As with the previous stage, this step is also divided into personal challenges on the one hand, and, on the other, interpersonal challenges that may crop up among those already engaged. Let’s start again with possible challenges within ourselves, because if they are not overcome nothing else is likely to work.

Personal challenges

Engaging with a change ‘in theory’ is, of course, not enough. Armchair activism is rarely sufficient to make a difference. However, many people do not go much further because of intrapersonal challenges that they encounter in the process – these challenges are easy to neglect when we focus on the social issues. The globally dominant system, capitalism, uses various means to manipulate people: subtle (and not so subtle) forms of indoctrination through the media and selective education; temptations through consumerism; and various forms of pressure through, for example, financial insecurity and monetary entanglements such as mortgages and other forms of debt. Nobody is completely immune to such influences, which are easily internalised and become a challenge when we try to engage with making social change. Here are the most common ones:

Learned helplessness is one of the biggest successes of late capitalism. You have probably already heard something like “Yes, the system is not perfect, but there is no alternative…” This and other similar tropes are created to indoctrinate the electorate in the belief that there is no point in trying to change the system. Such a belief can be manifested as despair, resignation and cynicism (“What’s the point? You can never beat the system.”). Yet, in the last two centuries, major changes have been achieved by ordinary people (200 years ago slavery was legal; barely 100 years ago women could not vote; 60 years ago being gay was an imprisonable offence in most countries in the world). All these aberrations were overturned, thanks to those who did not accept learned helplessness. So, refuse to believe that you are powerless; the evidence shows that you are not.

Anger: it is hard to contribute constructively to social change if we are angry. We may sometimes even feel that the world going to hell would be the best thing, because we are angry with injustice or unfairness, and feel helpless to change them. These are two ingredients for anger, and if one of them is not present anger is unlikely to take hold. We cannot make unfairness and injustice suddenly disappear. Even if, by some magic, we could, it would not necessarily be a good thing. A sense of unfairness and injustice may be a driving force of our collective development. On the other hand, we don’t need to carry the sense of helplessness and powerlessness with us. We can get rid of it by trying to do something. As this sense is necessary for anger, reducing it would reduce anger too. Ronaldo Lemos, a lawyer who oversaw a successful legislative crowd-sourcing campaign in Brazil, says “In the end, I think, ager is helpful – but you shouldn’t respond only by being angry, you have to transform that into a constructive proposition and alternative to what you are angry about” (Whitford, 2016). It doesn’t even matter if what we do will bear fruit or not – what matters is that we try.

Tiredness: with all the technology around us these days, we probably work more than ever (especially if we are American or Japanese). This is not an accident – it serves the system well. If people are kept busy all the time, they will find it difficult to think and question, let alone do something about the system in which they live. After long working hours and taking care of the home and kids, it is not surprising that the vast majority of people at the end of the day just want to slump in front of the TV with a drink at their side. But this, of course, won’t get us anywhere. Fortunately, it is possible to rest and still contribute. Rest is primarily about a change. If you have spent all day in front of a computer, good rest could be doing something physical, that can also be productive and useful. For example, growing your own vegetables, helping your neighbours, taking a shift at a local soup kitchen, running an activity with local kids, delivering leaflets and so on. On the other hand, if your work is physically demanding, you could do something sedentary, such as online projects or activities.

If you are also interested in the larger picture – how these social processes fit within the evolution and meaning of life as a whole, please visit

Indolence: Nowadays, it is not only easy to be lazy but also to justify laziness. All the props that surround us, such as television, social media, easily accessible games, gambling and porn sites, encourage us to be passive or provide us with an illusion of activity. Overcoming this hurdle is difficult at the beginning but gets easier in time, as being socially proactive is ultimately more satisfactory. If you hear yourself saying “I can’t be bothered…” or something like that, acknowledge your feeling and just make a start with something small and manageable, one thing at a time. When you achieve that one thing, try something else – in time the reluctant voice will get quieter and quieter. If possible, be creative and make the engagement fun rather than another chore. Getting involved with other like-minded people can help sustain motivation.

