Introverts can be Activists too

Last week I was invited to attend the Lush Summit in London. I’ve been told that they have two large events a year, the one I attended more focused on activism, initiatives and causes, with a focus on environmental and societal issues, with the other one, later in the year, focusing more on Lush products and the creative process behind them. I’m sure I am going to do a dedicated post/video to this life-changing two day event at some point, but I wanted to dedicate today’s post to something very important I came away with.

I think I’ve always felt somewhat hindered by my shyness. It’s made experiences that should have been exciting or career-propelling, in-to things that I’ve dreaded and therefore haven’t made the most of. I also find myself talked over regularly by those with louder or more confidence voices, and find myself feeling frustrated that the volume of my spoken words never mirrors my level of passion or enthusiasm. I’ve often feared my relative quietness would mean that I would always have very little impact on the world or the people around me. I’ve found myself stepping back from situations that give me a platform, or that require me to be at fore-front, because I have believed that my understated/low-key demeanour would mean the words I deliver would be boring, lacklustre or without power. There’s been times when I’ve forced myself to be an extrovert being, draining my energy to their point where I couldn’t deliver anything helpful to anyone. I’ve then found myself worrying that people are questioning my commitment or dedication to the cause because I’m not as present or vocal as others, or leave the events before the networking/social part has begun. Thanks to the many inspiring people I met at the Lush Event I feel empowered with the realisation that I’m actually equipped with all I need.

It was incredible how many times throughout the two days at 1 Old Billingsgate and The Lush Retreat, that the importance of introverts was reinforced. It almost felt like that I was meant to be at the event  to hear that, to serve as a much needed reminder to keep going and stop doubting myself in terms of my ability to help towards change.

I may be shy, I may be reserved, I may like to be alone and exist quieter than many, I may have less followers and be a smaller ‘influencer’, but I AM an integral and important element of activism.

Recently we’ve seen a lot of the louder activists featured in the news for their more obvious and angry activism. In my opinion some of them have been highly successful, but others have had very mixed results. There’s been TV debates which have incorporated what some believe is extreme language and bullish behaviour, which have undoubtedly drawn attention to the issues at hand but simultaneously and unfortunately enhanced some pre-existing negative opinions about activists. In many cases I think people need to realise that their negative  reaction to the impassioned speeches and opinions is because some of the things they are saying are inconvenient to hear, and perhaps highlight their own lacking or selfishness. But there are some cases that I do believe the approach just isn’t right, and the causes are losing out on more support as a result.

It’s something I’ve discussed a few time with my friend Chris, who used to recommend certain YouTube channels for me to watch regarding veganism when I was first looking to make the transition. Although I could see their overall message was one that needed to be listened to, the way they delivered their opinions and facts was a huge turn off for me (and apparently many others). Many of them were calling people who didn’t follow their lifestyle as evil or murderers, with a few of them posting click bait-y videos calling out famous YouTubers for their eating habits, even commenting on their appearance in a cruel and mean-spirited way. While they often made very valid points, and their arguments were often completely solid and rational, the unkindness of their approach left me with a rather unpleasant taste in my mouth, and I didn’t feel like they were people I wanted to support – what I mean is that they didn’t provide proof of a kind community I’d like to be a part of. If we are talking solely about vegan activism, the root of this is fairness, kindness and equality, and I just don’t think bullying, name-calling and a lack of understanding towards each-others very unique situations sits well with that at all. Like Sarah Corbett said in her wonderful TEDS Talk – like the world we are striving for, our activism should be ‘beautiful, kind and just.’

I’m not perfect by any means, in my lifestyle or my approach to activism (which is why I still don’t have vegan in my bio) – it’s all a huge learning curve. But I’ve made some huge changes, many that have been surprisingly easy and manageable even with my meagre bank balance and low level cooking skills. But I’m also very aware how difficult it can be for some people (there are medical issues and situations that do make it very much harder to transition fast, completely, if at all). In light of my discoveries, many things I’ve uncovered through gentle and natural conversations, I plan to always open and honest and hopefully someone people feel they can come to without judgement, whatever they wish to ask or feel intrigued or perplexed about.

That’s the thing with us introverts, people seem to feel comfortable coming to talk to us. Sometimes we do weird things that not everyone understands. Our behaviour sometimes seems odd, bizarre and unusual and sometimes our approaches to things are too (including our approaches to activism). But instead of this being something to repel people, it often draws people in, the curiosity factor you see. This week alone a number of people have come to me with questions about my transition to a plant-based diet, cruelty-free make up, invisible illnesses and the #metoo movement, having seen my illustrations, insta tories or tweets . In regards to the questions about veganism, one was simply asking what it was – she had no idea that meant I had no eggs or dairy in my diet, and had no idea about all the alternative options there are in the supermarket. She also had no idea that some people are turning vegan for the good of the planet and not just because they don’t believe in eating animals and animal products. I was asked the most basic questions during this conversation, which was surprising but also a reminder that not everyone has seen the documentaries we have, not everyone has read the research or the knowledge about all the amazing and delicious alternatives options we have now. Not everyone is ignoring information because they’re selfish, perhaps they just don’t follow the same social media accounts we do, have a social group informing them of these things regularly.. and so on. I only know what I know from friends sharing Netflix documentary recommendations on Facebook and Instagram, following accounts that talk about climate change, the environment, activism, world news etc and having friends that introduce me to new foods when I go to theirs for dinner. When I think of what everyday habits now it’s hard to believe  how blissfully ignorant I was to it all, not that long ago.

