Are You Using Activism as a Personality Trait?

Photo by Felicia Buitenwerf on Unsplash

So I have a problem.

I’ve noticed that lately, in a variety of awkward forced-icebreaker rounds and on social media profiles, I’ve been introducing myself from the start (after my name because I’m not that obsessed) as a ‘climate writer.’ Sometimes ‘activist,’ depending what kind of impression I want to give out. Then I just stop and let what I hope to be impressed silence hang there.

What’s wrong with that, you might ask? After all, it’s true. I do spend a disproportionate amount of time reading and writing about climate issues, liking other eco accounts on Instagram and getting into hypothetical angry arguments with politicians in my head which always culminate in me making some show-stoppingly good point that everyone applauds. I wax lyrical about my reusable cup and support zero waste shops.

All the classic symptoms of a climate activist.

But putting it at the first and often only fact about myself when given the opportunity to present myself has a second function. Self-introductions and bios aren’t just a list of facts. They represent how a person wants to be seen, with all the implications that go with it.

Recently a new psychology study identified some key personality traits that are more closely associated with environmentalism and eco-friendly behaviours. The study found that people who are pro-environmental tend to be more open to experience, honest and humble, and conscientious. This is not a huge shock (and not just because it makes us sound great): people actively engaged in climate issues tend to be more informed, exposed to new ideas, and more aware of the need for collective social change.

(Side note: The study also discusses how far the results reflect that climate messaging is not reaching people who have different personality traits. It’s super interesting and I recommend having a read).

Are you as conscientious as this random girl? Photo by Anna Earl on Unsplash

Of course, not everybody in the world knows this and thinks that a climate activist is by default open-minded, agreeable and smart. There are still (somehow) whole groups of people who will grumble about how ‘excessive’ climate strikes are and stare at you in confusion when you order the vegan option — saying something like ‘oh you’re one of those are you?’

But who hasn’t also had the experience of saying you’re a climate activist and immediately been told how great that is, how we need more people like us, followed by a self-deprecating comment about how ‘I should really be doing more myself.’ Activism of any sort does imply several things: that you’re passionate about an issue, that you’re willing to actively speak out for what you want, and that you’re informed about current affairs. All of these are appealing traits to many people.

So it’s no doubt then, that when I put ‘climate activist’ in my profile or in my introduction, I’m also benefiting from those associations. That on some, largely unconscious level, I’m hoping that that short title will convey to people someone enthusiastic, mindful of the environment and keen to change. And all of this is in the words, before even explaining what specific actions I do or don’t take.

But I must not be satisfied just to rest in the knowledge that I can classify myself as an activist. Just saying it benefits nobody except myself. It is important to have an identity beyond that for two reasons.

Firstly, anyone can call themselves an activist. But — cliche incoming — actions speak louder than words. Whether you’re writing or protesting or lobbying the city council, your values and integrity shine through. Activism isn’t a personality trait that will still be true if you do nothing except lie in bed all day, it’s an ongoing activity. Hence act in the name.

Secondly, my entire identity shouldn’t be ‘activist.’ People working to make change happen encompass an incredibly diverse range of individuals, from vastly different backgrounds and experiences and with different opinions about the best way to achieve the same goal.

So we shouldn’t forget what other traits make us individual and that allow us our unique experience of activism. Yes, even the non-climate parts of our identity. I’m a climate activist (the word is starting to lose all meaning now) but I’m also a linguistics graduate. A British citizen. A middle-class white person living in the EU bubble. I know a few too many facts about the Vikings.

Michael Scott commenting on how we should not reduce ourselves to one facet of our identity but rather embrace our individuality. Maybe.

I could go on but it looks a bit weird to line up this series of extremely mundane facts about myself. You get the point. Really — my identity is not ‘a climate activist.’ It might overlap with many aspects of my life — identity isn’t something that should be dissected into separate boxes — but ultimately I am a person who does climate activism, and other things too.

This was meant to be a short blog but clearly I love talking about myself. I’m trying desperately to find a non-cheesy way to highlight that we’re all individual and should appreciate how those unique parts of our background, skills and expertise form both who we are, our role in current issues, and the value we hold.

Yes that’s cheesy, I know, I’m sorry, I’m really leaving now.

I write about climate action and citizen activism. If you want to hear more like this or just want to say hi, you can follow me here or find me on Instagram @coffee_and_casstaways, Twitter @casstaways, or email me at casshebron@gmail.com.

Environmental journalism. Overcaffeinated and underwhelmed by the current state of affairs. Had a reusable mug before it was cool. www.thegreenfix.substack.com

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