The Tender Activist—How Introverts, Empaths, Artists and other Sensitive Souls can Change the World
by Hillary Rain
Quiet. Tender. Sensitive. Soft-spoken.
We don’t generally describe most revolutionaries this way. Or the activists we see up close and bold on the front lines of change—streets, podiums and jailhouse floors. Or the advocates going door to door with petitions, organizing protests, rallying neighborhoods and nations to rise up and make a difference for the human race.
But it’s how I describe me.
And maybe it’s how you describe you.
How does an empath, an introvert or someone naturally quiet express their outrage over injustice? What does passionate fury look like in someone who may not be as expressive as their more extroverted friends? In a world aching for peace, in communities desperate for relief, and for our fellow human beings whose lives depend on system-shattering, long-overdue change, how can introverts and empaths like us make a difference? What does our medicine look like and how do we show up in the world?
3 ways introverts, empaths & tender hearts like you can help fight oppression
1. Show up. Don’t turn away.
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”—Desmond Tutu
One of the most powerful ways to offer support is to share the weight of suffering. Empaths are especially gifted at feeling and embodying a loved one’s deep pain, but many times there is no way to really understand. If the injustice isn’t directed at us, how can we? Even if we mean well, attempts to ‘get it’ often end up diminishing and invalidating the truth.
But you can show up. You can say, “I don’t want you to be alone.” You can listen with compassion and most importantly—you can believe them. Believe what they tell you. Believe when they say, “This hurts,” and agree, “This is wrong.” Choose to go into the heart of injustice and pain. Risk your reputation. Risk your comfort. Be willing. Be seen choosing the side of the oppressed. Be a safe place.
And take initiative. It is not the responsibility of the oppressed to tell us how to end injustice. They may be fighting on the inside, but we need tender-hearted leaders to light fires of quiet revolutions on the outside. Your sensitive, empathic nature makes you perfect for this because your mercy, your hunger for justice, and your deep feelings won’t let you be indifferent to the torment, bullying and murder of fellow human beings.
Be the one who ignites change. Be the spark. Let the energy of your outrage be poured into hands-on work. Get your hands dirty. Be like Mother Teresa, who saw a need, rolled up her sleeves and cared for motherless babies. She didn’t need a powerful speech or microphone. Her life was her message. Her service was the amplifier which changed the world—especially the world of her children.
Your quiet revolution will inspire others like you to spark fires of their own, and this ripple effect will help transform a nation.
2. Leverage your influence
“Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” ― Robert F. Kennedy
Maybe you aren’t the Mayor of a progressive city. Maybe you aren’t on iTunes “Top 100” or the NY Times Bestseller list. As deep feelers and sensitives, be watchful for overwhelm and fatigue. You grasp the magnitude of what needs to change and maybe you feel powerless and small, unable to do anything to help. Overwhelm can paralyze you. Don’t let this happen!
You can’t give what you don’t have. But don’t let that stop you from powerful work; instead, realize that this frees you up even more. It takes the pressure off and gives you permission to move where you are right now. Where are you right now? Who do you know? What do you have? What interests, skills and connections can you combine to fight oppression? Here are some ways to start—
- Prepare and serve food for a local event
- Host a speaker or change-maker in your home
- Call and write letters to congress, to legislature, to the local police and government agencies. Ask to know what they are actively doing to change current policies + procedures that encourage oppression and abuse.
- Start a podcast + invite influential guests to share their passion
- Start a column in your local newspaper bringing awareness
- Spread your message through Guerrilla Art
3. Follow the way of water
“Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong.”― Lao Tzu
Water naturally finds the secret place, the lowest place. It is willing to be humble. Anonymous. To seep into darkness, to fill emptiness, to rise and swell, to lift what has fallen—without accolades, recognition or fame. Water cleanses, refreshes, restores. Water is life.
You who are free: lift up the oppressed and the grieving by supporting their actual lives. Lift them on whatever platform you have—your website, your home, your shoulders. Watch their kids. Do their dishes. Organize meals. Come behind. Come underneath. Do everything you can to spread their message and make their work easier. Show your hands, not just your face. Embody the way of water—hand out water bottles at protests. Bring cups of cool water to those marching in streets. Have chilled aromatherapy mists available to nourish overheated skin. Offer cool cloths to wash and soothe sweaty faces. Be the one waiting at home with a hot meal, clean sheets and a massage.
There will always be those who believe you aren’t doing enough. Or that you should show up differently. Remember the humility of water. Don’t be discouraged. Stay soft. Listen. Adjust course to flow around stone, and keep flowing on.
You can be a soft place to land
You don’t have to force yourself into an altered personality in order to do compelling, life-changing work. If you were born introspective and highly-sensitive, trust that your most effective work comes from who you are. Don’t shame yourself for stumbling over spoken words or freezing up in the intensity or passion of a protest, even when you wholeheartedly support the cause. Tender one, the world needs you. We need your gentle sensitivity, the dark inner depths of your wisdom, the way you can hold the collective grief without falling apart. Your medicine heals us and gives the world a soft place to land.
Others will always be there to tell you what you should do and how to do something. Don’t become overwhelmed. Work with your natural gifts, personality and ways to be the most effective. You will figure out how. Just don’t do nothing. In the words of Mahatma Gandhi, “In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”