I was so pleased they felt comfortable to ask me these very basic and introductory questions. It felt so worthwhile as they seemed genuinely shocked and thoroughly interested by my replies. It’s about being ‘critical friends’ rather than enemies, and simply helping people do the right thing. It confirmed to me once again the importance of being approachable and non judgemental – that it can still come hand in hand with a passion and a belief in what you’re talking about, but in being less intimidating we can make a difference. It’s exactly what I want my new site Sound of Mind to serve as. A place where we cover all the basis from the obvious and simple (to some) to the complex and divisive. I hope that people will be able to go to the site to understand more about invisible illnesses, mental health, and disability and gain further understanding about the barriers, difficulties and everyday stresses people are facing, but without worrying about asking a ‘silly’ question.

‘Change is best made through developing and preserving relationships, and people are put at ease when the activist is relatable and reliable. Meaningful relationships with people you can have open dialogue with about policy is much more valuable than a multitude of mere acquaintances that see you for five minutes, sign the petition, and leave.’ (quoted from a huff post piece)

I’m not going to presume that all introverts have access to a personal blog to write about the issues they’re passionate about but there are other ways you can get your opinions out there via the written/typed word. Most local, and even national papers have a letters or an opinion section that they invite you (the public) to send in to. Obviously there’s no guarantee it will get published but you may still get something positive out of the process of writing it, and it could be re-used elsewhere if it doesn’t make the cut. University and college newspapers are also often looking for submissions, the Huff Post often post very powerful opinion pieces too. Perhaps you can write letters to people who are in a position to push for change, or make the changes. Be that regular reminder that the current situation isn’t good enough.

Whilst you may not want to speak or make yourself the focal point there’s still plenty of events you can simply show up to. Sometimes evidence of numbers and people caring can help prove that this is a movement, that there is opposition, that their a force willing a change to happen. Attending city council meetings means you know about the decisions that are being made and why, it’s a great way of  knowing where elected representatives stand on issues that matter to you or your organization, and the information you receive can be carried throughout your organization.

I found this evidence in an article written about introvert activists…

‘During the recent UN climate negotiations in Paris, youth delegates were invited to share the space in the negotiating room. However, due to UN rules, they were not able to carry signs advocating their beliefs. So what they did instead was paint a black zero near their eye to symbolize that youth felt the need for zero carbon emissions. No words were spoken or signs held, but the people making the deal felt the pressure from youth just by their presence and activism efforts. It is not impossible.’

Knowing what you believe and what exactly you want to change is important. We often write goals in terms of our own personal wishes and hopes and the things we want to achieve, so it’s helpful to do the same in terms of the causes you are passionate about. You could think about what your goals are (changes you want to make) and apply it to a particular industry or organisation. Tailor it to that specific area/place gives it context and relatable matter. Offering solutions to that particular case and ways to get there can definitely increase the chance of it actually happening when you relay it to the people in a position to make the changes.

I know from my time studying art just how many introverts turn to creativity to voice things and send out messages. The great thing about art is that it can exist in a space and not seem so obviously an act of activism, so the people that are usually put off by loud, preachy, or in your face style of protest or information-giving may be soaking it up without even realising it. People don’t like to feel like they’re being told what to do, with art it’s easy to be provocative rather than preachy. Everyone responds to different mediums differently. For one person it could be the lyric in the song that will get them thinking differently, for someone else it may be a film or documentary. Activism needs people who are willing to use their creative skills to help propel the mission and heed a response in as many people as possible. Although it might seem like an indirect form of activism, designing informational brochures, creating PSAs is a powerful way to reflect upon the social justice issue while making it inviting and easy for people to access the material. Another great thing I got from the TED talk was finding out about Sarah’s technique – craftivism (craft + activism) which she started in 2008 as a reaction to traditional aggressive or quick forms of activism. Due to demand Sarah set up the global Craftivist Collective in 2009. It’s quiet, repetitive actions, and extremely mindful – If you find eye contact uncomfortable you can be stitching away and start a conversation about what you’re creating with the person stitching away next to you… it just feels less scary.

This leads me onto another wonderful trait of being an introvert. We aren’t as rash and volatile as a extrovert. While it’s sometimes effective to be explosive and impulsive, sometimes it’s better create to create a well thought out strategy. Activism needs our more calculated, reflective ways of looking at the issues at hand. We can be measured and take the time to make sure the the way we are communicating the message is as appealing as possible to them people we wish to speak to.

An obvious point I know, but of course we can utilise the power of the internet, but it doesn’t have to be just about what you post. Encourage your friends to post tweets about your issue. Perhaps you can all share the same artwork, or use a specifically created hashtag. Retweet things that enhance or mirror your message or draw attention to the failings of your opposition argument. Publicly tag your policymaker on issues that they need to know about. Once people see your tweets, they are able to join you and contribute their own thoughts about the issue.

