How Social Media Promotes Parent Activist Burnout

Season 1, Episode 8

by Ashia R.
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Episode Transcript

Hello friends, it’s the Raising Luminaries podcast again with Ashia. And this is season one, episode eight.

Okay, strap in. I think this is going to be a long one, too. And you can skip it because there’s nothing here that you can’t live without. I’m just babbling.

On our last episode we talked about the Raising Luminaries approach of more cyclical seasonal approach to integrating advocacy and parenting and the general work that we want to do in the world. In this episode, we’re going to talk about what we’ll cover in the winter, like what is the work of winter that aligns with the seasons and our energy levels with you know, less sunlight, colder weather, a little bit more social burden. Sometimes in terms of making space for holidays and seasonal observances.

So if we do winter work within a sustainable seasonal cycle, then it can kind of reset us and store up our energy for the year. If we try and maintain the same level of energy throughout the year despite what is going on externally, and despite what our bodies are telling us to do. It kind of sets us up for burnout, particularly if we’re doing very hard work or if we’re doing work that we really care about.

I mean, if we have work that we’re doing that we’re not emotionally invested in, sure, maybe you can just go-go-go show up to work check out at the end of the day. But part of advocacy work is – it’s life or death. Justice work requires understanding your personal stake in the work as opposed to say, savior work where you’re just trying to rescue people to feel good about yourself.

So we’re kind of set up through the year.

[child shouting]

If you can hear the kid swearing in the background, we’ll just try and pretend they’re not here.

But the idea is, we want to set it up so that way the winter becomes a time to recuperate and to reassess, and instead of barreling forth with work that is no longer suited to us, or to the needs of society.

But right now, the way that we approach winter, most of us, through a colonial mindset – is winter is a time of burnout. It’s a time of overexertion and beating up on ourselves because we feel like we’re not going as fast as we should be.

So what we’re going to do about it is we’re going to talk about how do we integrate habits into the winter where we don’t just shut down and don’t beat ourselves up. But actually integrat our advocacy work, really important parts of advocacy work, that we usually don’t have time for throughout the year into our winter cycle.

So here’s our main problem. We live in a supremacy culture that pushes false urgency and hustle. That idea that if you work hard enough, and you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and you be exceptional, you’ll get into the winner’s circle and get stomp on everyone else. If that’s not your ideal future… why do it? But also we’re feeding into that narrative – if you don’t hustle to keep up. Then you’re going to be left behind and die in a ditch.

And that is a realistic fear because we do have our society set up where you can be imprisoned for being poor. You can be imprisoned for being Black or having an identity that doesn’t naturally come with a whole lot of societal privilege and power. So how do we resist false urgency while also holding space for the idea that yeah, some of us do have to hustle harder than others. Just to keep up and just to stay alive?

This kind of directly impacts with our need to consume in our society – that expectation that our economy, progress, expansion, will constantly be happening in a linear fashion. Never slows down, never stops and returns to where it came from never slows down, never reassesses. We’re supposed to just keep progressing, right? And if we think about the way that our education system is set up for our kids, or the way that our media is set up for our kids – we don’t have book series, or school grades that are meant to go in a circle.

Like you don’t go grades one through five and then you come back to grade one. Unless you have a really conscious administrator who’s actively integrating older students with younger students.

We don’t have book series that you start by reading book one, you go to book 12. And then you start with Book One again, and then you read it through new lens.

Just the way that our culture is set up. Is we’re supposed to consume and discard. And never revisit the things that we’ve already consumed. And it’s almost like a… not a guilty pleasure? But a quirk. Like a personality quirk if we choose to rewatch shows. It’s seen as almost like an indulgence as opposed to a necessity.

So if we think about our approach to hustling through, chewing things up and plowing through them, how can we resist that? Particularly as we enter the winter?

Many people have their biggest holidays of the year in Autumn. Some of us have it at the late winter, but usually as the weather transition changes, and as we observe the dying of plants and animals and of this year’s generation – what we have to do is think about how are we not just consuming to cover up that… kind of scary impulse to recognize that this is a time of death and mourning.

Because our culture is very against death and very against the idea of endings. Endings are usually seen as a bad thing, as opposed to like a time of celebration and closure and wrapping up.

