Avoiding Burnout When Secular Activism Entails Exposure to Political Outrage

Burnout flame person stress

Flashes of insight are great. Flashes of insight where the insight seems so obvious you can't believe you didn't get it can be humbling. I'm still trying to come to terms with how I could have missed this one for so long. I hate to even admit it because I know it will seem obvious to everyone but me.

I value the separation of church and state. I'm not content with maintaining the fragile wall between them; I want to strengthen this wall. Secularism strikes me as the only way to have true religious freedom. And we don't get religious freedom without freedom from religion. I'd like government officials to stop promoting Christianity and even religiosity in general.

Because we are a long way from where I'd like us to be, we need secular activism. The separation of church and state is under attack, and we need activists to defend it. We also need secular activists who can think ahead and engage in proactive efforts. Working to end religious privilege would be a good example of a long-term goal.

There's No Secular Activism Without Political Outrage

So what's the problem? Every time I start to re-invest in secular activism, something predictable happens. I increase my engagement with secular activists because such networking is vital. I do this online through social media because that is the only option where I live. My social media timelines then fill with political outrage, the very thing I am trying to avoid.

I've been trying to have it both ways. I want to engage with secular activists while minimizing my exposure to political outrage. This isn't possible. These two desires are incompatible. This is why I often feel like I'm banging my head against a wall. This is why I am stuck in a repeating cycle of wading in and then making a hasty retreat.

Secular activism is inherently political. Most secular activists are activists because they are outraged by what is going on. Why else would anyone devote their energy to a cause? If I am going to engage with secular activists, I have to recognize that political outrage will be a part of it.

I realize that this will seem obvious to everyone. It hasn't been obvious to me. I've known what I want, but I haven't been able to get it without something I don't want coming along for the ride. I'm not interested in immersing myself in toxic political outrage. This has been a source of frustration for far too long.

Three Options

I've been able to identify three options so far, and I don't like any of them. First, I could try to walk away from secular activism. This would be very difficult, and I'm not sure I could do it. I'd escape the political outrage this way, and I know that doing so would be good for my mental health. I also know I'd feel like I was betraying my values by doing this. It would mean giving up on a fight we need to win.

Second, I could try to embrace secular activism and everything that comes with it. I could steer into the political outrage instead of trying to experience less of it. Since this used to be my approach, I know how it would turn out. I'd be much angrier and more energized until I burned out once again. And if there's one thing I've learned about myself, it is that I would burn out again. I hate that outcome, but I haven't been able to avoid it. It gets harder each time I sink into the familiar pit of despair.

Both of these options suck. Secular activism is too important to give up. I am not sure I could live with myself if I did that. And yet, diving back into something that will lead me to burn out again isn't appealing either. I'm not interested in martyrdom. Sacrificing my well-being for a cause, even an important cause, is not appealing.

This brings me to the third option. I fear it might be a mirage. I could embrace secular activism but become more planful about how I did so. I could avoid the activists who did little more than push partisan political outrage. I'd connect with more humanists and steer clear of the others. I could expand my use of filters on Mastodon to limit my exposure to outrage outside of secularism. I could be much quicker to unfollow those who weren't contributing anything of value.

I'm not sure this third option is real. If it is real, I'm not sure I could pull it off. But for now, I've got to try. I've finally realized that I can't get what I want without learning to live with what I don't want. The challenge is to discover how best to do that.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay