This was originally posted on the Voices of CAA Blog, which got fatally dismembered in a CMS upgrade.

I’m at AR2007 here in sunny, smoggy LA, and last night was the opening plenary. I had a lot of thoughts during this session, which at a little over two hours, was way too long for me to focus. I guess I’m a child of video games when it comes to my attention span.

Thought number one was that there seem to be a lot of people emotionally moved by just about everything related to animals. Nearly every mention of some type of cruelty was accompanied by mutters, hisses, and expressions of sadness or outrage.

Now, it’s not that I think cruelty to animals is a good thing, but honestly, almost none of this stuff moves me. I can’t help thinking “yeah, so what?” Yes, hunting deer is cruel, but what do you want me to do about it? That may sound funny coming from an activist, but cruelty in the world is nearly limitless, both for animals and humans.

The question, then, is how can you have an impact? Well, I can tell you how not to have an impact, and that’s to respond to every injustice.  Spread yourself too thin, over-commit, and drain yourself emotionally. This is the path to burnout, and worse, it’s not even going to help much.

So back to my title, “Focus!” That’s what I wanted to tell everyone who responded to every outrage with fresh indignation. Focus your passion, and spend it wisely, because it’s not an infinite resource. Pick a single focused cause, continually evaluate your strategies and tactics, and keep at it until you’ve achieved something.

That’s what we’ve done at CAA. We focus on factory farming, and we do it through education and outreach. But I don’t want to just toot our own horn, so I’ll also mention Circus Reform Yes!. They’re a local group working on the task of banning wild animal circuses in Minneapolis. Now that’s focused. They picked one issue (circuses), picked one location (Minneapolis), and one tactic (legislation), and they’ve worked at it for years, persistently and patiently.

Back when I had my first job out of grad school, I remember going to some sort of training where they talked about Stephen Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Now, it’s a cheesy title, and I don’t know if I got anything out of it for work, but one thing stuck with me as an activist.

This was the concept of “circle of concern” and “circle of influence”. The basic idea is that the set of things we’re concerned with is always much larger than the set of things over which we have influence. If we try to have an impact in our entire circle of concern, we will over-extend ourselves and fail. If instead, we take stock and figure out what thing we can influence, we can be successful.

So focus!

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