Invisible Voices

a voice for the voiceless

using our personal strengths

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I still feel like I don’t have very clear answers for myself. Maybe there just aren’t clear answers.

I’ve been blogging for almost two years, if not consistently. I’ve been keeping in touch with a couple of the SHAC folks for over a year. One of the frustrations they’ve expressed, especially in response to some of the frustrations I’ve expressed, is that the blogosphere is not the movement.

Does blogging make a difference? I have no idea. I started because it was suggested by a friend, not because she thought I had interesting things to say, but because she thought it would be interesting if I used my photography interest to sort of give visuals of activism. I never really thought I’d make a difference, and I doubt I have.

Does leafletting make a difference? I have no idea, though it seems to address some points that blogging doesn’t – getting information into the hands of people who aren’t necessarily seeking the information. And I have no issue with taking an hour here and there and passing out a few hundred pieces of information. If I’m not being effective, I’m certainly not expending much effort in any case, and it isn’t taking away from other things I would otherwise be doing. I do like to do passive leafletting, for lack of a better term, by stocking my local coffeeshop and library with pamphlets. That’s even less effort.

What does make a difference?

I really have no idea. The people I’ve influenced (that I know about) were purely by accident on my part. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to it.

I’m not sure if anyone really knows what makes the most difference. And even if they did, there is still the question in my mind about how I, personally, can make the most difference. See, what if getting up in front of large crowds and giving speeches was the most effective way, in general? I just can’t do that, so while it might be effective (and I’m making no claims either way, I’m just using it as an illustrative example), it wouldn’t be something that I could do to be effective.

We’re not all the same. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, different interests, different ways of interacting. It seems to me that we should make it a point to do what we can where we would be most effective as individuals.

I usually feel like when people encourage us to get involved, there is little consideration given to what our personal strengths might be. We’re told to put thought into what we’re doing (at least some will tell us that) but the suggestions I hear are always the same.

I don’t have suggestions to give to people, so maybe this is just a pointless post, but what I think is actually that we are the ones that will come up with where we can be most effective. I have a friend who is getting back into a web-design business, a second job for him, and he’s determined that he will give a portion of his time to non-profits that he believes in. He’s already made a big difference for one sanctuary by volunteering to design their website, and I think it has a lot of potential in general.

I’m sure there are a lot of potential ideas out there. I love hearing about creative ways people make a difference in the movement.

I also think that we too-often ignore supportive roles, and their very real worth within the movement. Of course I could be saying this in a self-serving way, since much of what I do seems to be supportive rather than directly working on changing people…

Regardless, I know that my biggest interest and talent are in spending time at sanctuaries and taking pictures. I am no Ansel Adams, not even close, but I have been able to use my photography in small ways. Maybe I’ll figure out how to put it to better use as time goes on. I do feel that it makes more sense to me to focus on that, than to try to become something I’m not. Like a public speaker, someone who enjoys talking to politicians, or any number of things that are likely very important but which I’m not suited for.

sally and ainsley

It might be hard to see in the small picture, but this was Ainsley, who is about 2 years old now, and Sally two weeks ago, checking each other out. It was sweet the way the cows were so interested in her antics, and in meeting this little baby. Check out a bigger picture if you like.

(miss you sally)

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12 responses to “using our personal strengths

  1. Kelvin Kao March 30, 2008 at 4:49 pm

    I’m not sure if this comment is going anywhere either, but I’ve always thought that it’s stupid that some schools and companies are always looking for leaders. I think, when everybody is trying to lead everybody, all you are going to end up with is chaos. You not only need a good leader, you need good followers too. Not everybody is born to be a good leader, so we shouldn’t be forcing everyone to be one. So yeah, it’s good to figure out the strength and weaknesses.

    Does blogging make a difference? It probably does. The question is whether the difference is big or small and whether you think it’s worth it. But I think it’s at least making some people more aware of things.

  2. Eric March 30, 2008 at 9:32 pm

    I know that my blogging has made a difference. Enough to justify the time invested? That is hard to quantify. It’s the occasional comment or email that lets me know that I need to keep it up, but I have found that cutting back on posting has not hurt the blog and may have actually helped it.

