I sat down at my computer today intending to edit an essay tentatively titled The (Un)Interpellated Voter, where I discuss Judith Butler’s critique of Louis Althusser’s theory of interpellation and apply it to tribalism and polarization in America. But when I sat down and looked up at the white board above my computer, I no longer had the strength of mind to take on such a task. There on my white board, written in my unimpressive script, is everything I’ve joyfully taken responsibility for. I see essays and books I need to read, videos on registering first time voters and hour-long webinars on dismantling white supremacy I need to watch, campaigns I need to coordinate, volunteers I need to contact, and strategies I need to fine-tune. The white board above my computer is my compass for growth, helping me focus my energy and granting me the satisfaction of erasing completed tasks. My list empowers me; it grounds a soul so easily swept away. But today is different. Today, a day marked by weeks of social and emotional challenges, I looked up at my white board and felt a profound sense of loss, a bone-deep ache that reverberated through my body and left me shaking with hopelessness.

There’s a not-so-well-kept secret among socially conscious empaths. We don’t talk about it much, at least not in this capacity, because there’s usually so much joy in our passion—in our call for peace and justice. There’s so much pure, unadulterated joy in the purposeful energy we put out into this world. But the truth is, the secret we empaths keep, is that every moment of our pursuit is marked by pain. It hurts to care this much, and every time someone shows how much they don’t care, it feels like the air has been sucked out of our lungs and we’ve been forced to just watch it float away. Every time our family and friends wield the power of ideology like a scythe, cutting down and through anyone who does not conform, our hope — the light that guide us — flickers. An empath’s light is constantly flickering. Our path is littered with things we wish we would’ve said, comments we shouldn’t have made, and conversations we weren’t prepared to have. And when our light goes out — because over and over our light goes out and we are plunged into the kind of darkness people don’t like to talk about — when our light goes out, we rely on the light of others to reignite us.

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But why would we continuously subject ourselves to such pain? What moves a socially conscious empath to continue on a path labeled “soft?” What kind of person allows themselves to be repeatedly made fun of for being vulnerable? For giving a damn? I’ll tell you. It’s the kind of person who wields courage instead of complacency.

Most people want to be easy-going and well-liked. They don’t want to make waves. It’s easy to be silent or to make a joke. It’s easy to be complicit. It’s not hard to turn off the world and care only for you and yours. It’s not easy to question someone’s thinking. It’s not easy to speak up or speak out. It’s terrifying to make yourself vulnerable to the attacks of the carefree. It takes an incredible amount of courage to allow yourself to be repeatedly broken by the world. Being soft is brave. Being soft in a world that so often tries to sculpt us into crisp and rigid copies of one another is an act of conscious defiance. We are at our most rebellious when we decide to care.

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If you know a socially conscious empath, if you love someone who loves just as much as you do, check on one another from time to time. The choice to do the hard thing, the brave thing, is a defiance that has to be chosen over and over again, and it only gets harder the longer we stand — especially if we stand alone. It’s only by standing together that we can reignite the light of our neighbor, our friend, the stranger on the street and the sister we couldn’t live without. It’s only by recognizing your bravery that I have the strength to pull myself back out of oblivion. So thank you, my fellow socially conscious emapths. In our joyful purpose we will find new paths toward our goals, in our unending bravery we can persuade others to join our cause, and in our resounding commitment we will fight for a more just and peaceful world.

Compassion is our weapon. Courage is our armor. Caring is our rebellion.