So we kind of cover up these avoidant feelings with these big, splashy holidays and they’re supposed to be, in many ways, all things to all people. That’s the time when you connect with your family. That’s the time when you restock your socks and your toothpaste. It’s the time when you when you spend the most money.

And you think about that – that’s so diametrically opposed to what our bodies want to do in the winter, which is to like, settle down with a nice mug in a quiet room, not full of a billion people and reflect on the year, and how we can improve upon the next year.

So this is kind of a mess. Right? If we’re raising kind and courageous kids, we must resist that. That urge to hustle. That urge to hide and avoid our deep reflection work.

And we must navigate the pitfalls of the attention economy – that pull of social media, the pull of sensationalist news headlines, that pull up [feelings of] like pay attention at all times! Because you could miss out, and people might think that you’re not smart or people might think that you’re not responsible!

If you don’t know everything that’s going on all the time and you haven’t signed all the petitions and showed up to all the marches. Right? But that it kind of turns us into floodlights instead of laser beams. And a floodlight is great because you know what’s going on but we don’t get anything done.

We want to be laser beams who can actually identify where harm is being done and address it and transform it.

So this is a mess. Within our scheduled year, we don’t have time built in to build a foundation for the rest of the year. Because that time of winter, we’re supposed to be composting all of the rubbish and discarding what didn’t work, and creating nutrients for the spring… we’re spending it chasing sales. Right? And making sure that everyone has Christmas cards who sent us Christmas cards, so they don’t get offended.

And just keeping up. And it is exhausting. So if we’re busy, keeping up, building more stories to a building, but we’re not shoring up the foundation? Of course we get overwhelmed and of course we burn out and of course we collapse.

So let’s look at winter as a good time to set a foundation for the rest of the year. And let’s look at – what does that look like?

Particularly so much of us are on social media. Social media is a great way for people with disabilities who don’t have access to public spaces. It’s the easiest way to post and share and find and connect with other people.

But social media as a part of the cost: of participating in what appears to be a free interface – requires that you go-go-go. Even if you try and put blockers on your feed.

The people who profit from your attention are always going to be a few steps ahead of you and trying to… like their full time job is designed to get your attention away from other things that need to be happening.

So how do we resist that without ostracizing ourselves? Because for many of us, we can take a break from social media for our own edification and our own rest.

Or for people who are just like “I can’t take being corrected.” Or “I can’t take people pointing out the things that I don’t know.” And that’s kind of a luxury – that ability to choose whether or not you’re on social media

But for many people, social media is the only connection that they have to services and to a social life. So how do we balance that that never-ending Call-to-Action feed, the lack of prioritisation, or big picture – where a feed kind of treats every single item of news as if they are all of equal importance.

Some news you can’t do anything about. Some news is just shared because it’s sensational and interesting and provoke some emotional reaction in you. But it doesn’t actually help you or anyone else for you to know about it.

Some news really genuinely does require your immediate action. Some news you need to know about, so that way you can transform the way that you move through the world.

And they’re all treated like they’re all of the same importance. They’ll have the same size headline.

And the things that gets the most clicks are unfortunately, the sensationalist ones that you can’t do anything about – and they just provoke a reaction to you. Because the only way you can release that tension is by clicking a reaction, commenting, or sharing it.

We don’t really share the the slower-growth, deep-work stuff, because we don’t have to release that tension. We’re already intaking it in a healthy way.

So the other problem with being on social media is – particularly those of us who educate, or share out ideas or articles or resources, is we don’t get to target who we’re talking to.

And I don’t mean like, targeting people based on class or wealth, but I mean, we don’t get to form relationships with the people that we’re engaging with. Unless we create these you know, private segregated groups, and even that’s kind of hard.

So what happens is, if you do a good job, you kind of get punished. Because more people join your group, or more people start following you. And that opens you up to a whole bunch of people who don’t have the scaffolding, or have all of the introductory work that you’ve done for the last four years – and are just jumping in to waste your time and ask questions. Like level 101 stuff when you’re doing advanced work.

And it just… sometimes the best way to be inclusive and create a safe space, or a braver space, is to make sure not everyone is invited. So that way, people who want to hold up our system, who want to sabotage our system (on purpose or for unintentionally) can’t come in and kind of gum up the works.