Indulgence: The late 1960s were truly evolutionary. But within a few years, free love descended into sexual debauchery and abuse; a genuine desire to expand consciousness ended up in banal drug misuse; and yearning for more freedom was quenched by greater variety of consumer products that were little more than ego trips. This shows how easy it is to succumb to a hedonistic part of our nature, especially if the system titillates and encourages us to do so. Satisfying our needs is necessary and enjoying life is energising, but indulgence based on consumerism is different. We not only get addicted to certain things; we get addicted to pleasure itself. The first step of dealing with this challenge is to recognise that the system has got under your skin. When tempted, keep a bigger picture in mind and ask yourself what is more important. You need to take responsibility for how you set up your priorities. This is not to say that convenience, for example, should be completely disregarded, but nor should it be the only factor when making decisions.

Personal stuff: Many of us carry around baggage, from personal traumas, regrets, relationship issues, unhealthy habits and so on. Creating change is often like a marathon that requires being in a good shape – physically and mentally. So, clean up your mess – but optimally, otherwise you will keep cleaning forever[1]. Some insist on people putting their own house in perfect order before trying to change the world[2], but this is just a cynical reactionary ploy to discourage people from engaging, as of course, we can never put our house in perfect order. In fact, you may even find that engaging with social change can help you deal with your own issues.

Fear and anxiety: Doubts can be good, but if fuelled by fear and anxiety they can be paralysing and, if you succumb to them, will make you miserable. Granted, it is hard to fight or suppress these feelings, but we can learn how to use them. Let’s take fear first. You might be worried about losing your job. If so, turn it into motivation to consider what you can do to avoid losing your job, and also what you could do if you did lose it. Having considered the latter, you may even find that losing your job may not be that bad and may be conducive to making contributions to social changes. Now, anxiety is different from fear – it is about uncertainty rather than an imminent danger (for example, the prospect of looking foolish, being publicly criticised or even arrested when making a stand on a social issue). There is no answer to uncertainty; we just need to learn to live with it. Whatever you do, whatever you choose, uncertainty will be there, in one form or another. This is not bad news. As long as there is uncertainty, there is hope. Anxiety is only bad if it gets out of control – in the right measure, it can actually be a good motivator. Civil courage is not about being fearless, but choosing to walk with fear and anxiety.

Love is great, but can make you turn away from other things – especially if your loved ones do not share your passion for contributing to social change. If they do, you are lucky. Appreciate that, and don’t be petty about other, less important things. If your loved ones are not on the same page as you, trying to change them will not work; it is likely to just increase their resistance. A truce may be best you can achieve. Love them for what they are – otherwise, you don’t actually love them, but what you want them to be. Of course, the same should apply the other way around. If they love you, they will love you for what you are – including your love for humanity and wanting to make the world a better place. If they can’t accept that, they don’t love you but what they want you to be.

Ego trips can easily spoil good work. We are all born and live in a system that is based on the zero-sum game. It is not surprising, then, that when we invest in social change, we expect some parity. Such expectations can take two forms:

  • If we are not successful, we may grow resentful, and even feel like a martyr: “I sacrificed so much…”. If you are going in that direction, stop. We can never fully know the consequences of our actions. What we consider failure may not be. Don’t ruin the potential effects of your actions by assuming that you have failed, because if you do, others are likely to follow. After all, Jesus had only a small number of disciples when he was crucified. If he thought of himself as a failure, it is unlikely that the number of his followers would have grown much.
  • If we are successful, we may feel a sense of entitlement: “I am doing so much for society so I deserve some special treatment”. This is a well-known phenomenon in psychology. People who feel that they have been very good in one way make allowances for themselves in other ways. The taller we are, the longer our shadow is. So, how do we deal with this? Saying to yourself “I am not special, what I have done is nothing” will not do. False modesty doesn’t deal well with the excitement of success. You can try something like this instead: “I did a very good job, I am fulfilling my purpose and I shall not ruin all that good work myself. I deserve a nice cup of tea and a good night’s sleep. Tomorrow is another day.” If you still wonder what your reward is in all that, the answer is a meaningful life.

