Protest you should. But with a caveat. There must be a purpose, a plan.

Just then they came in sight of thirty or forty windmills that rise from that plain. And no sooner did Don Quixote see them that he said to his squire, “Do you see over yonder, friend Sancho, thirty or forty hulking giants? I intend to do battle with them and slay them. This is a righteous war and the removal of so foul a brood from off the face of the earth is a service God will bless.”

The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha, written in the early 17th Century by Cervantes, has been delighting generations of readers for centuries. In fact, one poll even picked it as the greatest novel ever written. But entertainment aside, Don Quixote provides us with some valuable lessons in life skills.

Take for instance the quote about the windmills. Quixote (pronounced Ke-ho-tee) was always on the lookout for a noble moral cause, for monsters to slay. It took over his life and his thinking. Soon even windmills began to look like monsters.

It’s true. While it’s fine to take the moral high ground, protesting can often become an addictive activity. It can take over people’s lives. More troublingly, it can distort their view of their world and make them permanently angry folks who can see nothing good anywhere!

I know someone who is always in the thick of umpteen protests simultaneously. She is protesting the destruction of trees and the endangering of turtles; she is deploring the local municipal official’s apathy about public parks; she is taking on the insurance companies over various issues; she is chiding the local newspapers for giving too much space to one kind of news and not enough to another; she monitors politicians’ speeches so that she can dash off a letter to the editor protesting about a phrase or a whole paragraph.

This woman is always angry about something or the other, and keeps adding to her already long list of things to be angry about. Every conversation of hers is a litany of things that are wrong. She is very intelligent and energetic….but has not learnt how to choose her battles.

Do you know such people? I bet you do! Are you one of them? Maybe you should stop to think about it before you dismiss the suggestion.

For the idealistic young person, there is something alluring about standing up for something and letting one’s voice be heard. People also keep telling you that you, as a youngster, should protest, and protest vigorously, when you see things that are wrong or unjust. And indeed you should. But with a caveat.

You should learn to choose your battles.

Unfortunately, there is enough that is wrong around us to keep all of us occupied as serial protesters and moral crusaders. And the more we look for something to protest about, the more we will find. Or if we don’t find them on our own, the media will thrust them upon us! But it is equally true that both time and energy are limited for each one of us. Isn’t it our duty to ensure these precious assets are used to the best possible end result? Should we fritter them away just to get the momentary thrill of joining a shouting crowd or adding our signature to a thousand others?

At this point, some indignant folks may be planning yet another protest…against what I am saying here. They may think I want young people to remain unconnected with events around them and look only to their own interests. No, no, no. I am only saying let not protesting become an end in itself. It must have a purpose, a plan.

I am also concerned that a steady diet of negativism can instil cynicism and hostility towards society. We can see it in the way some of us pour scorn and even venom on every aspect of our society and our lives. This seems to have become the norm, even the fashion.

So choose your battles and use your energy and time wisely where they can do the most good in areas that are closest to your heart (not necessarily those that will benefit you directly!). This will make you more effective in whatever you do, and, more importantly, more balanced in your outlook and more positive-minded in how you approach life.

Malini Seshadri is a freelance writer. Email her at: malini1seshadri@gmail.com