So we need to have clearly identified entry-level and advanced spaces and unfortunately, we haven’t been trained how to do that.

Because we haven’t had – we’ve had a linear system of education that says everyone starts at the same exact time. And then they progress through say 12 grades, and then they graduate at the same time.

But that’s not the way that actually people work. People jump in and out at different points in their lives. And people absorb information and learn differently.

So that sucks because social media is not a great place for educators and resource creators. It’s actually opens us up to harassment and racism and targeting and that kind of sabotage that is like just picks away the details right? As opposed to listening to the point – that tone policing.

And I know, for me, we used to get big gluts of 1000, 3000 people joining the old Raising Luminaries group in like the course of a week. And that always came with a sense of like, ‘Oh, great. My resources are reaching more people. Rhey’re doing they’re doing good. They’re helping people throughout the world.”

“But this is punishing to me because now I have to spend the next month dealing with a whole bunch of nonsense from…”

Basically someone let in a whole bunch of like, I don’t know, ducks? What’s like something that poops all over the place. It doesn’t give a shit about your belongings.

It’s like letting in a flock of ducks into a nicely…nicely decorated space.

And you don’t want to hurt ducks. No one wants to hurt a duck. So you have to kind of gently pick them up and make space for them and educate them. It’s just really exhausting. And it’s unpaid work. It’s not compensated. And the ducks do not appreciate it.

They feel entitled to this education. Because they got free education from you once so, “Oh that is your place. That is what you do for me. I expect it to be the highest quality. I will not compensate for you for it. But I definitely will criticize you if you mess up anything, or don’t do it perfectly, or don’t make it tailored to me specifically.”

These are very privileged ducks.

Getting lost in the weeds a little bit. I just want to talk about the way that social media ties into losing our sense of connection to space, the actual environment around us beyond our screens, and what our bodies are telling us to do.

And how it’s actually detrimental if we want to be people in the world who are supporting each other and creating real connections, where we can build trust through that process of – getting into conflict, repairing, and transforming through that conflict, and building trust.

We don’t get that. Because everyone’s kind of faceless on the internet. And no matter how much work you put into gently collecting someone, they can just bounce. And everyone else can still attack you. And what happens is we have, primarily women and nonbinary people of color with disabilities, who end up completely burnt out. Those are the ones who ended up ostracized from these communities – after trying really hard to make it inclusive.

Because the people who are used to being welcomed everywhere? It’s not even on their radar that they need to make things inclusive. It’s not on their radar that they need to collect people gently or do a lot of emotional work to make it inclusive.

It’s kind of exhausting. So that fear of missing out on social media – like what if we don’t check our feed for a day? Are we gonna miss out information? What if we missed a tool that we could have used? It could have solved everything! What if we missed out on something that’s gonna come up in a conversation later on? And it’s going to look like we have no idea what we’re talking about?

Because we do live in a punishment culture that punishes people if they’re not with the crowd. If they’re not on top of things.Iif they use the wrong word, or they use outdated language, or they’re not they’re not cognizant of all the paradigms and all the ways that our culture intersect, right?

So that that fear of missing out is valid and real. And at the same time, we’re completely disconnected from each other because we’re so busy trying to keep up with all the information on our feeds.

So I’m worried about… now that we’re no longer on social media. I am worried that we are not accessible.

I put a lot of effort into making sure that the resources I create, to the best of my ability, while managing my own disabilities, are accessible. For people whom traditional media has not been accessible for. For people have been an afterthought, and their access has been an afterthought – those are the people that would like to have, you know, kind of first dibs right?

We prioritize image descriptions over having really gorgeous images, if you think about it that way.

So I realized that my obligation, if I’m going to create things, there’s a lot of people who have novels that they want to write. Or maybe they’ve written the novel, but they won’t put it out to the world. In which case you’re not actually doing a service to anyone.

If I am going to use what skills I have to analyze and integrate the problematic, and the supremacist tropes of the world, into pragmatic language into 1-2-3 steps on how to smash the kyriarchy…. That’s not actually helpful if my work is not accessible.