If you are also interested in personal development that can help you make some evolutionary changes in your own life please visit

Interpersonal challenges (among the engaged)

People who are engaged usually form or join groups, communities or movements. This, however, creates its own challenges. Let’s discuss the most common ones[3]:

Activist righteousness (AR): activism is, of course, all about fighting for a cause, but that cause can sometimes get the better of us. In an attempt to be cleaner then clean in fighting oppression, AR can ruthlessly tear apart many well-meaning people and create yet another form of oppression. As Frances Lee, an activist himself, concludes, “I am not the first nor the last to point out that these movements for liberation and justice are exhibiting the same oppressive patterns that we are fighting against in larger society.” This happens because AR is more interested in local power than helping society as a whole to evolve. Those who display AR never doubt their righteousness, which is why they prefer a monological discourse to a dialogue. Fear and intimidation, rather than inclusiveness and cooperation, rule. The Cultural Revolution in China is a historical example of the devastation that AR can cause when unleashed on a large scale[4]. AR has never gone nearly that far in the West, but it still plays into the hands of the system there. As Lee points out, the tactics AR uses (call-outs, mobbing, shunning, shaming, censorship) “…hold back movements by alienating both potential allies and their own members”. In summary, AR is internally disruptive and divisive, it disaffects those sympathetic to the cause, and gives ammunition to the other side. So, what can be done about it? As with any other form of righteousness, dealing with AR is hard because its adherents challenge but do not allow themselves to be challenged, so a dual approach is suggested: hard boundaries with a soft core. The former is the response to actions and may require fighting fire with fire. It means standing firm when protecting values such as non-oppression (of everyone), forging rather than imposing consensus, equality, freedom, and being able safely to share one’s views without retribution. In other words, making clear that using righteousness as an excuse for emotional and verbal abuse and the tyrannical imposition of one’s own views is unacceptable. The soft core, meanwhile, implies that even if AR is not accepted, the person displaying it is, with empathy and compassion. If possible, it is good to discuss the contradictions and negative consequences of AR and suggest that we need to be tolerant of small differences in order to address big ones. If none of the above works, AR must be isolated to minimise potential damage. Building a new world together and retribution cannot go side by side forever – we all need to choose our priority.

Power can become an issue, especially between leaders and the grassroots. Both are important and depend on each other. There is no movement without the grassroots, but charismatic leaders can also matter as they can galvanise the masses and become a focal point (it can be telling to compare, for example, the civil rights movement led by Martin Luther King in the US in the 1960s and the more recent Black Lives Matter movement). However, charismatic leaders have a tendency to start believing that they are always right, which can alienate many. This is not surprising: after all, it is known that power produces natural opiates in the brain. Furthermore, those leaders constantly feel under siege, not only from their enemies but from supposed ‘friends’ too. The concern that their hard work might be hijacked is often justified. The trouble is that they themselves can actually hijack social change too (which is what happened in Iran in the so-called Islamic Revolution in 1979[5]). This is why a balance of power is crucial. If you are a leader, listen, explain and delegate; remain open minded; don’t forget that the cause is and should always remain greater than the leader. If you are an activist who feels that the leader is not doing a good job, don’t challenge his or her role or position – doing so could create a split within the movement or make the leader adopt an even more entrenched position. Challenge the course of action by offering an alternative scenario. Speak to other grassroots activities and try to gain support for your perspective, but always keep doors open in both directions and be willing to talk.

Debating matters, not only to find the best ways forward, but also to balance power. However, excessive debating has led to the demise of numerous initiatives and movements, particularly on the left. Some cooperatives, for example, have failed for this reason. Debating too much can make decision making prohibitively slow and even paralyse it. It also consumes time and energy, and can kill the enthusiasm of those who are more interested in actions than words. For these reasons, some checks and balances might be necessary:

  • The greater the number of participants in a debate, the stricter the time limit needs to be. Two people may debate all night without much harm, but if fifty people are involved and the debate goes over time, many will be disgruntled.
  • Some people just like talking. In a group of about fifteen, there will be at least one person who will try to dominate the debate. Such people need to be contained by reigning in any digressions, imposing a time limit on individual contributions to the debate if necessary, and ensuring equal opportunities for everybody. For example, those who have not spoken can be prioritised over those who already have (the old-fashioned practice of raising a hand before talking is still invaluable for this purpose). You may lose one or two people in this way, but you will keep many more.
  • If you are thinking of participating in a debate, it is a good idea to think in advance which point is the most important for you. A debate topic usually consists of many inter-related issues, which is why debates frequently go off at a tangent. Try to unpack them (this is like unclenching one’s fist, noticing five digits and then focusing on one of them). Decide which point you want to home in on when debating, and agree with, or at least be neutral, about the others.

