Dorcas Cheng-Tozun is the author of Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul. We asked her a few questions to learn more about the inspiration behind this inspiring guide for sensitive souls that expands the possibilities of how to have a positive social impact using the gifts and talents they offer to a hurting world.
What prompted you to write Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul?
This book attempts to answer some of the most fundamental questions that have plagued me for two decades. Since I was a college student, I have wanted to do social justice work. I’ve worked in areas of community development, youth leadership development, affordable housing, and global energy access. The work was wonderful, meaningful, and impactful.
But the personal cost for me was incredibly steep. I kept burning out over and over again, experiencing physical exhaustion and severe anxiety and depression. I had to leave every job after one or two years. Sometimes, it would take me months of rest and counseling to recover before I could move on to the next job.
It seemed so incongruent that the work I felt called to do, that made me feel most alive, also caused me deep pain and seemed wholly unsustainable. Only when I learned about highly sensitive people a few years ago and recognized that in myself did I begin to understand. I had been pursuing social activism in all the ways that I saw my non-sensitive counterparts doing. But what worked for them didn’t necessarily work for me and those like me.
What does it mean to “change the world in quiet ways”?
The stereotypical picture of an activist is someone who protests, marches, debates, and canvasses. We think of people like community organizers, lawyers, and orators—people who are vocal and up front—because that is what we see most often.
But every major social movement, from abolitionism and women’s suffrage to civil rights and disability rights, hasn’t been sustained only by these vocal few. At every pivotal moment in history up until today, there have been deeply committed activists who brought their skills and passions to causes in ways that did not necessarily attract the spotlight. They are office managers and documentarians. They are designers and engineers. They are poets and mentors. They are faithful souls who are talking with their friends and neighbors about important issues, or who are intentionally raising a socially responsible family, or who are addressing specific needs in their local communities.
Such activities often don’t make it into the history books. But they matter a great deal. They provide the scaffolding upon which social change is built. The activists who are vocal and up front can only influence change because they have an entire community of quiet social change agents supporting their efforts.
What are some of the main themes of Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul?
Through this book, I hope to challenge all of us to broaden our definition of social activism. With the incredibly diverse range of talents and interests, backgrounds and personalities around us, we should encourage one another to work for the social good in ways that are the best fit for who we are and what we can bring to a cause. Just as there is not only one solution to the many social challenges we face, there should not be only one kind of activist. Major social change is only possible if we encourage an array of efforts in all shapes and sizes that move us toward common goals.
A major part of expanding our definition of social activism is to embrace the sensitive souls among us. People who identify as highly sensitive, empathic, and introverted bring unique and beautiful gifts to social movements. They are essential to change efforts because of their compassion, empathy, wisdom, and inclusiveness. I hope that the sensitive individuals who read this book can truly understand why their contributions are so meaningful and so needed.
And finally, for those of us who care about long-term social progress, we need to think seriously about sustainability in social activism. We cannot continue to burn out the most caring and passionate among us by pressuring them to sacrifice everything—including relationships, mental health, and physical health—for the sake of a cause. We need to see the humanity in ourselves and our peers, and to honor the limitations of that humanity, even as we advocate for the humanity of others. I believe sensitive souls intuitively understand this because they feel so deeply. They can be leaders of a gentler, more compassionate approach to activism.
In your book, you identify six possible pathways for sensitive types. Which do you identify with the most? How do you see this play out in your life?
I identify with several of the pathways—and others may as well. We certainly don’t have to limit ourselves to one of those six or only those six. I am a connector; I love building relationships with people who are different from me. I’m a creator through my writing, especially when I get to write about important issues or tell inspiring stories. And writing is also my vehicle for recordkeeping, for making sure that perspectives and ideas we don’t always hear about get represented in the public sphere.
Who is the target audience for this book?
This book is for anyone who cares about social justice and also identifies as being highly sensitive, empathic, or introverted. Such individuals care deeply about making the world a better place and often are drawn to advocating for those who have been marginalized, oppressed, or ignored. But their deep emotions and thought processes can lead them to experience more frequent exhaustion and trauma when they engage with suffering in the world. For these individuals, of which I am definitely one, this book answers the question of how we engage in social justice work in a way that is meaningful, sustainable, and true to who we uniquely are.
What do you hope Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul does for readers’ lives and justice work?
I have heard from many people who want to engage in social justice work and yet don’t know how to approach it. They may find the idea of protesting or speaking at a city council meeting intimidating. They may not be comfortable with the hostile, confrontational forms of advocacy that we most often see on the news or on social media. They may feel like they don’t have the time or energy to give everything they’ve got to a cause, which is what many activists expect. So, they feel paralyzed.
My hope is that readers will see that there are many ways to approach social justice work. You can pursue activities that match your passions and interests while also supporting an important cause. You can engage when and where you have margin in your life to do so, and you can take a step back when you need to. You can pursue justice in kind, gentle, and compassionate ways that do not require confrontation. People who care about equity and human dignity have tried to move the needle on social progress in a myriad of ways in the past, and they continue to do so today. The main limitation is our own imaginations. If we can imagine a different way of approaching social activism, then we can do it.
Click here to learn more about Social Justice for the Sensitive Soul by Dorcas Cheng-Tozun.