She said, "Do you think there are others in the world doing just what we're doing right now?"
He said, "I hope so; otherwise, what are we trying to save?"
In the counterjihad movement, we know what we're trying to save, don't we? We're trying to save the Western world, freedom and democracy. Why? Because Western-style democracy is the best system ever invented to allow people to pursue happiness. It is worth protecting. It's worth defending. But do we have to be miserable to do it?
Each of us discovered Islam's prime directive, and each of us felt motivated to help others learn about the basic elements of Islam, and most of us ran face-first into a wall of anger and resistance and argument and judgment and self-righteousness, and our desire to simply help educate our fellow non-Muslims has become a stressful, eternally-upsetting, arduous chore.
Many drop out of the counterjihad movement because of the stress. They've lost friends. They've alienated relatives. Their life has become no fun. They've lost their happiness.
So they drop out. They burn out. They stop talking about it. The whole exercise seems futile, upsetting, and unbearably frustrating. They think to themselves, "It is going to take a nuclear weapon going off in downtown Chicago before these idiots will wake up." And they give up the fight and leave it to fate.
We can't afford to lose these people. We need to not only educate our fellow non-Muslims, but we need to keep the educated ones in the fight with us. We need to prevent the burnout. That means we need to make sure fighting the good fight doesn't make us so miserable.
Another good reason to focus some attention on this issue is that (as every sales organization has discovered) people who are unhappy are lousy at influencing others. Most people are repelled and repulsed by unhappy, angry, frustrated, depressed people. Nobody wants to listen to someone like that. People don't want to be influenced by someone like that. People don't want to become like that.
So how can we remain in the counterjihad and still be happy? As silly as it may sound, this is an important question.
We have one thing working in our favor already: Having a meaningful purpose contributes greatly to a feeling of happiness and fulfillment. And if there is one thing we all share in the counterjihad movement, it is a meaningful feeling of purpose. This is usually ruined, however, by living in a permanent state of upset, anger, and frustration.
How can we keep the positive feeling of a fulfilling purposefulness while reducing the negative, stressful emotions? If we can solve that problem, fewer of us would drop out of the fight, and our effectiveness would increase.
I don't think there is a single answer to this question. But we have many things we can do to reduce the stressfulness of our purpose and allow us to feel happier while still being a dedicated citizen warrior. For example:
1. Collect and associate with allies. Stay in communication with others in the counterjihad movement. This lowers the stressful feeling of being an isolated outcast. Find like-minded people on Facebook. Join ACT! for America and attend their meetings. Join Infidels United and check in every day. Knowing you have people on your side, knowing you're not alone, reduces stress.
2. Improve your effectiveness. Add new skills to your persuasion repertoire. Add new approaches. Success is uplifting. Failure is frustrating and demoralizing. So the better you get at reaching people — the better you get at making your message penetrate and have an impact — the less stressful the process is.
3. Use a stress-reduction technique. There are many different ways to directly reduce stress (see a good list of them here). Find one that works for you and do it when you feel too stressed out. It can make a huge difference in your feeling of well-being and happiness. It's healthy too.
4. Connect with people you love. Connecting produces oxytocin, an anti-stress hormone researchers believe is the antidote or counterbalance to stress hormones. One hormone (adrenaline) is for revving up your system to deal with threats; the other hormone (oxytocin) is for calming you down and rejuvenating and healing. Make sure these stay in balance.
5. Avoid talking about or reading about Islam an hour before bedtime. This habit has helped me a lot. It makes my sleep more restful. Try it and see if it works the same for you.
6. Use a mental checklist like cognitive distortions occasionally to clear your mind. It can greatly reduce your feelings of stress and reveal ways to think differently that can prevent stress in the future.
7. Don't try to do everything. Focus on the one aspect of the purpose that interests you most and that you are most motivated to do. Relax by reminding yourself that there are many of us with you in this fight, and we each have our own specialities and inclinations, and trust that all of it will be done. You can focus on the one thing you're most compelled to do and let the rest go. Let others do what they do, and you do what you do.
8. Don't watch much mainstream news. Don't overdo it on the news, period. Especially watching news; it is stressful and can be demoralizing. When mainstream news talks about Islam, the amount of distortion can be downright maddening. Take it in small doses.
9. Do less of the actual persuasion yourself and let DVDs, books, and articles do some of the work for you. Many people will automatically discount what you say about Islam, no matter how much you know, because they don't consider you an authority. This can be frustrating and stressful. But when they watch DVDs showing interviewed experts, they might be more inclined to accept the information. Not only that, but a 90-minute DVD can deliver a lot of information, saving you time and trouble. Focus on persuading people to watch a DVD rather than focusing on persuading them to listen to you about Islam. It's a more efficient use of your time. Learn more about sharing DVDs and articles.
10. Do your best to see things from the other side's point of view. We often get into a right-wrong, us-versus-them, all-or-nothing position, and part of the reason this is stressful is that the world is not as black-and-white as this oppositional stance tries to make it. The other side of this worldwide debate has some legitimate points, and it eases a lot of stress (and makes your arguments more persuasive) to understand those legitimate points and to graciously concede them.
11. Be committed to perpetual learning. Every time something stresses you out, take the time to improve yourself. What can you do differently next time that will make it less stressful? The process of learning and growing itself can give you a lift and reduce stress.
That's our list so far. Please add your own ideas in the comments, or email them to me and I'll post them here for you. Let's help each other fight the good fight and be happy too.
- Excerpted from the book, Getting Through: How to Talk to Non-Muslims About the Disturbing Nature of Islam.