Change Needs More Than Slacktivism

Bell Let’s Talk Day. Since 2010, the campaign has committed more than $100 million to mental health initiatives across Canada. In the past 6 years, initiatives such as this and Mental Health Awareness week has definitely helped to make gains in the fight against stigma. We are more educated and more aware than ever before.

But despite the gains that we have made, let’s not pat ourselves on the back just yet.

Last year on this day, I discussed how an initiative such as Let’s Talk Day .very important to me. Social media is a great thing in that, when used positively, it can helped to spread awareness at the touch of a finger. The better part is the fact that with every tweet or call made on the Bell network on this day, 5 cents will be donated to various mental health initiatives. This makes it easy for anyone to get behind an incredible cost with minimal cost to themselves.

At the same time, something like this makes it easy for anyone to get behind the same cost with minimal effort.

Enter: slactivism.

ryan gosling frustrated

20 years ago, before social media even existed and the Internet was a figment of our imaginations, activism took the form of sit ins, rallies, lobbying, petitioning and protests. There were people that were devoted to a cause – women’s rights, environmentalism, ending youth violence – and these people made it part of their life to fight for these causes.

The advent of hashtags and sharing articles on Facebook, it has become incredibly easy to learn about something, become temporarily moved or enraged, and then move on. In the sea of social media, it is sometimes difficult to differentiate between those that actually care and those that are just jumping onto the bandwagon. Hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter during the wake of police brutalities and shootings against African Americans in the United States and #JeSuisCharlie after the horrific shootings at the Charlie Hebdo offices in France brought major world incidents to life in an instantaneous fashion. Suddenly the entire world was able to connect and humanity was able to mourn together.

But simply hashtagging a cause ‘just because’ doesn’t really do anything substantial. Even in a case like Bell Let’s Talk, I know for a fact that my Twitter timeline will be flooded with #BellLetsTalk – I myself will be tweeting any chance I get. I’m not saying that what we are doing is wrong, but we need to remember that all of these causes extend just beyond the day itself. Activism and awareness should not just be a one day thing, it should be everyday.

A similar example comes with Pink Shirt Day and the quest to eliminate bullying from schools and workplaces. The students behind Pink Shirt Day were inspired to create this initiative in response to bullying that they saw against a male student who was wearing a pink shirt. Since its beginnings in 2007, Pink Shirt Day has been supported every year to raise awareness.

The idea is a great one, and the cause is one that is so important, especially since bullying is such a prevalent issue in our schools and workplaces. But wearing a pink shirt for a day isn’t going to solve anything in the long run, and neither is tweeting the hell out of a hashtag. Because if people fall back into their old ways after all the fanfare is over, then we are back to square one with nothing achieved. And unfortunately, this kind of behaviour happens more often than we’d like to think.

I’m not saying that we should boycott these initiatives. Obviously initiatives need to start somewhere, and this is how we get the discussions going.  We need to bring this dialogue into our homes, classrooms, and office spaces. It isn’t enough to have an anti-bullying day – we need to have anti-bullying everyday.

“Activism and awareness should not just be a one day thing, it should be everyday.”

We need to teach our students that every child has worth and value, regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or socioeconomic status. We need to teach empathy and acceptance of their classmates, and themselves. We need to educate our students on the important issues of the day and about the world in which they live in – a world where violence and indifference does exist. We need to inspire these students that this violence and indifference doesn’t have to exist if we take a stand together. That these students could be a generation where real change can happen.

But if we just resort to our little universes and strive after #squadgoals and just tweet things just to show other people that we actually care about current affairs, then our society will just plateau and go nowhere.

This year’s Bell Let’s Talk Day is on Wednesday, January 27. Definitely take part in the cause, because it’s a great one. But also remember what the purpose is, what the discussions are surrounding the cause, and consider doing some research or engaging in open dialogue with others on the topic if you find passion in it. And it doesn’t have to be mental health or bullying – whatever you care about and find passion in, I encourage you to learn more about it, see the different sides of the argument and see what you can do to help advance the cause.

Change needs more than slacktivism. Real change comes when we all come together and engage.

Let’s change the world!

x R