The Everyday Advocate

The Opinion Avalanche

April 11, 2024

How to avoid legalism within activism and drowning in the opinions of others


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“He licked his lips. ‘Well, if you want my opinion—’

‘I don’t,’ she said. ‘I have my own.'”

– Toni Morrison

I had no idea that when I shared this post on Instagram the other day, so many of you would resonate with its sentiment.

It truly seems as if a dark cloud is hovering over some of our modern-day activism practices. Do you feel it? 

I’m not just referring to the heaviness of today’s most pressing issues–that has a weight of its own. I’m talking about the kind of activism that demands perfection (like we touched on in last week’s issue), placing us on a fast-track to burnout and fear. It reminds me of the all-too-familiar toxic church culture of my youth: legalism.

I’m a big fan of defining my terms so that we’re all on the same page, so here’s how I define legalism, courtesy of Merriam-Webster: 

“Strict, literal, or excessive conformity to the law or to a religious or moral code.” 

In the church culture I grew up in, this looked like never being allowed to cut my hair, wear makeup or jewelry, or participate in certain leisurely activities (I once got in trouble with a church leader for tweeting about my favorite TV show. We weren’t supposed to have TVs). In modern-day activism, it can look like conforming to a single set of practices, actions, or beliefs simply because you were told to. In both scenarios, there is a common result: burnout, fear, and never quite feeling like you measure up.

Over the next couple of weeks, I want to break down attributes of legalism that I recognize from my years steeped in that culture and how it shows up in our advocacy. This’ll kinda be an infographic in progress–by the end of the series, we’ll have a complete infographic detailing an activism-to-legalism pipeline of sorts. I’ll welcome your thoughts too, that’ll help a great deal! 

Let’s start at the beginning.



I check my phone and notice the “breaking news” notification. I take a deep breath. I read it. Horror. 

By now, everyone else is starting to find out about this too, right? What do I think about it? I don’t know, it’s too soon to have my own opinion! Let me check Instagram. Maybe my favorite thought-leader already posted about it? Yes, she did! And so did he! And they had something to say to! Oh wow, there are so many opinions. Maybe I’m supposed to think about it this way. Or this way? 

This, my friend, is what I call the “opinion avalanche.” It happens after almost every new headline, crashing down on some of us before we’ve even had a chance to find our footing. Here, it is far too easy to get swept away by what everyone else says or thinks, and this overwhelm makes us vulnerable to just “going with the flow,” wherever it may take us.

It’s right here where my “legalism senses” immediately start tingling, and where the pipeline could begin. Legalism clings to our vulnerability–our hungry search for all that is right and true. The more we desperately grasp for the opinions of others, the more susceptible we are to caving to their personal interpretations and accepting them as fact. It’s easy to do–and it can be dangerous, too. 

Yes, there are healthy ways to wade through the opinions of others on our way to fortifying our own–that’s another newsletter, though. For now, here are a few things to remember when that next avalanche comes tumbling down:

  1. How does this opinion line up with my values, belief system, and moral center?
  2. How are trusted, wise people in my life responding, and can I discuss with them?
  3. What filter can I put this through to ensure that it is factual and honest? (Filters like ways to fact-check, spotting logical fallacies, etc. Not the filters of our own privileges or preconceived notions).

If we can be aware of the avalanche before it hits, we can wade through all sorts of opinions without being completely overwhelmed by them. 

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