I’ve gotten into a few different conversations of late regarding the importance of assessing and reassessing our specific roles as activists. Many of the people with whom I’ve discussed this are, coincidentally (or not), extremely successful activists — whether in academia, media, the legal world, grassroots, and a mixture of a few different categories. Though the discussions have varied, the bottom line always seems to be the same: In order to make the best use of our (frequently privileged, oftentimes incredibly so) lives, we need to continually ask ourselves: what do we want to be when we grow up? The aforementioned activists — all of whose work, and contributions to the field of animal rights, I deeply admire — have this quality in common: The way they approach changing the world for animals is always evolving, and they check back in with themselves on a consistent basis, ready and willing to redefine, restrategize, and revamp their efforts.
That’s because things change. We change. Our outlooks change. Our circumstances change. Our friends, colleagues, schooling (both in the academy and self-taught), communities, locations, opinions, self-interests, selfless interests, and our plans, all change. For those of us who have devoted our lives to changing the world for animals, that means we need to take a step back every now and again and figure out if we need to switch up our tactics, our goals, our attitudes, our “campaigns.”
One way to approach making these adjustments is by writing out a life mission statement. This can be as simple as sitting down with a paper and notebook (or a computer, though, personally, for things like this, I tend to like to see it in my own handwriting), not following any “rules,” and just jotting down what you hope to accomplish within your lifetime. If you want to get really into it, there are a ton of online resources available — not to mention books, often found in the “Self Help” section — that walk you through writing your life’s mission. For example, there’s this resource that talks about the chapter from 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen R. Covey, which centers around personal mission statements. According to Covey:
Some suggestions in creating a mission statement may be:
- Write down your roles as you now see them. Are you satisfied with the mirror image of your life?
- Start a collection of notes, quotes, and ideas you may want to use as resource material in writing your personal mission statement.
- Identify a project you will be facing in the near future and apply the principle of mental creation. Write down the results you desire and what steps will lead you to those results.
Or, “Time Thoughts: Resources for Personal & Career Success” has “Personal Mission Statement Guidelines,” which include this doozy that we all need to remember:
Make sure your mission statement is positive. Instead of saying what you don’t want to do or don’t want to be, say what you do want to do or become. Find the positive alternatives to any negative statements.
I chose not to include sample mission statements in this blog post because, although for some of you they might be useful, for others (like me), you might feel stymied by them. It’s kind of like watching the movie version of Romeo and Juliet while you’re in rehearsals for a community theatre production of it — it’s probably going to influence your performance too much, taking away from it being truly your own.
Or maybe mission statements sound too crunchy for you. That’s fine too. The answer to what you want to be when you grow up is not discovered from one specific formula. So maybe you don’t want to look at the big picture, and you prefer to make changes step by step.
Specifically, this might include switching up your tactics (ditch the leaflets, focus on media), the type of animal issue you’re focusing on (perhaps go from anti-circus work to vegan outreach, which also effectively takes you from a “no” campaign to a “yes” campaign — a refreshing change), or zeroing in on another talent you have and figuring out how to best use that to create change for animals (like dusting off your easel and paint brushes, and creating art with a conscience — like Sue Coe).
Though I don’t have the specific answer for you, as long as we’re being honest with ourselves, which might include challenging our comfort zones, we will forge ahead in an effective way, on our quest to eliminate animal suffering. Throughout it all, remember the reason we do the work we do. As you read this, there are billions of innocent beings being needlessly tortured and killed for human pleasure and profit. But also, don’t forget the other side of the coin. While fighting that unfathomable yet undeniable horror should remain our focus, we have to also recognize and celebrate the victories along the way, and tip our hats to the many compassionate people we meet who give us hope along the way. Furthermore, in order to be in it for the long run, we have to take care of ourselves and each other. Part of taking care of ourselves means, every now and again, trying on a new hat for size. It might just suit you.