Joyce Fegan: It’s time we put our action where our outrage is

Joyce Fegan: It’s time we put our action where our outrage is
Extinction Rebellion member Patricia Devlin, holding a picture of her grandchildren Ollie and Liam. The 78-year-old is on a hunger strike outside Dáil Éireann to highlight government inaction on climate change. Picture: Gary O’Neill.

In the age of click-tivism, where every smartphone owner can have their two cents’ worth of outrage via their social media platform of choice, we’re in the dangerous territory of being all talk and no action.

We sit between a 73-year-old Irish grandmother on hunger strike outside Dáil Éireann, such is her anxiety over the planet’s future, and a 16-year-old teenager currently sailing across the Atlantic, as opposed to flying, such is the extent of her eco-worry.

In the middle, where most of us are, we occupy our minds with the latest twists and turns of Brexit. Is Jeremy Corbyn a worthy alternative to Boris Johnson?

We then divert our attention to easier subjects such as Meghan Markle, be it hiring a birth doula, not having a public christening for her son, or daring to reveal her true human emotions. We’ll pass judgement on all three.

Closer to home, we’ll posts jokes about swings to our Facebook feeds or WhatsApp threads, some even salivating at the lip to see will if the politician at the centre of this summer’s #SwingGate will finally be ousted.

On any given week, we’ll have a new person, place, or thing to pour our outrage into.

Yet another political gaffe could trigger the rage, or perhaps we might be splitting hairs over something someone said — be that utterance a cynical cry for attention or an imperfect utterance by someone speaking in good faith.

Meanwhile, the egg timer drains its sand.

Last year, we had 12 years to turn things around, now we’ve less than 11.

In 2018, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), written by the world’s leading climate scientists, warned all of us that there was we have only 12 years for global warming to be kept to a maximum of 1.5C.

What happens if we don’t manage that? Even half a degree of an increase will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.

And yet we pour our outrage everywhere but there. Instead, we roll our eyes at the hippies who say they’re cutting down on their meat consumption. We poke fun at our younger sister who’s just declared she’s having a zero-waste Christmas.

And some of us look at the likes of 73-year-old Patricia Devlin, who began her four-day hunger strike outside Leinster House this week over her climate anxiety, as an extremist.

Add an ‘ist’ to any word and you’re halfway there to belittling anyone’s argument. We’re not comfortable with ‘ists’.

But there is little that is extremist about Patricia’s argument. In fact, her actions are backed by thousands upon thousands of scientists who have warned us repeatedly, and dramatically, over the last 18 months that radical change is needed if we want somewhere to live by the end of the century and beyond.

Patricia might not be alive by then, but her two grandsons, Liam, 4, and baby Ollie, will.

Meanwhile, the rest of us pontificate about Boris and Brexit and rise to outrage over do ula-hiring duchesses. All the while, that egg timer continues to drain itself of its sand.

Outrage can and has turned into change-making movements, if done non-violently and productively.

But in the age of click-tivism, where every smartphone owner can have their two cents’ worth of outrage via their social media platform of choice, we’re in the dangerous territory of being all talk and no action.

Casting aspersions is an easy game, especially when done from the comfort of your iPhone on some idle Tuesday evening, so is eye-rolling and sniggering. None of those three gestures tax us at all.

But as Theodore Roosevelt said: “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena”.

The likes of Patricia Devlin and Greta Thunberg are in the arena. Those of us casting aspersions on or sniggering about these kinds of doers — we’re only in the cheap seats, watching on comfortably from behind the glare of our iPhones.

Sociologist, best-selling author, and shame researcher Brené Brown, who takes public positions on andfundraises for things such as undocumented migrants and women’s rights, leans heavily on this quote when her cyber critics come calling.

She loves Teddy Roosevelt’s quote so much that she borrowed its phrase “daring greatly” as the title of one of her most successful books.

At a time when these thousands upon thousands of scientists have given us ample warning about climate change, and the likes of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg have given us iPhones and Facebook, it’s important we use the latter two to our advantage.

It’s important that we turn our outrage into productive action.

Black Lives Matters activists in Charlottesville, Virginia — which saw countless people injured and one person killed in August 2017 when a white supremacist rally came to town carrying lit torches and Nazi flags — channelled their outrage productively.

Their activists do several things — they attend their local council meetings and they run educational programmes in schools to explain why some people would prefer that statues of slave owners be moved from public parks to public museums.

They don’t waste their time hate-tweeting Donald Trump. “No point”, they say, “no time to waste either”.

Instead, they put their time,energy and action where their outrage is.

In Ireland, and off Twitter, you might not know of a woman called Kate Durrant and all that she does. She’s one of Cork’s own, she lives in Blarney.

Kate has just been named the overall Inspirational Person of the Year, at the Gala Retail Inspiration Awards 2019. She had won the prize for Inspiration in the Community before being crowned overall winner.

A small sample of the work she does includes raising puppies for Cork charity Irish Dogs for the Disabled, volunteering with St Vincent de Paul (especially at Christmas), fundraising for those stuck in direct provision, volunteering with her local Community First Responders (CFR) group, and she also helped set up Blarney’s Darkness into Light walk, which has raised more than €100,000 for suicide bereavement charity Pieta House.

But you won’t find Kate outraging online, nor paralysed by despair about the state of the world. Instead, she’s mobilised all that into change-making action, much like many others like her around Ireland and elsewhere.

In the age of social media, it’s important we use our outrage for action, not just talk, especially when something as fundamental as our planet’s future is at stake.

Like those active activists in Virginia, there is no time to waste.

Let’s put our action where our outrage is, because it’s doers we need, not just critics.

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