The Origins Of Self-care And Why Caring For Ourselves Is An Act Of Defiance Against A System That Wants Us To Grind

Written by
Kehinde Balogun And Erin Roberts
Published on
April 13, 2024
protester holding board

Image Credit:  

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.”


“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”

Audre Lorde

We used to be hustlers. Not in the way you might be thinking. Rather, we used to be people with work lives that were one long hustle. Flying around the world moving from meeting to meeting while juggling multiple papers and overseeing projects. Perpetually overwhelmed. Never time to recharge.




We know that this is a place that many of you still are and we want better for you. We want better for all of us. This blog is our manifesto, our call to arms, our demand for change. Those who we fight for need us to find lasting solutions that solve the root causes of loss and damage; to create a world in which radical self-care is not radical at all, but:




We do this by delving into the history of the grind and explaining why rest truly is resistance and why this is relevant for our work on Loss and Damage.

The origins of self-care

The idea to care for the Self is not a new concept in human history. From what we understand today, self-care is a way to avoid burn out, as it calls each one of us to better care for ourselves by focusing on what contributes to our wellbeing in a holistic way – our whole (human) being. In short, jumping off the hamster wheel as it were.

The idea of self-care dates back to the 1950s in America, thanks to humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers who believed that all humans could get what they wished for and achieve their goals in life and developed a framework based on that belief (Rogers, 1980). According to an article by Martha Tesema the term self-care was first used to describe the process for patients who had been or were institutionalized could, “cultivate a sense of self-worth through acts of care and preservation” (Tesema, 2020).

In a blog on the history of self care, Olivia Groves demonstrates how the concept of taking care of one’s self was popularized in the 1960s and became a powerful idea within the civil rights movements particularly after it was a tool used by the Black Panther Party as a tool to sustain themselves in the long fight for the freedom and liberation of marginalized communities.

Groves tells the story of the Black Panthers, “radical self-care” played a critical role in sustaining both the emotional and mental health of their members while they fought for the rights and for justice for Black Americans. She noted that developing tools to support the health and wellbeing of Black communities was essential, as they lacked access to basic health care and access to social services.

Both Groves and Tesema describe how the Black Panther Party supported the communities around them. This included distributing food to those who needed it, establishing health clinics, sharing information and establishing centers and programs that provided emotional and mental care for members of the movement. For the Panthers, sustaining the fight for justice in a brutal and racist system, could only be accomplished by practicing self-care, which was both value-driven and community-based (Tesema, 2020; Groves, 2021).

We must honor those who laid the ground for us to stand on today. As we have explained above, caring for the Self is not a new thing. What has changed however is what it means and how much weight we give to it. Before going into details on that, we want to take you further back into history.

Creating a narrative of ‘Laziness’ and the Hustle culture

Before we continue our radical self-care story, we also want to quickly show you how the lack of care for yourself is based on slavery, colonisation and the English Protestants, called “Puritans” in the 16th and 17th centuries seeking to purify the Church of England of Roman Catholicism.  In a blog, Devon Price, social psychologist and author of the book Laziness Doesn’t Exist  describes how the Puritans arriving in America spread the idea that hard working person was a sign that God had chosen that person for salvation (i.e. to be saved and thus to enjoy the afterlife in heaven).

This narrative fuelled a paradigm in which suffering - by being docile, agreeable and diligent - was seen as morally righteous and you would be rewarded in heaven.  Price argues that if an enslaved person was resistant to coerced labour or perceived as not enthusiastic at work, they were told something was wrong with them. So the enslavers kept the slaves busy and exhausted. Price continued by explaining how exploited groups were told working without complaint was virtuous and wanting free time was morally suspect. But idle time was only for wealthy aristocrats, because they were thought to have superior minds and more disciplined in balancing their passions in life “idle” time and working. Essentially they are the only ones deserving of a work-life balance.

This lazy rhetoric solidified American Racism and became the foundation of American capitalism. How? Fast forward to the Industrial Revolution, the changing landscape of America with long working hours. The wealthy and highly educated started claiming that poor whites also couldn’t be trusted with “idle” time and so being seen as lazy became a personal failing and a social ill (Price, 2021).

