Active vs. Activist

Update: There’s a now apparent disconnect between what I intended in this post, and what it came across as. The poor choice of labels and tasteless examples are getting in the way of what I was trying to say. My intention was to cry out against celebrity, opportunism, and abuse of status. Turns out, I came across as doing those things that I was trying to say were bad.

The point I was trying to make is that the headline making news of individual’s “shocking” or “extreme” actions are not usually the right way to enact change (there are times when it is appropriate, though). It was supposed to be a call to action, to live the example of the ideals that you espouse, to influence those around you toward better practices by showing them and teaching them, to be a part of the solution and not just someone who wants to get their 15 minutes of fame in the limelight of extremist action.

I think @derekgreer undertood my intent best: “are you just someone that likes to stir up trouble or are you trying to help a cause along?”


The Original Post



A long time ago, I heard someone ask and heard another person respond:

Q: “Are you an environmental activist?”

A: “No. I’m an active environmentalist.”

I honestly don’t remember where I heard this, or when, but it has stuck with me for many years.


What’s the difference?

I don’t know what the original respondent intended as the difference, but here’s what I take from this:

An movement activist is someone who gets a lot of public attention by doing outlandish and even crazy or illegal things. An activist may bomb an abortion clinic, tackle the Pope, or chain themselves to some large object to prevent ‘bad’ things from happening to it. These people tend to do these things for attention – attention for themselves and ‘for ‘the movement’ (though this can be questioned). They make the headlines and people pay attention for a few minutes. These people are the ‘celebrities’ of ‘the movement’. Once the story is old news, though, people go back to what they were doing, ignoring whatever movement this scene was promoting.

By contrast, a person who is active in a movement is pretty much the opposite of that. They aren’t in it for attention or glory. They don’t necessarily care about the name or ‘the movement’ as a formal organization. Rather, they see the underlying goals and ideals and are actively working within them. They are out in the real world every day, making a difference in someone else’s life by _living_ the examples and ideals of ‘the movement’. They promote the principles and practices of ‘the movement’ not through voice and showmanship, but through example, by serving and through real leadership. They are not celebrities. They are servants, enriching the lives of those that ‘the movement’ is claiming to benefit. … this doesn’t mean the active person gets no attention. There are plenty of authorities and leaders that are making waves and getting attention who I don’t consider to be activists. But they are getting attention for the right reasons – for doing good and helping others do better.


Activism and Active People In Software Development

Recently, there has been some interesting conversation around twitter and the blogosphere around the state of certain movements in software development. There are a number of people who love to be the activist in various software movements. This can be said of the Alt.NET movement, the Software Craftsmanship movement, and probably others. Unfortunately, those people are also the ones doing the most damage to the movements.

So, am I an activist or someone active in any of these movements? … does anyone care? I doubt that you do, and you shouldn’t if you do. The real question is whether _you_ are an activist in ‘the movement’, or are active in promoting better principles and practices by living the example. I sincerely hope that you are the active person, living and teaching by example.

the sad thing is that this blog post is likely going to wither in the echo chamber with no real effect. for better or worse, I am a part of the echo chamber by association if not by action.

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