This Is Not the Time to Despair or Rage
From Animal Rights/Vegan Activist Strategies Articles Archive

FROM Zoe Weil, Psychology Today/Animal Emotions
February 2020

We must learn to face the present and future as solutionaries.

[Zoe Weil, M.A., M.T.S., is the co-founder and president of the Institute for Human Education]

This morning on Facebook, many friends were sharing their despair and outrage over what had transpired during the previous 48 hours in the U.S. government.

I could relate.

I’d been up much of the night and had spent the previous day in a mopey, largely unproductive funk. I’d felt stunned by what had just transpired in American politics (even as I knew that it was time to stop feeling stunned each time politicians did and said things I found incomprehensible and infuriating). My despair and outrage threatened to eclipse all else.

This is not a political post, though. It is a post about how to think and feel differently, and what to do to resist despair, rage, and feelings of powerlessness.

You must become a solutionary.

Solutionary: a person who is able to identify inhumane and unsustainable systems and then develop solutions that are healthy and just, for people, animals and the environment. [Source: Institute for Human Education]

What if, in the face of your despair and outrage, you consciously and deliberately chose to bring a solutionary lens to what terrified and enraged you, whether in politics or any other sphere?

What if, when you felt most helpless, you mapped out the systems that cause so much dysfunction and suffering, identified real leverage points for change, and actively pursued a viable solution to a problem?

What if you reached out to those people whom you perceive to be ideological “enemies” and asked them, in good faith, to work together to devise a solution to a problem that concerned you both?

What if you succeeded in solving that problem?

Imagine how your thoughts about your perceived “enemy” might shift. Imagine how empowered you would feel to take on the next problem and the one after that.

What if bringing a solutionary lens to every issue and problem became your norm?

It’s hard to overstate how powerful a solutionary mindset can be for creating actual change, solving persistent problems, and restoring and maintaining psychological well-being.

Like any new activity, cultivating a solutionary mindset takes practice. If you want to build your muscles, you work out. If you want to learn a new subject, you study. And if you want to be a solutionary, you diligently follow a solutionary process until thinking and acting like a solutionary become second nature.

I’m not going to pretend that this is easy. It’s not. I’ve articulated and written about this solutionary process; given TEDx talks about it; taught others how to be solutionaries; and incorporated solutionary courses into the graduate programs offered by the organization I work for.

If anyone should have a solutionary mindset, it should be me. And yet, I started this post by describing just how awful I felt yesterday, and how unproductive I was as a result. Solutionaries are not immune to despair and outrage, but as we get better at thinking and acting like solutionaries, these feelings diminish both in their duration and frequency.

By mid-morning, I was hard at work connecting with educators teaching their students to be solutionaries. I was deeply enlivened by their enthusiasm and effort. It turned out to be a very energizing and productive day.

Joan Baez once said, “Action is the antidote to despair.”

This quote has come to my rescue many times. But these days, I would offer a less poetic but perhaps even more hopeful quote: Solutionary action is the antidote to just about everything. 

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