Cultivating the narrative of the divine-man worthy of a well-lived life

In an episode of We Can Do Hard Things author-essayist and poet-storyteller Katilin Curtice, author of Living Resistance: An Indigenous Vision of Seeking Wholeness Every Day, describes the doctrine of discovery, which is how Christianity was used to develop a system of international law whereby the religion, culture and people of Europe were deemed superior to all others:

Men are given in the name of God the command to enter any lands that are deemed un-Christian; are deemed not worthy of God. And they can take what they want . . . It came from . . . a document given by kings and queens, royalty, to allow these men, these conquerors to take the land. To have that as a basis for ‘we will literally remove these bodies from this land’. And if you already have a basis of not honouring land as a being. We don’t honour earth, mother Earth, as a being. . . . So much of the trauma we carry in our bodies is that we don’t have a reciprocal relationship with the land, anywhere.

This is the divine-man story, a divisive mentality that created the world we live in. The less than should be working for those that are better. This was violently repeated over centuries through slavery and colonization. This divine man was better than his (because she was seen as his property) woman of European origins too.

But of course those that were not of the divine man of European origins were created only to serve his well being. Because he was the only one allowed to enjoy the finest nature has to offer due to his superior mind. In order to be recognized as a  “proper human” or worthy of heaven others had to do as the divine man said. This required them to listen to what the divine man told them to learn how things were meant to be and to do what he told them to do by becoming a part of the pyramid scheme. This is the origin of the global matrix power system that capitalism is built on.

In this “scheme” in which everyone serves the divine-man you pay with your time! With the promise that if you work hard enough you can become divine. It doesn’t sound so bad until you reflect and realize that your time equals your life and if you are lucky, it is a long life. So you work your whole life for the promise of freedom to be divine. Does that sound familiar? Yes, this is the Capitalist story, a narrative of numerous stories in the 1800s, by the writer Horatio Alger. But even the “famous and rich” like Actor, Shia Labeouf are realising the flaws of this story in a short video :

… If I do this, then I am happy… I always thought that happiness would be acquired by the things I would gain from life. That is why I was always grabbing…

Shia Labeouf is not the only rich and famous person that has talked about this. Many other famous people have testified that wealth did not make them any happier. Many people are coming to the realization that balance is key. They are saying, “No, this is not the life we want.” This reminds us of the current trend of “quiet quitting”. Quiet quitters are those who do not fulfil more than their primary responsibilities. In an article on quiet quitting in the Harvard Business Review, professors Anthony Klotz and Mark Bolino argue:

The quiet quitting trend suggests that employees are increasingly feeling that this exchange has become unbalanced: Employers are demanding additional effort from workers without investing in them enough in return (Klotz and Bolino, 2022).

Whether quiet quitting is good or bad depends on the individual. We only point to the Easterlin Paradox fact that in the long term income and happiness do not correlate. So you keep chasing the next thing, probably what is in fashion. But what you spend your time doing will determine the quality of your life. So, if you constantly run around you never have time to actually realise that you have always been divine and so has everything else. Why?

Because nature is divine and you are part of nature. Divinity is not reserved for the few but all of us.

You don't believe us? well, read this paper by an under celebrated astrophysicist named Margaret Burbridge, who passed away in 2020. In essence, as the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson says:

Atoms in our body trace to remnants of exploded stars. We are Stardust. We are alive in the universe, and the universe is alive within us.

But you have been told a different story and the guardians of the knowledge of your divinity and Earth's are Indigenous Peoples around the world. But, as Curtice explains:

Colonization has taken those healthy conversations from us. It’s taken that presence away. Of figuring out who we are as Indigenous People. So a lot of us have to find our way back again . . .

For all of us, finding our way back means knowing what we have lost and then reclaiming it. This is why we write the blog in the hope that you might slow down and re-consider what you are doing with your time and for what purpose. Yes, the big questions. Because big questions have big answers and big possibilities;  small questions have small answers and small possibilities.  

The return of slow living

Perhaps the quiet quitters have asked the big questions and no longer subscribe to the story that their existence is to serve the divine-man on top of the pyramid scheme. The Old story of a different time, that you have to be a work-horse grinding every day for someone else to qualify as a stardust or for your divinity. And in the year 2023, we are still struggling to have a work-life balance, instead of it being Careness As Usual for everyone.

