Monday, August 26, 2013

The Big Ship Cuts Through: A Discussion Topic

It was wildly crowded. I'd asked a police officer to let me pass by the barricade because there was no other accessible entrance to the busker festival. We were all together celebrating Mike's birthday and were looking for a place to grab some street food. About a half block down I came to a halt because a performer was just beginning her set. The ring around her was three deep and allowed no possible, or so I thought, passageway through.

Everyone else was able to hop up onto the sidewalk and walk behind the crowd. I could not. I sat there trying to figure out something to do, other than to simply wait for her performance to be over. Then beside me a woman in a manual chair, along with a friend behind her, helping her navigate the crowd, came to a stop. She looked at me in frustration. She wanted to pass by too. I leaned over and said to her, "Follow me, I'll cut a path, stay right behind me." She smiled and said, "Your power chair is going to be the ice breaker, huh?" I nodded.

EXCUSE ME, I AM COMING THROUGH

The Louis St.-Laurent had nothing on me. People moved aside, unwillingly at first, annoyed at the bother, but when they saw me, and the woman behind me, with determined looks on our faces, they moved. I don't know how many thought we were simply pushy over-entitled people with disabilities and how many realized that there was no accessible option for us to pass, and, I don't care. We were polite, I always asked kindly. By the time we crossed in front of the performer, who was gracious, the other side of the crowd parted magically and we were through.

The woman thanked me. And I thanked her.

Had she not come along I don't know if I would have set to getting through with such determination.

Such is the fact that it is easier, way easier, to advocate for another than it is to advocate for oneself. I felt like I was doing this to get her through, the fact that I got through too was a side benefit of what I was doing. But that's true of advocacy for another too ... isn't it. A battle won is a battle won, for everyone.

I wonder.

Do you all experience the same thing - do you have an easier time speaking up or speaking out on behalf of another than you do for yourself?? I'm curious if this is a universal phenomenon. Tell me in the comments.

19 comments:

liebjabberings said...

If you speak up for someone else, you're a helper.

If you speak up for yourself, you're one of those #$%^ disabled people who think they're entitled to walk right over everyone else's rights.

It's a silly distinction, especially because you are unfailingly polite, but there is an us vs. them thing going on, and helping someone else puts you on the side of us (even though you're one of 'them').

People dynamics are fascinating.
ABE

Anonymous said...

Oh, yes, yes, YES!

Rickismom said...

Definately. It is easier to tolerate being thought of as a "crusader" than that "pushy person who wants everything"

Jisun said...

I do think that this is a common phenomenon. I've lately been wondering about whether this isn't an aspect of parents advocating for their children (I'm a parent of a child with Down syndrome). In my case, I grapple with what are my issues and what should be about him in my advocacy.

It does seem easier to advocate for someone else. Personally, I feel less self-consciousness, less doubt. Then again, perhaps the point is that I shouldn't feel those things as much when speaking out for myself, period.

clairesmum said...

Yup, much easier to be a patient advocate (the term learned in nursing school 30+ years ago) than to advocate for myself. Sometimes I have to tell myself that I am speaking up to try to change things for others who may not be able to speak up...but really I am trying to get what I want or need. I'm getting a bit better at using my own voice for me, but it is not easy at all. I love the image of you in your power chair as an icebreaker....changing attitudes that are as hard as ice!

Andrea S. said...

I relate to this also. For others who have posted so far, I am noticing a theme of being more confident that speaking out is the "right thing to do" when it is for someone else than for one's self. For me, I think it has more to do with the fact that, when I am fighting for myself, I have to deal with all the emotional baggage that comes sort of pre-loaded for each and every interaction. Needing to advocate for myself forces me to remember all the other times I have needed to do the same thing. If I am in a context where I am reasonably confident things will go smoothly, then I can deal with it. But if I have reason to believe that this will be one of the tough ones that I probably won't win, or can't win without being prepared to drag them into a legal suit or other similarly drastic measures, then it's as if I'm already burned out from the many other times I have run into the same wall keeping me from accessing the reasonable accommodations (such as interpreters) that I need) before I can even get started. And that makes it 100 times harder than it would be already. But if I'm advocating for someone else, then I'm not as emotionally invested. Which doesn't mean that I don't care. But I'm not personally going to lose as much if the advocacy effort goes fruitless. It's easier to bring more energy to the battle because then I'm not dealing with as much of that personal "burn out" from similar past engagements. Hope this makes sense.

Andrea S.
http://ramblingjustice.wordpress.com
http://andreashettle.tumblr.com
http://twitter.com/AShettle

Anonymous said...

Yes, it's much easier for me to speak up for another person.

The moral ground seems much higher, somehow.

Sue

liz said...

It's much easier for me to speak out for someone else.

Glee said...

YES!

Jo Kelly said...

I guess I'm the one in ten! I don't have a problem speaking up for myself, not at all. When it comes to advocating for someone else I hesitate because I don't want to be guilty of doing something that others do to me that does not impress me. I can speak for myself, thank you! I hang back and wait until it becomes apparent that the other person can't or won't do it themselves.

Jayne Wales said...

I find it easier to speak p for someone else but I have to be careful that I am not using people for my fight with authority, that it is really them I'm sticking up for.

Anonymous said...

ooh it was reassuring when I got to Jo Kelly's comment.
I feel awkward when I'm in the position of advocating for others, partly in an am-i-doing-this-right, respectfully and effectively way, but also, I would prefer to make it possible for others to self advocate than to advocate for them. I prefer it for people to make it possible for me to self advocate.
If Jo is the one in ten then maybe I'm the two in twenty.

Belinda said...

Absolutely. I was bullied at school and was a wimp but just let anyone pick on my brother and some force rose up within me from a place I didn't know existed--I morphed into "Tiger Woman." NOBODY was messing with my brother. :) Funny thing is he grew up to be over 6ft 3 inches and a champion shot putter with muscle!

Rachel Cohen-Rottenberg said...

I definitely have an easier time advocating for other people. Part of it is that I am always thinking about ways to get around having to ask someone for assistance. It's not that I mind asking for help; it's that I mind having to weather so many refusals, so I choose my battles fairly carefully. With other people, though, I am outside the process simply looking at the need in front of me, and that makes it much easier to act.

wheeliecrone said...

Absolutely! And I have always wondered why it is so? Do I think that I am worth less? Possibly. I only know that I will delay responding or overlook a slight to me, but I am hell on wheels about a slight to someone else.

Connie said...

I wonder if having someone else with the same needs mean there's critical mass so doing or saying what you know perfectly well is right is easier. Doing it for yourself alone can look selfish to others; doing for others might look different.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Jo and anon. I can generally stick up for myself when needed. Problem-solving is one of my strengths. But it feels so wrong to stand up for others - I feel patronizing, like I'm denying them a voice, making assumptions that they need my help or even want it, jumping to conclusions about what they are or aren't capable of and that I know what's best for them.

Maybe in a situation where it's clearly mutually beneficial, like the one described, it would be easier. But even then, I'd probably hesitate to take the lead.

B. said...

Yes. I too find it much easier to help someone else, particularly someone close to me. I became ill getting something accomplished for my Mom when she was in a nursing home but I succeeded for her and there was a deep satisfaction.

For myself, I let things go a bit more but there is a limit,- depends on the circumstances.

Cynthia F. said...

Absolutely - have stuck up for my younger sister, for my children, for strangers...in ways I would never do just for myself!

Your story also made me think about the power of numbers, and of visibility. I see this with my six-year-old: there are enough kids with disabilities in his school, our neighborhood, and our family that he sees neurodiversity as a normal, accepted part of the landscape rather than a weird, one-time anomaly...