Perspectives: The right, wrong kinds of activists

OPINION – Anyone who brags about having no enemies is most likely a person who is choosing to have little impact on the world.

No one likes to be attacked, smeared or disparaged yet the greatest measure of the kind of impact we’re having can be found in the opposition we face.

Elbert Hubbard said it best:

If you would escape moral and physical assassination, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing — court obscurity, for only in oblivion does safety lie.

This is not an invitation to controversy or self-serving theatrics, it’s a recognition of the fact that a meaningful life cannot be free from censure or danger. How many people can you name who became popular and well-liked by doing the right thing when it was unfashionable?

From Sophie Scholl to Rosa Parks, those who have made a principled stand on matters of conscience were only celebrated for their integrity long after the fact. At the time they stood against public opinion, they were condemned and denounced by their enemies.

There’s a powerful object lesson in this regarding how to make a difference without becoming mere activists.

Those who wish to have real impact on the world must be willing to act, instruct and inspire others directly rather than using third parties.

Paul Rosenberg recently described how there are two distinct models by which people have historically affected change:

  1. The first model required skill, intelligence and courage. It required people to act against the will of the dominator.
  2. The new model makes activists advisors to the dominator. In their imaginations, they are so smart that they can trick the dominator into doing “the right thing.”

In the case of Sophie Scholl, she and her fellow members of the White Rose spoke out in clear defiance of what the leaders of the Third Reich allowed. They published and distributed leaflets calling upon the German people to stop supporting the madman leading them to destruction.

Rosa Parks refused to abide by the legal requirements of segregation laws that required her to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. She was arrested for civil disobedience, fired from her job and received death threats.

Contrast these brave women’s approach, which ultimately removed power from their overlords and transferred it to the individuals, with the way that activists operate today.

In our day, activists try to use the power of the overlord to forcefully bring about the changes they seek.

This has been especially true of the new strain of rabid environmentalist activism that has infected many of the western states. Environmental special interest groups lobby to use federal alphabet agencies to strictly control lands and resources in ways that disenfranchise the local populace.

This type of activism enables abusive wielders of power to become even more entrenched by promoting the idea that only the existing ruler may act legitimately.

It also excuses the activists themselves from any personal risk when the policies they support end up causing harm to others. How much courage does it take to destroy entire town’s livelihoods by regulating their ranching, timber, or mining industries out of existence?

Who is at risk of being held accountable when a federal agency chooses to place thousands of acres of recreational land off limits to a local population for bureaucratic reasons?

These activists have no risk therefore they need no courage.

By relying upon the existing order, these activists seek to benefit themselves while hiding behind the skirts of their favored bureaucracies.

It’s no accident that this type of activist tends to behave in corrupted ways. After all, it’s all about outsmarting power and the public.

They are adept at manipulating the ruling factions and utilizing social media to get people to repeat their slogans. They know which buzzwords will bring the TV cameras and how to deceptively craft their sound bites to mislead and misdirect the unsuspecting public.

Their carefully constructed illusion of making a difference through their activism falls apart like a soup sandwich upon closer examination. They are simply empowering the state, using other people’s money and feeling righteous with no personal expense or skin in the game.

So what is the better way?

It’s the one that requires each of us to step up and use our own minds, our own means and our own resourcefulness to bless the world. This is not without risk or pain.

You’ll know you’re having real impact as soon as you begin encountering criticism and opposition. The more hysterical your opposition, the more likely it is that your influence is being felt.

The thought of having enemies may seem uncomfortable at first.

Take it as a compliment. At least you’ve been in the fray and have scars to show for your efforts.

Bryan Hyde is a radio commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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