3 Common Fears That Keep Us From Humanitarian Activism And How To Push Past Them…

3 Common Fears That Keep Us From Humanitarian Activism And How To Push Past Them

The collective pain we’ve endured as a world this past year is undeniable. More than ever, we believe that as individuals we should be able to mold the empathy we feel for our hurting world into action. However, as we start to think about what that action might look like, we also begin to doubt our ability to make an impact.

Questions start to arise like; What can I possibly do to bring hope to another family when I feel a sense of insecurity about my own family’s future? How do I rally my community to serve another community if I myself am isolated or feel unsure of who my community even is anymore?

At this point fear is taking over and essentially telling you to do nothing. Author Elizabeth Gilbert has beautifully illustrated this concept in her book Big Magic and TED talks saying, “Fear is boring, because fear only ever has one thing to say to us, and that thing is: “STOP!”

What our fear tells us

You know doing nothing is not the right move, but concern over the ways your actions, words, or lifestyle changes could be misinterpreted scares you.  You take a pause and these three fears rise to the forefront of your mind:

1. You fear you can’t take a humanitarian action without people filtering your motives through a political lens or accusing you of having ulterior motives.

2. You fear that you’ll be criticized for speaking out about one issue and not another and get caught in the defensive position of justifying who or what is most “deserving” of resources.

3. You fear that you don’t know enough, you don’t have enough to give, and that your actions can’t have an impact.

Two truths and a lie

The first two fears will likely come true. You can’t do much about external factors or others reactions, opinions, and expectations. People will be quick to ascribe labels to you that don’t feel are accurate or fair. People with no relation to you or what you’re trying to do will expect you to defend how you chose to spend your time and money.

Some people’s first reaction to seeing you stand up and take action will be to criticize you for not doing it sooner or for not doing more. When you fear you aren’t doing enough, having that fear repeated back to you by those who stand in judgment of your actions is disheartening and at times doesn’t seem worth the emotional risk.

So why risk the vulnerability of taking action? Because the fear that you are not enough and that you don’t have enough to give is a lie. Brushing aside fear is uncomfortable, but doing nothing will hurt you in a different way. Inaction will ensure that you aren’t having the impact you desire and perpetuates a feeling of powerlessness.

How to move forward

The only way out of powerlessness in this situation is through fear.  When your thoughts start to lean towards inaction, remind yourself of three things in an effort to move past the fear that is holding you at a standstill.

1. Overcoming fear is not the same as eliminating it. Fear is always going to be there. Don’t let yourself become discouraged if the same fears you’ve been battling for years continue to show up in different places.

2. There is no straight line that connects action to impact. While you can control the timing and method of the action you chose to take, you can’t control the scope of the impact. Every action is a leap of faith that doing something is better than nothing even if you never get to see the impact.

3. Trust your intuition. As humans, we aren’t working with the whole picture and never will be. If you feel an emotional pull towards action, don’t overthink it or seek excessive justification through facts and statistics.

Each of us has a role to play in our collective healing, but no one is going to come out and tell us exactly where our individual path is. The best we can do is take the next right step regardless of the fear we feel and trust that that action is moving us into alignment with the spiritual healing we hope to see in our world.


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Kathryn Dillman

American expat in Thailand since 2012. I write about women, education, and the way forward. I teach English and Math…

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