Helping charities and initiatives by contributing your skills or talents, or by simply amplifying their messages. Any sort of volunteering really. In my case I’ve been contributing illustrations free of charge to initiatives such as DON’T FRET CLUB (for their zine) and to a Refugee charity for t0 shirts they were looking to print for a fundraising sale. The amount of volunteering or the type of role is irrelevent, every aspect is important. Blog posts or insta stories could be your very manageable way of doing it for instance. Just remember behind the scenes work is just as vital.

Your allegiance to causes can be put out there in very mundane and subtle ways too. Perhaps it can be via a slogan tee, a broach or pin, a phone case, a poster up in your room, or a magnet on your fridge, a sticker on the back window of your car – anything really . It may not seem a bit deal or any effort on your part whatsoever, but nonetheless it’s still communicating a stance or passion to others. Aside from letting people know where your views lie, your visual signifiers will cause people to think about their own views in that moment (and maybe a while after if it really resonates with them). These things can be a very helpful tools to kick-start conversations, so don’t underestimate their power. You’re an activist and you didn’t even know it?!

You might not feel comfortable, or able to be being involved in public speaking, public protests, and being generally loud about it, but you can be sharing your opinions and ideas on forums, via petitions or by getting involved in committees. Committees are smaller groups within the organization that focus on a specific need that the community may have. I don’t know about you by I feel far more inclined to share my opinions and ideas in more compact groups. It allows you to focus your energy into areas your particularly passionate about too.

As I’ve just hinted to, I’ve always been much better one on one. As soon as I’m in a large group setting I tend to blend into the background, sometimes out of choice, sometimes just because other people tend to dominate the conversations. I never approach these intimate conversations to convert people or tell them they’re doing stuff wrong though. If a topic such as the times up/me too movement, going cruelty free, veganism, brexit, LGBTQ rights happens to pop up though, I do feel comfortable to offer up the information I’ve learned and my honest opinions. If their opinions differ I will obvsously hope that what I communicate may make them rethink or want to investigate and research a bit more thoroughly. I truly believe these calm but passionate to and fro’s can make changes, and although it might feel on a depressingly small scale, you have to remember how word of mouth works. You’re not just informing them, you could be potentially informing or changing the views of their social circle too. Introverts aren’t fans of small talk, we love to intimately about big issues, so all these one and one or small group scenarios CAN be powerful.We’re good at slow but personal activism. We need to listen to people, rather than build walls. ‘Critical friends rather than enemies’ and considering how can we help people do the right thing?

So perhaps focus on making effective changes within your circles and do it in small instalments and regularly, rather than in grand or intimidatingly large arenas. Perhaps you could Challenge your friends to research the issue, sending them some useful links or Netflix recommendations. If you are housesharing (or living with your parents like me) your could try and encourage the the household to attend a local council meeting perhaps. I’m still trying to get my parents to watch What The Health, Cowspirary and Okja but they have been willing to try vegan food when we bring them a taster each time we cook.

It was so important to me to write this post as 50% of the population are introverts. If we aren’t making sure that we/you/they feel like we can be activists we are losing out on a hell of a lot of helping hands/voices. People need to be made aware of the many introvert friendly ways they can get involved rather than forcing them into situation that leave them exhausted, anxious, drained or completely put off from taking part in the future. Value the skills we have and realise their impressive worth when it comes to activism. I often felt like my career in the music industry has been stunted because after a day of working at a festival I haven’t had any energy left to stay for the socialising part in the evening to cement my position and do that useful networking. I rarely go to the afterparties after I’ve drained my socialising quota at the gig.But there are things I can do behind the scenes to help the industry, you don’t have to be a focal point.

So what I’m trying to make clear for those that needed to reassurance, is that you don’t have to go on Marches, campaign outside embassies, perform, or be part of that loud form of activism (although it’s great that so many people do), there’s so many quiet, mind-ful, calm, and kind ways it can be done too. Your critical thinking, ability to create strategy, and your approachable and calm demeanour can have just as much volume. There’s something for everyone to contribute.

‘We’re good at slow and intimate activism. We need to listen to people rather than build walls.’       

Thanks so much for having me, Lush (special shout out to Hannah and Jonny). And guys leave your comments, I’d love to hear about your personal methods of activism, quite or loud.

3 Comments

  1. March 9, 2018 / 7:43 pm

    Oh my Gosh , I love your shots and how authentic you are , I mean you appear to me ; as one of these no filters girls to whom I can talk all night long about deep issues but also have fun ! I love your blog ! Oh by the way here is mine , I hope you will enjoy it as well ! https://maryjokes.wordpress.com/blog/

    • sophie
      April 1, 2018 / 2:34 pm

      Hello. Thanks so much for leaving such a lovely message. HAHA I am definitely a not filter kinda girl. Definitely not about small talk, much prefer getting deep!! Thanks for the link will check out now xx

      • April 21, 2018 / 9:30 am

        you are so welcome ! =)thank you too; btw I love your videos too !

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