    PS – Your pics are great. I know you’ve provided them to others in the past, to great effect, and perhaps my organization, the Boston Vegan Association could use some for our new pamphlet. We have recently gone back to the drawing board on text, so imagery is a step behind, but call this a heads-up. :)

  3. rich March 31, 2008 at 3:01 pm

    We’ve talked about this and I completely agree we all need to do what are strengths are as well as what we are comfortable with. Some may say that your comfort is not important when it comes to the animals but I disagree. When we work towards out strengths we accomplish more and have more energy to work at it.

  4. Lenn March 31, 2008 at 3:03 pm

    Done correctly, blogging absolutely makes a difference. I have been reading this blog for a couple of months now, & I have learned a lot–about other people’s experiences with animal issues, about “farm” animals, about issues like large-animal sanctuaries having a problem finding good vets. All these things help me understand animal issues more completely–and help me feel a little less alone in my own struggles.

    I could write a book on the questions you pose about using one’s strengths and what works. There is a lot of ineffective, and even damaging, activism going on every day. A rather excellent book I am starting to re-read is called Marketing Social Change by Alan R. Andreasen. It applies to all kinds of causes & it is superb in answering some of your questions about what works. One simple concept the author talks about is thinking about what your “customer” (audience) needs. This is something that many forms of animal activism completely ignores, sometimes to the detriment of the movement.

    Re: commenter Kelvin Kaos–very good point. I’ve noticed that myself. But all the “conventional wisdom” in this culture is equally as non-reality-based and poorly thought through.

    Keep blogging–you are making this animal-loving rescuer smarter and more informed!

  5. johanna March 31, 2008 at 8:45 pm

    I have had my mind opened a lot by blogs about various issues, & I know that through blogging in various places Ive gotten people to think about things too. Of course the issue is all the people in the world who can’t/don’t/won’t read blogs.

    I’ve also spent many years doing paper zines, & I have had many people tell me that stuff I’ve written has made them think more deeply about (for example) their own internalized racism, etc. I also like that paper zines can go where blogs don’t.

    But I also know that, for me, blogs & zines are relatively easy forms of activism, & there are probably lots of other things I could do that are more effective. Still, if I don’t do them, & I do these other things…?

    I don’t know. I really like the idea that there are lots of different levels of activism, b/c I don’t think that (for example) everyone needs to be picketing every weekend–or rather, I don’t think that expectation is realistic & would result in the loss of a lot of good activists. I mean to say that some folks seem to see activism as night after night of interminable meetings & every weekend spent in protesting–not sustainable for most folks! So I like the idea of broadening what activism is.

  6. Deb March 31, 2008 at 9:06 pm

    @ Kevin – that’s a great point, and something that’s frustrated me as well! Even worse is that I’m in a technical field where I, by comparison to the uber-geeks I work with, appear to be leadership material. When all I want is to sit down with my headphones on and not have to deal with meetings and the politics and all that crap.

    And I could easily have mentioned your fantastic tofu puppet show as another example of creative ways people can make use of their talents. And that would have been a great example in two ways, because it was lighthearted and funny and I think that’s something we forget to be, too much of the time. (Or maybe that’s just me!)

    —-

    @ Eric – I’d be more than happy to work with you to see if you can use some of my images. :)

    I think your point about quantifying the difference that your blogging makes brings up an associated point – do our individual contributions need to make a certain baseline difference for it to be “worth” the effort? What about what we, the bloggers, get out of it? I know that I’ve ended up researching issues a lot more in-depth (yet not as in-depth as others, such as you and mary do) in order to post on a subject, so I suppose I’m getting a personal value in that sense.

    Perhaps we, as activists, just can’t get hung up on quantifying these things. Mostly they can’t be measured.

    —–

    @ rich – that’s another really good point, about our comfort, burnout, energy, interest. I know that I tend to feel like it doesn’t “count” if I enjoy it (working on that one), like it should be punishment so that…what? I can prove that I’m sacrificing for the cause I believe in so much? There is something disturbing about that thought pattern, and the downward spiral it can put in motion. Much better to focus on the positive – the positive impact we’re having, and the positive impact it has on our lives as well.

    ——-

    @ Lenn – I’ve always figured that if this blog helps even one person, that’s good enough for me. It does motivate me to hear that it is helpful to that one person! ;)

    Thanks for that book recommendation. I’m going to have to pick it up from the library or somewhere else if my library doesn’t have it. Sounds like exactly what I need right now. I’ve been sending my thoughts in circles for a while and not getting very far with it.

