Photo of Earth by Javier Miranda from Unsplash

Want to Make a Difference? Look at What You Love and at What You Grieve

Last weekend I listened to two moving podcasts: a conversation between Jane Goodall and Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson on Jane Goodall’s Hopecast, and a conversation between Joanna Macy and Krista Tippett on On Being. People who make a difference with their work every day.

Feel the Love and the Grief

At the beginning of their chat, Goodall and Johnson talked about what drew them to their work as environmental activists. In both cases, they fell in love with the natural world. For Goodall, it was the land. For Johnson, it was the ocean.

During Macy’s interview, she talked about why we need to allow ourselves to grieve the terrible things happening in the world. Our grief, when fully felt, transforms back into its original source, love, which motivates us to act.

“[I]f we can be fearless, to be with our pain, it turns. It doesn’t stay static. It only doesn’t change if we refuse to look at it. But when we look at it, when we take it in our hands, when we can just be with it and keep breathing, then it turns. It turns to reveal its other face, and the other face of our pain for the world is our love for the world . . .”

Transform personal pain into action for the greater good

Years ago I did an Off the Mat Into the World leadership training. One of my biggest takeaways was that the social change issues that call to us often have their origins in personal pain. We are drawn towards external challenges in order to heal our internal ones. Our grief over what we’ve lost personally can transform into activism for the greater good (if we’re conscious about it). As we work to heal the world, we can heal ourselves— an act of love and of self-love.

Allowing ourselves to feel grief and love for the world isn’t easy. They are such tender emotions. But it’s worth the risk. When we’re feeling overwhelmed, letting in the love and the grief, for ourselves and for others, can mobilize us to make a difference.

A tool to take action

A wonderful tool to help you figure out how to take action is Johnson’s Climate Action Venn Diagram. Although it was designed to help you make a difference around climate, it can be used for other issue areas as well. You can learn more about it by watching Johnson’s TED Talk, How to Find Joy in Climate Action.

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Related post: Broken-hearted Idealists: Time to Turn Your Idealism Into Practical Idealism.

*Featured image by Javier Miranda on Unsplash

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