And if I’m not going where people are, which is of course, social media. Am I truly making my work accessible? If I just posted on the internet, or post it on a podcast feed? Is that accessible enough?

So I wrestle with this because there’s one thought that – there’s a difference between checking out of social media because it’s a privilege. And checking out of social media it genuiney is burning you the crap out. So I’m at the level where social media offers no benefit and harms the people that were supposed to be helping and harms our community. So we decided to check out back in 2020.

But I do acknowledge that it means that we have to rely on people bookmarking the website or subscribing to a podcast feed. Because we’re not showing up in the places where they already are.

And that is both good and bad. Right? We can hold space for both of those things. And this is part of how we model for our kids – that we have to set we have to draw a line between when we’re spreading ourselves too thin. And when we need to reduce the risk versus doing the deep work.

So this is where I drew my line, and it’s going to be a different one for everybody. But we have to think about what are we modeling for our kids in terms of being accessible to the world, and creating our work in providing it? At whatever cost that people can actually access it.

And I don’t mean cost like money, I mean cost like time investment, attention investment. How many clicks does it take to get there? How many reminders and notifications are we offering for people with busy schedules and executive functioning disabilities? What is the cost in terms of needing technology to get to your resources?

Balancing that with what we need to actually do the work itself. Because when we spread ourselves very thin trying to make things accessible to everybody, we actually can’t do any of the work. We’re just busy on social media sharing nonsense.

I have no solutions for that. But I do have kind of an idea of experiments we could try to balance those.

So what can we do about that? We could use social media only when it means we’re generating actual connections with actual people. Not as a blast or as a firehose, but we’re using it as a way to put out a hook and wait for someone who really connects with us to bite. And then not just to bite and then have a little conversation with them in the comments but actually to reel them in.

Say how do you want to make this connection deeper? How can we build a culture of reciprocity and communication and checking out with each other? What drew us to each other, and how can we work together?

And that’s kind of the seeds of collaborative action, right? Being able to find someone in a sea of humans who all have different beliefs, and then identifying what your unique skills are. How they work together, and how to move forward?

So what does that look like if you only use social media for those types of connections, and then set boundaries about like.. “Yeah, being a part of this random group, lurking in this space, posting 15 times a day instead of once a month – is actually not putting that hook out to find my people. It’s actually just about showing off and making about my ego.”

So we have to think about our habits. Habits that I’ve tried – here’s projects that I’ve tried:

I’ve tried no email November, where all of the email that gets sent to me through the month of November gets put directly into the trash. Because my email was an extension of social media. Because so many people felt that because my resources were available and free, they were then welcome to click the Contact button (for accountability and drawing my attention to accessibility issues) and then using it to pick my brain about insignificant stuff or demand personal education.

And sometimes you just get burned out having to tell people like – ‘This is inappropriate. Or if you want this you need to pay me.” That in itself is a form of emotional labor.

Trying to put in feed blockers like FB Purity for Facebook, which – that in itself is a little bit of work, because Facebook is always tailoring their software to get around those blockers. So when I do go on Facebook, I visit the Luminary Brain Trust, and there’s no other feed.

Even if I accidentally click on anything else on Facebook, I’m not going to get that endless feed that draws my attention and pulls me into like a deep, dark cave of doom scrolling.

Reviewing how much time we spend on screens, which is I don’t know about you. That’s kind of like a food journal. It’s just exhausting. Makes me feel bad. It doesn’t actually get me to adjust anything the next week

Unsubscribing from everything. Particularly people that I like and want to hear from, I’ll unsubscribe from them too. It’s nothing personal. I just can’t handle more than an hour of dealing with my inbox a week. It’s just too much work.

Charting our priorities. In terms of like who are we actually willing to give our limited amount of fucks to?

For me, it’s, you know, my kids, my partner or my close friends, and then I realized, wait a second. That’s all the fucks I have left to give. I just don’t have any fucks left for any other random person who wanders into my digital space.

Not that I don’t like them. And not that I don’t think they could be a future bestie, but I just don’t have any more fucks to give.

There’s also through a transformative justice practice – mapping pods. There’s pod mapping resources on the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective.

Doing more diagram-based way of being like, “Who am I connected to outside of social media? Who am I connected to in social media who I could strengthen those relationships with?”

