Motivation for (Social) Change

I read an article in Insight Newsletter, the Newsletter of the Insight Meditation Society, talking about efforts of various people involved in social justice work. The article began by pointing out the obvious, that “[w]hen you look at what’s going on in the world, it’s a challenge not to be extremely angry and harrowed.”

There are sufferings of the world that just make me sad – a tsunami that kills many people. But there are also many things generate not only sadness at the results, but anger at the behavior of people or institutions that contributed in one way or another to the suffering that saddens me.

Anger may be a completely understandable reaction. But, as the article suggests, trying to effect change from a place of anger, rather than a place of compassion, is bound to be ineffectual. One problem is that we run the risk of burnout when we are “fueled by reactivity.” Another is that anger blinds us to the perspective of the person or institution with whom we are angry, making it much less likely that we will bring sufficient awareness to come up with workable change.

There is a role for prayer in helping us transform our anger into compassion, regardless of what faith tradition we follow. The person who wrote this article, a Buddhist meditator, observed, “I keep going back on retreat to get grounded, to understand how reality operates. The clearer I am, the more effective I’ll be at making change in a world that needs it.” The same is true for Christians, for whom the central command is love. We need prayer, and God’s grace, to keep us grounded in love so that everything we do in the world is motivated by that love.