7. How to Handle Uncomfortable Truths

You are likely, in the process of doing your Activist Project Histories, to uncover lots of gratifying information about your talents, skills and accomplishments. Unfortunately, you are also likely to uncover some “uncomfortable truths.” You may discover, for example, that:

• You are not as committed to activism, or to your cause, as you thought. (Maybe you have other priorities right now. Or maybe you’re just exhausted.)

• Or, conversely, you are more committed to activism than you realized. (And, therefore, you should be doing even more of it than you are doing now. And how are you going to do that while continuing to earn a living and take care of your loved ones?)

• You have stronger materialistic cravings than you previously thought. (You really would like a nice car, new clothes or a bigger apartment. Or maybe you are just tired of living hand-to-mouth.)

• You would like to have more fun. (But how can you possibly take a night off, or a few nights off, when there are suffering people and/or animals out there who need you?)

• Your desire to do activism is partly rooted in your “selfish” personal needs or insecurities. (You want everyone to think you’re cool, or sensitive, or super-committed. Or, you like it when your activist ideals and lifestyle get under your parents’ skin.)

• You have questions about the validity of your cause. (You’re no longer sure whether it’s completely in the right.)

• You are no longer committed to the organization you are working for. (You don’t like the people or their approach.)

• You’re not as good an activist as you thought. (You’re not good at certain key skills, such as talking about your cause without annoying people. Or, you haven’t really accomplished that much relative to all the time and effort you’ve put in.)

• You haven’t really done as much activism as you thought. (So, what have you really been spending your time on, all these years?)

Confronting uncomfortable truths such as these can cause sadness, shame, guilt, regret and other negative emotions. It’s important, however, not to give in to these. The way to handle uncomfortable truths is as follows:

1. Don’t feel bad! Congratulate yourself, instead!

Confronting the truth about oneself is hard, gutsy work. Many people can’t do it, and many, perhaps most, don’t even try. So give yourself a lot of credit. Recognize that all of the so-called terrible things you are learning about yourself are not terrible at all (see Points 2 and 3), and that they don’t mean that you are a bad or uncommitted activist. Also remember that this process, painful as it may be, will ultimately lead to your becoming a better activist and a happier, more fulfilled person.

2. Don’t judge yourself harshly.

Many of us seem to believe that if we just criticize ourselves enough, we will be motivated to change our bad habits. The truth is, however, that self-criticism almost never works. In fact, as you will learn in Part III, it usually backfires. So, try not to indulge your habit of self-criticism, and instead seek to compassionately observe your failures and limitations without feeling bad about them.

3. Remember to look at the big picture.

In Part III, I devote an entire chapter to negativity, a self-sabotaging habit that many people are prone to. Negativists, as I call them, tend to be unduly harsh on themselves for their perceived failures or shortcomings, and also to blow them way out of proportion. They also tend to minimize, or not even acknowledge, their achievements and strengths. Negativism will really undermine you, so avoid it, and strive to keep a balanced view of your successes and failures.

4. Talk to someone else.

Because many of us are negativists, it’s often helpful to get a second opinion from a supportive mentor, colleague or friend. Often that opinion will be more balanced than our own, and can help us keep our “failures” and limitations, as well as “successes” and strengths, in perspective.

And, finally:

5. Consult a professional.

If you are finding it really difficult to cope with your unpleasant truths, please consult a mentor, therapist, coach, spiritual counselor or other advisor.

The goal, as always, is honesty, or, to put it another way, objectivity. You want your Activist Project Histories to accurately reflect the entire spectrum of your achievements, “failures,” “successes,” strengths and weaknesses.

Exercise

Return to your Activist Project Histories and see if they are objective representations of your experiences and feelings. In particular:

• See if there are any achievements you’ve omitted or underemphasized.

• See if there are any uncomfortable truths you’ve omitted or under- or over-emphasized.

If so, rewrite the document so that your experiences and feelings are more accurately and objectively conveyed.