But the thing is Dear Reader, our bodies and minds live in the universe and the universe is alive in us. What is more divine than that? Taking the time to even digest that. You may wonder why we talk of divinity but perhaps the point is not that we are talking about your divinity but rather why you haven’t thought of it. Spend enough time in nature and observe, and you will see why we call it divine. Taking the time to nurture your body and your mind is critical to your experience on planet Earth. Decolonise your mind by slowing down.  A website on slow living describes it as a mindset:

whereby you curate a more meaningful and conscious lifestyle that’s in line with what you value most in life. It means doing everything at the right speed. Instead of striving to do things faster, the slow movement focuses on doing things better.

Mindfulness can be part of slow living as can meditation. Both have been shown to have significant benefits for human brains in a study by Harvard University.  Whatever you choose to do to cultivate your own wellbeing the point is find what self-care tool works for you and do it. It is critical for creating a life that you have a reason to value. So, developing your own values; making your own choices; watch out for choice and value manipulators; and act.

Rest is resistance

Before, we talk about rest being a form of resistance against a system that has led to climate change and the impacts that it has given rise to. We want to recognise those that can't afford to rest because so much has been taken and continues to be taken from them. Our call to change in this blog is for them. Rest in a capitalist and racist system is a form of resistance, argues Tricia Hersey, founder of the Nap Ministry. In a blog post entitled Rest is anything that connects your mind and body, Hersey writes:

It has always been about more than taking a full nap. My rest as a Black woman in America suffering from generational exhaustion and racial trauma always was a political refusal and social justice uprising within my body. I took a rest and naps and slowing down as a way to save my life, resist the systems telling me to do more and most importantly as a remembrance to my Ancestors who had their DreamSpace stolen from them. This is about more than naps. It is not about fluffy pillows, expensive sheets, silk sleep masks or any other external, frivolous, consumerist gimmick. It is about a deep unraveling from white supremacy and capitalism . . . . Rest pushes back and disrupts a system that views human bodies as a tool for production and labor. It is a counter narrative. We know that we are not machines. We are divine.

Hersey’s words are powerful. We talk about the need for transformation and systems change in our work on climate policy yet we are sustaining the status quo in our complicitness. Rejecting hustle culture is a way of pushing back on the capitalist or a parasitic system which has gotten us to where we are today. That might sound radical to you but we want to share the work  of Rudolf Tanzi, a Harvard professor in Neurology, who helped in the discovery of several genes connected to developing Alzheimer's disease, including the one that leads to the accumulation of plaques in the brain. He talks about how we harm our cognition with daily devious habits that wreck your mental health and could lead to neurodegenerative disease. Tanzi suggests implementing SHIELD: "S" is for sleep, "H" stands for handling stress, "I" stands for interaction with others, "E" stands for exercise, "L" stands for learning new things. And "D" stands for diet. Not getting enough sleep or not slowing down because you are too busy or too stressed with work is not a badge of honour.

Loving ourselves as an act of defiance

In another episode of the podcast We Can Do Hard Things (we really like this podcast)  poet, activist and author of The Body Is Not An Apology, Sonya Renee Taylor explained what radical self love is:

Radical self love is your inherent sense of enoughness. It can’t be inherently gained . . . It cannot be exchanged for a capitalist-made external reality . . .

The structures that have eroded our unworthiness have also created and continue to sustain the world we live in today; one in which 1.2°C warming has been realized leading to escalating loss and damage from the impacts of climatic change.

Taylor argues if we can connect to the sense that the most stunning sunset we’ve ever seen is made of the same material as us, then we can connect to our own divineness. Realizing our inherent divinity and connection to all things is not necessarily an easy process, however. But as she explains that we can sense check how far we’ve come by how we feel:

Am I closer towards my own revelation of my divinity than I was before I started? If so then I’m doing the right kind of hard . . .

