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Thinking Free

Sunni Maravillosa

Ever since I received the excerpt of Chapter 2 from Claire Wolfe's new book, Think Free to Live Free for our exclusive preview, I'd been awaiting a review copy of the book. Heck, ever since I heard she was writing the book, I'd been awaiting its publication. Not only do I like just about everything I've read of Claire's, I'm a psychologist interested in teaching people about freedom, and helping others to create the freedom they want in their lives. I have a great deal of respect for Claire and her work, and was looking forward to her take on this vitally important topic. She didn't disappoint me.

The book is better described by its subtitle, A Political Burnout's Guide to Life, Activism and Everything. In this relatively short book (124 pages), Claire offers her perspective on why some people become politically burnt out, and ways to help overcome it and become a more effective activist (if that's what's desired) as well as live a more fulfilling life. As she points out in the first chapter, the book is also useful for dealing with burnout from other sources--job, family problems, other passionate pursuits--often with little adaptation. Claire speaks from experience, as she readily admits and many of her fans know through her previous "retirements" from political writing and/or the Internet. Some of the chapter titles, such as "Are You Having Fun, Banging Your Head Against That Wall?", cleverly hint at this as well, and will resonate with any activist.

As with any self-help book, many paths are open to an author--one can speak from the heart and experience, call upon experts and their theories and techniques, offer surveys and exercises to help with introspection and growth, or take a challenging, somewhat confrontational approach to the topic. Claire takes a turn at each of these methods, and to her credit, uses them with just the right touch, and to good effect. Think Free to Live Free is fairly clearly a result of her own personal quest for a productive way to handle burnout, not just to cope with it but to learn and grow and make future burnout less likely to happen. Yet Claire--ever the private person--makes this book personal without getting sentimental or revealing too much of her story. She offers the knowledge and support of experts in various places, without inundating the reader with academic references. The main focus of the book is its worksheets--Claire described the book to me as a workbook--yet they are not overly daunting or tedious. They do challenge the reader to look deep inside, to recognize strengths as well as weaknesses, and to discover limitations or patterns that aren't productive or healthy. In the narrative Claire challenges the reader to do similarly, with a gentle yet persistent tone that rings of experience with avoidance behaviors and success at overcoming them. Here's an example:

Whatever you are fighting for, and whatever your objective chances of victory, you need to know whether your specific actions are moving you toward the goal. Have you thought out what you do? Have you determined it's the most effective thing you personally can do? Are you personally effective within a particular political effort and (a separate but ultimately related issue) is the broader effort successful in what it's aiming to achieve? [p. 49, all emphasis in original]

The worksheets are the backbone of Think Free to Live Free. Like many people, I tend to groan when I see them in a self-help book, because they are often used as filler, or as a way to get the reader to do what the author is supposed to be doing--helping the reader work through a problem or issue, or to gain new insights. I will admit that I did not take the time needed to work through all the worksheets, but even so, I can attest to their usefulness. Several early worksheets are referred to later, their results built upon to try to gain a clearer overall picture of the factors contributing to one's burnout and how to overcome it. Each provides a good thinking exercise for the reader, but I especially liked Claire's suggestion in Chapter 5, that the individual have others fill it out those worksheets as they see the individual. That technique is the crux of personal construct psychology, a little-known area of psychology but one with solid research supporting its claims. More importantly, the method offers benefits beyond what one can see within him- or herself--an important consideration when the world's become a weight on our shoulders.

"Think free to live free" may sound like a na´ve, easy fix to burnout, along the lines of "don't worry, be happy". The book is anything but. While some areas seem a little rough, as if Claire wasn't entirely comfortable about what she's saying, her message and her methods are right on target. Even if you don't have a full-blown case of burnout, but are getting weary of the battle, unsure of your progress, or just don't have your heart in it any more, you will find something in Think Free to Live Free: A Political Burnout's Guide to Life, Activism and Everything to identify with, and to help you.

Think Free to Live Free: A Political Burnout's Guide to Life, Activism and Everything, by Claire Wolfe, copyright 2001. 124 pages. ISBN 1-893626-45-8. Published by Breakout Productions, Inc. To order, telephone 360-379-1965 or fax 360-379-3794. http://www.loompanics.com/cgi-local/SoftCart.exe/cgi-local/smpagegen.exe?U+scstore+vxtr0864ff968696+-c+scstore.cfg+-p+88220

(c) 2001


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