“Nothing is more important than raising awareness,” actress Jane Fonda said at the closing of the 2020 Oscars.
It was before news of the pandemic spread throughout the United States, before our nation awoke to the long-existing rumblings of racial injustice and before the waves of 2020 came crashing in.
Surely, awareness in the Information Age is important. We swim in a constant flood of news, content and headlines, to which we can choose to give our attention. We cannot possibly know everything at once. Therefore, efforts to shift public attention to specific information can be beneficial in an overwhelmingly saturated news cycle.
We face that world most often through a tumultuous, internet-driven culture separated by inherent distance. In a fairly privileged and convenient society, we have the choice to engage with these topics as we see fit. Read an article. Share a post. We can, if we choose to, move on to the next topic with little thought or action motivated by genuine conviction.
We can, if we choose to, move on to the next topic with little thought or action motivated by genuine conviction.
Some of this is a natural consequence of oversaturated media. The long-term consequence, however, is a tendency toward feigned engagement, or worse, apathy altogether. To care meaningfully about the world beyond our front doors, our cities or home countries is to be inconvenienced in some capacity. To care is to be vulnerable to the interruption of an ache that we could choose to ignore out of comfort.
So how do we implore our hearts and those around us beyond simple awareness in the Information Age? How do we become people who live with authentic conviction to act on behalf of others?
1. Evaluate your online/social media presence.
In a time when social media activism has become a cardinal virtue, reconsidering our online presence may be one of the first steps. Sharing posts and feelings through our platforms may satisfy that helpless urge we all experience to do something when faced with grandiose problems. However, our momentary satisfaction to assuage our egos with a post does little to change anyone’s circumstances. As you hone your understanding and opinions (which I hope you’ll do through diverse sources), consider what it would look like to put them into real-world practice.
Our momentary satisfaction to assuage our egos with a post does little to change anyone’s circumstances.
2. Engage with social issues on the ground level.
The pervasive issues we read or hear about through the media have very real (and sometimes costly) implications for people, even if we may not readily see or experience them ourselves. Our challenge, then, is to find ways, even simple ones, to find the intersection of our lives with those realities and let our days be shaped by our newfound knowledge.
If you are trying to understand racial injustice, of course read books, but also diversify the influences in your life and engage in real conversations with people impacted by racial injustice. If you are learning about the textile industry and its lack of sustainability, then commit to the clothes you already have, shop used or vintage stores or support more ethical brands.
If you are concerned about poverty, food insecurity, trafficking, healthcare and any other human rights cause, then do the research for what organizations and individuals are contributing in sustainable ways. Then, support them. How we spend our time, our money and our resources can be a much more effective form of voting than when we cast a ballot.
How we spend our time, our money and our resources can be a much more effective form of voting than when we cast a ballot.
3. After you have the information, respond in an authentic and feasible way.
We cannot all respond to every social justice issue equally. This shouldn’t be an expectation of ourselves or others. However, we can see awareness and acquiring knowledge as opportunities to find where our talents, resources and passions intersect with the needs of our local and global communities and then respond accordingly. It’s these small steps of active, widespread empathy that have the potential to create meaningful, lasting change.
Awareness, and particularly the forms it takes in modern culture, is loud.
I think of “The Last Interview: and Other Conversations” and David Foster Wallace’s words: “In America, we think of rebellion as this very sexy thing and that it involves action and force and looks good. My guess is that any form of rebellion that will change things meaningfully here will be very quiet and very individual and probably not all that interesting to look at from the outside.”
Our world is very much about how things look from the outside—movement for change must become a flashy, well-designed campaign. We prove our allegiance to causes by being very verbal about them. While these efforts serve a certain purpose, the most consequential pieces of our lives may be those the outside world is uninterested in—the day-to-day work, the menial tasks and the heart change it takes to care about something unselfishly.
The fruit of awareness is more awareness. It’s the same reality, only more vocalized. The fruit of genuine empathy is vision for a hurting world outside of our screen and being willing to step into the unsexy mess of it.