And the focus again, is strengthening the relationships that you already have, or maybe creating boundaries with relationships that you already have. They’re training you to make space for the new people that you…hook with your… hooky…fishing line! Is that what it is? Sure, whatever.

And then what we’re trying to do with the parents activist incubator, this is a new experiment, trying to schedule a reoccurring one-on-one or small group initiatives with, you know, eight people or less. Where we get together at a specific time and day where we know that we can count on that – and having that dedicated time to discuss and reflect and get out of the impersonal and (deceptively easy) – Click, Like, Share rhythm – where we feel like we’re connected to people, but we actually end up just more lonely.

What does it look like to actually connect with people and not feel lonely – but to feel energized and excited? And not like things are way too hard? Because that’s how I feel with a social media feed. But when I get together, even digitally, like a Zoom meeting, I feel energized and I feel like yeah, actually we can we can solve this problem. I’m not doing this all alone. The the work and smashing the kyriarchy does not rely on me reading an entire library’s worth of articles on injustice.

So the other thing we have to watch out for on social media is toxic activism, which is an activism that has the look of smashing the kyriarchy, but uses the same devices of supremacy culture that will pull you in – so quick. And even I still have a hard time identifying it, because there’s there’s no clear line. I think we all have almost the same vision of the future and some of us have different ideas on how we get there, right?

If we’re just switching who’s in power, as opposed to abolishing the power dynamic, if we’re canceling people for making mistakes, we’re pushing boundaries and telling people to work harder and work harder and work harder. Despite them saying , “I can’t” or even “I don’t want to” or “My capacity is a limit.”

In pushing for advocacy that pummels other intersections – if you have one or two aspects of say, racism and gender and you’re willing to step on people with disabilities, people through the lens of say, foster and adoption family constellations, if we’re willing to not bring them along and not make space for them and be like “No, we need to keep our eyes on the prize, smash sexism and racism – and then we’ll deal with the other ones later.”

That’s kind of a sign that we’re just swapping the power dynamics again. The truth is that we never actually get to those later. Even though, sometimes we do have to do imperfect work, just to get going. But I find that to be kind of a red flag of toxic activism.

The concept of expecting some, privileged accomplices to work as automatons without space to rest, or space to feel. There is there are different roles and different responsibilities for different identities within identity work and within power hierarchies. But that idea that say, all white people should have to do the hardest and most dangerous part of anti racism work without getting to have feelings about it, is kind of – remember we’re trying to reinstate people’s humanity, and not suck it out.

That isn’t to say that people with privileged identities shouldn’t definitely be doing uncomfortable work. That’s part of breaking open that system, and that internalized bias, is asking people to do uncomfortable work. But we have to give space for them to do the uncomfortable work. Because we’re supposed to be sharing it in a shared humanity. Right?

Oh, my cat’s here. He’s purring for you. Okay, friend. I lost my place.

Anyway. So one of the things that I do to protect myself, to maintain my spoons when I am on social media is trying to just keep an eye out for supremacy culture, specifically within the activism community. It’s pretty easy to resist supremacy culture when it’s coming from a Nazi. It’s much harder when it’s coming from someone who shares the same vision of the future as you do.

But anything that treats any person like they’re disposable, promotes false urgency, drops bombshells and then just leaves… Anyone who’s who’s gonna break things open is – Actually, shit stirring is actually a necessary part of activism work. Shit stirring and traoublemaking.

But if there’s this sense that they don’t care to stick around, or they don’t care to make sure that there’s other people around to kind of clean it up and transform that injustice…. I don’t know it does a lot of harm, and it doesn’t leave me feeling more energized, keep doing the work.

And it leaves some of the more targeted people within that space to have to do the work of healing and repair. The most targeted people are the ones who that work falls upon. Because, that’s going to create a negative reaction with the privileged people in that space. And they’re going to go to the people who have the least amount of power to do the repair.

Calling out has a place, but pile-ons, lack of transparency, just using buzzwords to sound like we know what we’re doing, but the buzzwords don’t coincide with the actual concepts behind them.

We can just leave those spaces and it’s okay. We’ll be able to find spaces that actually make sense to us and hold space for our humanity. If we aren’t spending all of our time being burned out by social media.

