Be the Campfire, Not the Forest Fire

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“You must be the change you wish to see in the world” -Gandhi

Be the Campfire, Not the Forest Fire

By Zoe Weil, Institute for Humane Education

There’s a metaphor I like to use when talking to fellow activists. I ask them to imagine two fires. The first is a campfire in an opening in the woods. The fire is warm and bright and draws people toward it. They are eager to find a place around the fire, and their beautiful faces glow in the reflected light. They feel good. There is nowhere they’d rather be. The second is a forest fire. It blazes hot and out of control, everyone people and animals alike flees.

Each of us has a fire inside of us. It is the fire of our passions and our beliefs, and all of us who are activists know it well. It is the fire that spurs us to learn about what is happening on our planet to people, animals, and the environment and it is the fire that spurs us to action to solve the crises we face and challenge the atrocities that still pervade our world. It is often a blazing hot fire. And sometimes, when we have burned out, it is a barely glowing ember. (There is a reason for the term “burned out” after all.)

As change agents, we have a choice about what sort of fire we will be. Will we be the warm campfire that draws people towards us so that we can share what we know and inspire others to make a difference, or will we be the forest fire that rages too hot, causing people to run from us? This is one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves because the fire we cultivate makes an enormous difference in our effectiveness as changemakers.

But as we know, fire is not static, so whatever fire you have been or are today is subject to change. Fires die out if we don’t add fuel, and the sparks that fly off of them can ignite infernos if we add too much fuel too quickly. As change agents, we must seek that perfect balance, adding enough fuel in the form of knowledge and resources to burn just hot enough to ignite change without igniting a conflagration. We will know if our fire needs more fuel if we are not doing the work that must be done and aren't inspiring others to join us, and we will know if we need to let up on the fuel if people avoid us. If we’ve been activists for a long time, we may have noticed that our fiery youth has diminished too much. If we are new to changemaking, we may need to take great care in cultivating our fire so it doesn’t burn too hot.

Tend your fire carefully. The world needs you to burn just right.