Disagreements about how to move forward are usually resolved by voting, but this may leave many people who lose the vote discontented. So, unless the vote is overwhelming, the group could be split in two (or more) smaller groups or teams who can try to find different ways of achieving the end goal. This may sound counterintuitive. Isn’t fragmentation bad? Yes, but overt splitting is less likely to lead to fragmentation than covert splitting (which usually happens when a substantial minority is forced into line). Furthermore, internal competition in action may be more useful than verbal competition. Practice will show which way is better (or that the two ways are complementary), and when this happens, people will get together again without being pushed to do so.

Disunity: many good initiatives do not succeed because the opposition to the existing system is disunited. Rather than changing the system, they fight each other. To avoid this, remember that not everything can instantly be made right. Some groups and individuals may differ, sometimes substantially. But are these differences so important to make us lose sight of the greater prize? Let’s make changes first –there will be plenty of time to argue about details later.

Revolutionary zeal: there will always be angry or impatient people who would like a quick change, and to them revolution may be more appealing then evolution. These are those who would rather fight than create. It is, of course, worthwhile trying to reason with them, but talking may not always work. If this is the case, it may be better to let them go than to try to contain them. History shows that revolutionary zeal can be too dangerous to give it a change to take over. However, if possible, those people shouldn’t be alienated either. When the forces supporting the existing system start lashing out (see below), revolutionaries may play an important role not so much in overthrowing the old (which can be left to spontaneous processes), but in protecting the new against turning the chance into something even worse.

Isolationism: Some people reject mainstream social life and attempt to create their own local paradise, usually in a geographically remote place. Although they may not contribute directly to change, such experiments can still have a great value, as much can be learned from their experiences. Isolationism is more often though manifested as inward-looking, self-ghettoisation within wider society, which can lead to an ‘us v. them’ mentality (‘them’ being everybody else). In extreme cases, this can turn into a movement or community close to something like a sect or cult. To avoid this, every group needs be fluid to some extent. In other words, there should be some degree of permeability between the inside and the outside. Connections and collaboration with other groups and multiple belonging can go a long way into avoiding a largely unhelpful in-group / out-group attitude, as well as black-and-white thinking.

Excessive optimism (utopianism): Good ideas can change the world, but the reality of implementation can corrupt even the best ideas. What could be better than renewable energy suppliers? Well, even the most determined customers would give up if it takes a half an hour for their customer service to answer a call. It’s an unfortunate fact of life that things usually do not run smoothly. Even with a perfect system (and there is no perfect system), things would not run smoothly, as this would require perfect people and you can’t expect those who were born into and live in a dying system to be perfect. Hope is essential, optimism is good, but excessive optimism is a recipe for a failure. It is important that any organisation or movement is prepared for reality to kick in and for various challenges along the way.

[1] can offer helpful tips on how to do this.
[2] In recent years a regressive writer, Jordan Peterson, has been advocating this.
[3] Practical challenges such as money, time, space, organisation, etc. are not discussed here as they differ from case to case and cannot be meaningfully generalised.
[4] The Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) was carried out mostly by young people who saw themselves as, and in many ways were, grassroot activists. China’s leader, Mao Zedong, utilised and encouraged their righteousness in a fight with his own Communist Party after his attempts at economic reform led to mass starvation. However, things got so out of control that he had to quickly stop this destructive force, send young people to the countryside for ‘re-education’, and bring in a de facto military dictatorship.
[5] The revolution that was begun by secular, educated Iranians as a protest against the dictatorship of the Shah was hijacked by Islamic clerics, led by Ayatollah Khomeini, for their own purposes. The first victims of the new regime were the students and others who started the revolution in the first place.

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