There’s a commonly discussed idea in the ‘helping business’, and on courses where such topics as compassion fatigue and considering your own well-being when supporting others are discussed, they may sometimes show one of those airplane safety card pictures where you are instructed to put your own oxygen mask on before helping others. In a nutshell, help yourself first, only then are you able to fully support others too.
I struggled with this idea for years and don’t fully subscribe to it. When I was ill, one of the only things that kept me going through the darkest of darks was that I was able to do some volunteering where I utilized my own experiences. When I was moderately ill I did more, and worked in the not-for-profit sector too, although sometimes feeling completely exhausted by it all.
I must admit however that when I entered recovery, I started having more energy and capacity to think beyond my own unwellness. It was like a toothache that takes all your attention because it’s sore and because you are trying to find a solution to the problem. When you finally think to go to the dentist who takes the pain away, you are left with a mind/body open to considering other things and void of pain. The possibilities this offers! And has done for me, for sure. I have been working full-time successfully for a year now. I have been studying, and applying to study some more. I have been writing, travelling, volunteering, spending time with friends, making new ones. Today though, as it is the day of the Finnish parliamentary elections, I want to discuss my very modest attempts at becoming (formally) political.
I joined a party a few years ago, as my ethos of ‘personal is political’ felt not enough anymore. I was a subscriber to the newsletter and a payer of the membership fee, but no more. However, during spring 2018 I felt brave and well enough to visit a meeting of my local Left Alliance section and since then I have been mildly following and slightly partaking in their activity. When the section’s candidates for the MP election were announced, I discovered one of them to be a totally cool human and offered my very modest support for her campaign. This has so far been few occasions of flyering for her, a meeting to hone in on the themes she is going to put forward in her campaign, attending a few election panels to show support and to hear/learn about interesting things and liking/sharing posts on social media. It’s not a lot, but I have found myself feeling very happy I am in some way involved in supporting a good human being to get to the Palace of Big Decisions. Of course, I am at the same time supporting the party too, and have hung out at the election hub in town, giving out coffee, newspapers, arguing with eccentrics and conversing with various interested voters-to-be. During this time I have discovered something: I know almost nothing about the cold, hard facts behind the arguments parties, such as the Left Alliance, want to put forward. Sure I know the general ethos and supported themes of the party, for that is why I support them, but there is so much to learn when it comes to numbers, laws, technicalities etc.
My ‘problem’ is that I have always been too interested in the individuals, and their experiences. My own, and others’. Facts are not people and so I struggle to remember them. Of course in party politics the point is that the big decisions and the best argumentation leading to them will affect the individual, but darn it, I am just so much more drawn to the grassroots or one up level, such as the 3rd sector (where I will be working from tomorrow onwards again, woop woop). However, going back to the oxygen mask, I think my responsibility as a well-off human is to act in this world in a way that facilitates the well-being of others, and as I am now well-oxygened, I should do what I can for those wilting presently.
I suppose one could argue that a human, brought into this world because of some freak accident, instead of their own doing, cannot be held responsible for anything. One could argue we have a right to live our lives without ‘giving back’ as long as we’re not hurting anyone. Mmm-hmm, but I have chosen differently. I have chosen to believe I have a duty of care, and a responsibility, and I am happy to fulfil it, or at least try, in my day-to-day life. Attempting to live out my values in everyday life makes me happy. I think being involved in formal politics will be another way of partaking in political action, something I do, in an informal way, many many times every day. I recognise my need to learn more about party politics and effective ways to influence decision making, and I look forward to many years of lessons. Meanwhile, I am happy to support my party in ways that don’t require political wizardry and super-expertise.
All this makes me ponder, and I have been thinking about my own journey and how others become interested in politics or do not. When I’ve met people from the party I can’t help feeling so dumb and old sometimes when speaking to folk who are 10 or more years younger than me and already so well-versed in Finnish politics and beyond. In those situations I try to extend some self-compassion however, and think about what resources I have had in the past to think beyond my own situation. Limited, for many years.
Some people never become politically aware or interested and this is something I think about too. Some families nurture activism and some have other interests. A person without a home or with a drug problem may have less capacity to consider political action than someone with a stabler circumstance. Someone in an environment that supports action to promote the values one believes in may become active where another doesn’t. It’s hard to see outside one’s own box, especially if the walls are glued tightly shut. You may need a very persuasive hammer.
Anywhoo…this rambling post has been about how I think every should, in their own capacity, and if they can, be a political animal. Political action can take so many forms beyond party politics, and party politics are nothing to be afraid of either. It turns out, the people of the Left Alliance are normal people too. They take public transport, eat in cafes, take their kids to nursery. They’d like a better future for those kids and have thus entered the realm of formal politics. I’ve dipped my toe in, and it’s a start.