  7. Deb March 31, 2008 at 9:21 pm

    @ johanna – you bring up a great point, because I imagine we all have had our eyes opened and our world expanded on some level by other blogs. And our individual experiences should be enough for us to make a general assumption that if I learn from other people’s thoughts, others can learn from mine as well.

    Sometimes I miss the trees for the forest! :)

    I think it highlights one of my own “issues”, which is that what we’re trying to accomplish is so freaking big that it is hard to look at what we do and the difference we make, no matter how big or how little, and ever feel that it is “enough.” That’s neither realistic or sustainable, and we do need to think about that as we put expectations on ourselves.

    If we burn out, we stop accomplishing anything!

    Broadening what activism is seems like a good answer, at any rate. I’ve been working on healthier mind sets (still working on it) and one of the most interesting challenges I’ve set for myself is to get rid of the “shoulds”.

    If we didn’t burden ourselves with preconceived ideas of what activism is, what would we accomplish doing what we enjoy and thus are likely more effective at doing?

    Great thoughts, Johanna! Keep writing the blogs and zines. What’s easy for us might be another good indicator of what we’re effective at. :)

  8. colin March 31, 2008 at 10:14 pm

    There was a recent event at the Centre for Internet & Society (Harvard Law Scool) that discussed the use of the internet as a means of social change. It does not exactly fit your reflexive questionings, though there are some interesting insights/analysis that can be drawn from.

    Audio and video are available—http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/interactive/events/2008/02/shirky_internal

    [My own opinion reflects yours 'If this blog helps even one person'. I may even come to write my own reflective piece soon as i am know teaching about 'New Media' and have some concerns about the non-reflexive attitudes of younger people, being 'responsible' in bloging/using the net, the exploitation inherent in many web2.0 notions, and a couple other things—I'll add it to my ever-growing list of non-written or incomplete posts...]

  9. Kay Evans April 1, 2008 at 9:33 am

    Hi Deb, I just wanted to pass on my sympathy on the loss of your friend, Sally. I’ve been following her sweet story through your blog. We lost a chicken once because of vet incompetence. He mis-weighed a rooster and consequently he was underdosed in his medication. I had to take the poor rooster back into town to show the vet that the weight was wrong because he didn’t believe me over the phone. He never apologized for the error, but begrudginglyy gave us higher doses of the medicine. By then Chester had already failed beyond recovery. You’re right — it’s bad enough when they die after a good lengthy life of safety, but nearly unbearable when they die because of something like this.

    Also I really like your blog; please know that it does do some good. For instance, that’s how I found out how to make the “chicken sweaters” that I saw in one of your Poplar Springs posts. And that’s about the same time you showed Rich the pitiful web site I was trying to construct for our sanctuary, which looks SO much nicer now that he volunteered to construct it. So you never know how you will affect someone. Please, please keep it up. Sincerely, Kay

  10. Deb April 1, 2008 at 9:31 pm

    @ Colin – That was a really interesting video. Thanks for pointing me towards it! It gave me a lot to think about. I’ve put myself on the hold list for the book, “Here comes everybody” as well. Sounds like it could be interesting!

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this, if you ever get around to it on your blog!

    @ Kay – I’m so sorry to hear of your rooster. I know there are a lot of stories out there like that, and it is just so hard to come to terms with.

    I’m glad you like my blog, and that you’ve found it helpful! I was happy to be able to hook you up with Terry for chicken sweater making, and to point Rich in your direction when he mentioned he was keeping an eye out for web work he could do to help the cause. :)

  11. Pingback: in gratitude « Invisible Voices

  12. Gary April 5, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    >>>We’re not all the same. We all have different strengths and weaknesses, different interests, different ways of interacting. It seems to me that we should make it a point to do what we can where we would be most effective as individuals.<<<

    That just about says it all. There’s no best way to advocate. Our individual styles, talents, interests, and circumstances will determine what’s best for each of us. In the aggregate, that mix may be the “best” way.

    It’s very hard, if not impossible, to quantify individual contributions to changing the world. Most if not all the people I know, myself included, change in response to multiple encounters and external influences over time, and perhaps partially as a result of our own internal dialogs and truth-seeking.

    One thing I’m fairly certain of – doing nothing is not the “best” way to bring about change. I’m grateful for everyone’s efforts.

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