Working on issues that affect us, that our friends work on, or that captivate our attention form good starting points for realizing the importance of working to create social change. It is to effective activism what recycling is to an environmentally sustainable lifestyle: it’s the place that pretty much everyone starts out at. But it shouldn’t be an end- point. Once we’ve developed the spirit of social concern, once we’ve seen the value in working to create a better world, we need to move forward in becoming more thoughtful about how we spend the limited amount of time and energy we have. We need to begin choosing our activist work from a utilitarian perspective: How can I do the most good? How can I reduce the most suffering and destruction of life? Slogans like “practice random acts of kindness” feel good and are easy to put into practice. But if we don’t take our activism more seriously than that, our motive is probably a desire to feel good about ourselves, to help ourselves or those close to us, or to act out our self-identity. The endpoint of authentic compassion is a desire to do the most good that one can, to be as effective as possible in creating a world with less suffering and destruction and more joy. Figuring out how we can do the most good takes careful thought over a long period of time, and it means moving into new and possibly uncomfortable areas of advocacy. But the importance of taking our activism seriously and approaching it from this utilitarian perspective cannot be overstated. It will mean a difference between life and death, between happiness and suffering, for thousands of people, for thousands of acres of the ecosystem, and for tens of thousands of animals.
Nick Cooney, Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us about Creating Social Change, New York, 2011, pp. 22.23