There will be layers to shed along the way. We are literally re-programming ourselves. Freeing your mind from centuries of toxicity is not an easy task. But that is the badge of honour for your well-being, that allows you to self-respect and to respect the well-being of others. As Taylor argues, “we've built structure, literal structures on top of our inherent worthiness.”  In yet  another episode of We Can Do Hard Things, host Glennon Doyle described how some young people in her life have so much studying to do that they don’t feel they can sleep for even a few hours at a stretch, let alone the seven to eight hours a night that most humans require:

We are doing this to them. And it’s not a mistake. We’re training them to be good machines in a capitalist culture. That’s why this work is everything. It’s about coming home. It’s about adamantly, relentless, remembering and holding on to being human.

We have a grind and die system. Pushing against that and listening to our bodies and quieting the mind is an important form of resistance. It’s a message that says: I want a better life and a better world, a world that recognizes all as divine.

What does this all have to do with our work on Loss and Damage?

As we’ve written about before in a previous blog and as you already know if you’re reading this, loss and damage is a manifestation of the consequences of the extractive practices of  capitalism and colonialism, which allowed capitalism to flourish and become the foundations of the systems which dictate how we live today. Loss and Damage is a continuation of the power dynamics between global North and South driven by the limited view of the self-interested divine-man. We could have avoided this reality very easily by just taking action a lot sooner to listen to those most affected by climate change. But the most affected are marginalized and barely have a voice in the discussion.

The real twist, the ultimate injustice, is that the marginalized group have been fighting for freedom and system change for centuries. They are also those that believe in your divinity and that of all beings of planet Earth. They believe in your potential and capability to thrive. We pay homage to them’ As, Albert Einstein said:  

You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it.

Loss and damage is failure to see the divinity of all and the planet. We need the intelligence and creativity of the collective to get us out of this parasitic relationship with each other and the planet to move toward mutuality of care.

You can choose a different path

At the end of the day radical self care is a fight for your freedom in a system that tells you that you are unworthy to live a life you have a reason to value. Freedom is the purpose and objective of economic development, according to development economist, Nobel prize winner and beloved thought leader (at least by us), Amartya Sen. In Development As Freedom he writes:

Freedom is both the primary objective of development, and the principal means of development. The human being is an engine of change (Sen, 2001).

Regardless of your profession, you are a human being, first and foremost. To us that means that you can and should spend time just “being”. You don’t always have to be “doing” to be worthy of acceptance, love, respect and admiration. We are all enough just as we are. We believe that when you value your well-being, both "being" and doing you also see the worthiness of all life forms that contributed to your life. And when you see this, appreciation, responsibility, reciprocity and integrity is a natural outcome of everything you do. (Re)valuing the quality of (y)our lives is the system change we need to create the world we want.


Abimbola, A. et al. (2021). Racism and Climate (In)Justice: How Racism and Colonialism Shaped Climate Change and Climate Action. Washington, D.C.: Heinrich Böll Stiftung Washington, D.C. [online] Available at:

Curtice, K.A. (2023). Living Resistance: An Indigenous Vision for Seeking Wholeness Everyday. London: Baker Publishing Group.

Groves, O. (2021). The Powerful History of Self-Care & How to Honor It Today Silk and Sonder [online] Available at:



Hershey, T. (2022). Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto. London: Little Brown.

Klotz, A.C. and M.C.Bolino (2022). When Quiet Quitting is Worse Than the Real Thing Harvard Business Review [online] Available at: when-quiet-quitting-is-worse-than-the-real-thing.

Price, D. (2021). The Racist, Exploitative History of ‘Laziness’ Medium [online] Available at:

Rogers, C. R. (1980). A way of being. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Rudolph Tanzi (2021). What Can People Do To Maintain Brain Health As They Age? Harvard Magazine.

Sen, A. (2001). Development As Freedom. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Taylor, S.R. (2021). The Body Is Not An Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love. London: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Tesema, M. (2020). How You Can Honour the Radical History of Self-Care Shine [online] Available at:

Kehinde Balogun has over a decade of experience in integrated disaster and climate risk management. She has contributed to research on Loss and Damage, especially on NELD. She researches and discusses moving beyond GDP as a societal goal rather towards relational wellbeing - A systemic worldview of many Indigenous groups that sees the (mutual) symbiotic relationship of people and planet.

Erin Roberts is the founder and convener of the Climate Leadership Initiative. She is passionate about making change in the world and empowering young climate leaders from the Global South to do the same.