There’s a lot of danger in the burnout and the fear of exile, expecting the most targeted activists to work through a lens of purity culture, of being like “If you’re truly working for justice. You have to do everything perfectly.”

Because we don’t expect perfection. And we don’t expect people who are just jerks to know everything and orchestrate – as we have been seen evidence from [expectations] about our last president.

But we do expect that people who do social justice work, and who have been put on a pedestal against their will. This has been referenced both in the book ‘Care Work’ by Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha. I hope I pronounced that right. And ‘We Will Not Cancel Us’ by Adrienne Marie Brown.

That concept of…we have to make space for activists to mess up, and do that repair work. But we don’t do that in social media. We just pile on and then move on. Right? We don’t stick around after the drop.

A lot of us don’t stick around after the bomb has been dropped. So that’s all in a digital space. And meanwhile, we have our children in a real space where there’s snow falling. In a digital space, there’s no season other than those insipid holiday ads.

But how are we talking with our kids about what we’re learning from these spaces? How are we talking with our kids? The difference between taking accountability for own actions and expecting and requesting accountability from other people? But you can’t really demand, right? You can’t demand accountability from other people because that’s just never going to work out. You can hope for it. You can set boundaries, but you don’t control other people.

I’m still finding ways to make this work. I’m trying to find ways to make my work accessible. And sometimes people just can’t follow it. And that’s okay. We have to be willing to trust that someone else will make work that’s accessible for them as well.

Because we do have actual real children waiting for us to make them dinner at home. And we are not automatons who can do the work without having feelings about it or resting.

This is a lot of rambling. I want to delete it. Because I feel like I went in too many directions. But I’m not going to. This is part of the work of doing terrible podcasts. I promised it would be terrible – and it is. And just letting it go. And I guess I’ll finish this later because we went too far apart.

But anyway, the winter work. We’re going to go into what we do on the winter. The winter work is about identifying those red flags. The winter work is about identifying when we’re doing those things, that more toxic activism – when we’re making our advocacy work more about ourselves than about other people and society as a whole.

While also integrating our activism work – is tied in with our own selves. It’s always tied in with our identity. Our freedom is always tied in with the freedom of others.

So the winter work requires pulling back. That’s why I said, maybe if we have the privilege of it, maybe pulling back. If we can’t completely leave, pulling back from social media, maybe only visiting once a day. Or once a week. Pulling back from email. Pulling back from the responsibilities where people are pushing at your boundaries all the time. And setting aside a season to be like… I’m not into diets or anything but setting a… policy.

Be like “Oh, I don’t do that now. I don’t do that in the winter.” And for the people who keep pushing – be like “Why? Why can’t you show up? Why can’t you do this?”

“I just don’t do that in the winter.”

Setting that expectation that that ‘no’ is a complete sentence in that way. You don’t have to explain your boundaries. You can just have them, state them, and they’re still valid.

And then setting that expectation for your kids. Because…a lot of flyers – oh my gosh, the flyers for summer camp have started showing up. The flyers for winter break classes and all of these other things have started showing up.

Even though I’m the one who screens our mail, the flood of things and opportunities and things that are subtly suggested to kids that they should be doing…like they should be taking another language class.

[Loud wobbly glass sounds]

Cats.

And they shouldn be doing a sport. And they should also be learning a craft. And they should also be doing a social networking with other children.

How are we modeling [pulling back] for our kids? Just because these things are available and just because, yeah, we will miss out on some information and some connections if we choose to pull back.

It is vitally important that we set aside a few months of every year to do our deeper scaffolding work, to analyze what hasn’t been working, and what are the red flags that that say: The work that we’re doing right now is not the best work. Or the most efficient or sustainable work that we could be doing?

I guess that ties it around enough. Okay. Feel free to leave a comment. I have the podcasts with all their transcripts on the Raising Luminaries website. It’s RaisingLuminaries.com/podcasts.

Leave comments on episodes. Also tell me how I could make this better. And let me know – I’m actually interested – what are your policies for the winter?

Have other people figured out how to institute… to do that deeper foundation-securing work in the winter. Or maybe you don’t do in the winter? Maybe do it in a different season.

That would be interesting. I’d like to hear about that.

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