Activism, Identity & Service

The scholar Juana Rodriguez defines activism as “an engagement with hauntings of history, a dialogue between memories of the past and the imaginings of the future manifested through the acts of our own present yearning.”

Her work examines the relationship between identity and activism; more specifically, the idea that monolithic collective identities formed in the interest of solidarity can be reductive and even oppressive. Rodriguez and others ask, how can we hold space for our own unique individual identities, full of nuance and complexity, while still building broad-based social movements?

I see the fault lines of this tension reflected in nearly every prominent social issue; as activists are called to unify towards an expansive collective identity, they are concurrently pulled more strongly to smaller circles that organize around shared aspects of their personal stories. In the broader push for women’s equality, for example, many queer or BIPOC activists felt that the larger umbrella narrative did not fully account for the intersectionality of their experience. You can probably think of many more examples from your own work.

As heartivists, we reframe the focus of activism away from the self as center. Being drawn to a specific cause may come from direct personal experiences, but our work as heartivists is not actually about “us” at all.

Service, by definition, is self-less, yet in acting from a service-centered heart, our work actually becomes a truer reflection of ourselves, our humanity, and our shared hopes for the world.

There is no call to squeeze yourself into a collective narrative that, like a too-small garment, poorly fits you. Our personal identity is no longer a barrier to meaningful connection and culture shift; rather, we are finally able to dress ourselves with the intricate and beautiful nuances our lives have stitched for us alone.

Along the heartivist path, what we think of as “activism” shifts too.

Understanding that the world is changed by our example and not our opinions, we may come to observe that listening is a powerful form of activism. Kindness is activism.

And self reflection? Truly revolutionary.

Activism Takes Both Hands

Activism Takes Both Hands - AJ Dahiya

Growing up in a working class town to immigrant parents, I found myself in the same kinds of mischief common to young boys the world over. And like many children, I was adept at justifying my actions whenever I was caught. Particularly in cases where I felt I was the victim, I rivaled a defense attorney in my protestations of innocence.

No matter what the situation or circumstances, my mother would respond with a phrase that has been etched in my consciousness,

“It takes two hands to clap.”

It sounds much more poetic in her native language, but I think the English captures the sentiment (although I can clap with one hand…sorry Mum!).

This phrase was not heartless. It did not invalidate my experience or ignore my feelings. It pointed out that all of those things were but one hand. The other hand was mine — my reaction, my thought patterns and behaviours.

With this small sentence my mother taught me a valuable lesson. In every situation I am also a factor. What I didn’t know then is that my mother was a heartivist. In her own simple way she was illustrating that while pointing the finger out at the world and those within it, there was also a necessity in pointing inward.

There is no meaningful activism, no lasting social change that can be accomplished without self-reflection. So often, we harbor within ourselves the very things we dislike and want to change in others. To anyone who wants to improve the world, I say: start with yourself. It is only from this vantage point that you will be able to truly serve, and inspire others to do the same.

If ever more of us commit to self and collective evolution, perhaps one day soon the two hands will clap to applaud a world we are proud of.