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The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World without Losing Your Way Paperback – November 15, 2006
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"If I had but one book to spend hard-earned cash on this year, this one would be it, hands down." -- SusanG, Daily Kos
People often ask how I manage to continue devoting myself to progressive activism (such as the free software movement) for years without burning out. The best way I can answer is by recommending a book, The Lifelong Activist by Hillary Rettig.—Richard Stallman, MacArthur Fellow and Founder and President, Free Software Foundation
"If I had but one book to spend hard-earned cash on this year, this one would be it, hands down. Lifelong Activist is a unique and luscious hybrid, part inspirational tract and part practical textbook on sustaining effective and dedicated activism over the long, long haul."—SusanG, Daily Kos
"Global warming, poverty, homelessness, or other pressing problems; take your pick—and then use the organizing and time-management tools in The Lifelong Activist to change the world."—Adam Hochschild, author of Bury The Chains and King Leopold's Ghost
"The Lifelong Activist is about becoming more useful and effective as an activist or artist. I recommend that you take a look at it." ―Salon.com
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This book teaches time management, the importance of appearance, and how to get inside the system you want to change.
I loved it so much that I loaned it out many times, and have had to purchase a second copy!
I have one sticking point: Her coverage of burnout. Ms. Rettig admits that she comes from a business background and that some people will not like that perspective. I am one of those. Only on this one issue, but it's a big one for me.
I do not agree, as she says, that the most common cause of burnout is "living a life in conflict with your values and needs." She qualifies her statement by prefacing it with "PERHAPS the most common.." The word "perhaps" means this is her unsupported opinion. I hope that activists who are suffering from burnout will seek and consider other information of a more psychological nature.
The life-values notion absolutely did not resonate with me. Think about an environmental activist who gets overwhelmed and has to quit the cause. Is the person more likely to quit, for example, because he feels no hope that he and those like him will ever be able to stop the butchering of the planet and we are all going to die as a result OR because he is ashamed and confused that he can't find solar housing in his neighborhood or toilet tissue from recycled materials? Hmmm.
Her thesis on burnout can mislead people who are experiencing it and interfere with their finding solutions. Every professional puts their spin on a problem, but pertinent research suggests that activists experience burnout when they become overwhelmed by the enormity of the problems with which they deal. The pain and sorrow seem endless and you just get to the point of emotional and physical fatigue. It's the trying to empty the ocean with a paper cup idea. Embedded in her notes section is a brief mention of compassion fatigue, which she implies is a precursor to burnout. I accept that; some experts consider it synonymous.
Later in the book, she talks about people being hypersensitive, which I found interesting and applicable. A great resource on hypersensitivity is:The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You
Her time and resource management information is really good. A great book if you are losing yourself because of your cause--not taking care of your time, money, and so forth. She provides some interesting assessments and gives important information to get you to look at what you and those around you are focusing on. This is essential information to keep all kinds of resources from being scattered and squandered. Yours and your organization's.
I found that her use of the feminine pronoun interfered with smooth reading of the material. I am not proud of that, and I fully respect and support her decision to do it. If more people did it, it wouldn't do that. Take heed. I found her one page "chapters" humorous. Why call one page of material that is related to the previous or next page another chapter?
We need more books to help activists. We all care about something, and we mustn't lose ourselves as we try to make improvements. We are all activists of one sort or another, and there is much work to do. This is a necessary tool for your arsenal. This book has much to offer in an area where little help is found.
Animal rights, the environment, social justice issues - if you are involved in making society a better place - society needs people like you and most of us need a book like this to put it into perspective and make us all effective people for the long term.
Change requires time and dedication and "The Lifelong Activist" will help you achieve balance in your own life and effectiveness in your campaign in the long term.