Weekly Blog: Catherine Beaumont - Advice For Activists
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Posted on: 27th July 2021

In 1966 a young Jim Forest wrote a letter to his friend Thomas Merton in which he described feelings of discouragement and despair at the apparent failure of the anti-war campaign he was involved in. Reading the letter reminded me of some of the conversations I have had recently, whether we were talking about racism, asylum justice, or community development, like Forrest, we are disappointed that despite our best efforts nothing seems to change and sometimes things get worse. Many of us, too, are weary of empty words and ideological discussions.

In his reply, Merton suggests that some of his friend’s bleak mood is a result of tiredness. Advice to rest is probably something all activists have received at some time or another, but Merton goes further than recommending rest and self-care, he diagnoses the cause of the problem and offers an alternative way of working which will not result in burn-out.

He says that activists are sustained by hope and when hopes are not realised, the initial energy and enthusiasm are lost. Placing hope in results could well disappoint, sometimes the work of the activist will achieve no results at all and may even appear worthless.

His advice is, instead of hoping for results, to focus instead on the value of the work itself, and not to devote ourselves to causes but to the relationships, we have with individual people.  Our hopes should not be in what we think we can do, but in God. The best we can do is allow ourselves to be used in obedience to God’s Love, knowing that God’s purposes will be worked out through us, even when we cannot see results.

12 years after his death Merton’s letter was edited and published and became  known as ‘Letter to a Young Activist’

Follow this link to read the full version of both letters and to learn more about the context in which they were written.

By Catherine Beaumont.

LCCT Project Manager

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