the board president. I began to take a series of three-day weekends and did not check emails during those weekends. I planned some fun hikes and other experiences on those weekends.
Second, I began to speak to a counselor to unpack all the thoughts and feelings I was having.
Third, I began to take more time in my work days for prayer, meditation, and reading.
Lastly, I began to recognize that I was sometimes confusing my identity as a human being with my work as in allyship. Because I was confused about this, I would push myself harder than I could bear. I was able to do the work of allyship better when I remembered that it was something I do, and not something I am.
Since then I try to notice how I am feeling and stay mindful of what is going on with me.
I am curious to know how the work of allyship has been a challenge for you and what you do care for yourself.