Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why I'm Not Telling You About Today

Positive thinking does not cure cancer. Suggesting that it does is inhumane. Death is not under the control of 'smile monkies'. Being positive does not eliminate prejudice. Prejudice is not ever, ever, changed by the grin of one seen as subservient. Stop it.

Being positive, or optimistic, on the other hand, is probably a good approach to life for many, it is for me. But being positive isn't the same as being complacent, or as being a doormat. Being positive isn't the same as accepting less than the best or being comfortable with the status quo. Being positive, for me, is a general frame of mind that doesn't preclude anger, or frustration, or even outright annoyance. Alternately, being angry, or frustrated or annoyed, when there is cause, doesn't mean I'm not a positive person.

Why and I saying this?

I believe in the power of anger.

I believe in the power of recognizing and outing wrongs.

I believe in the power of voices raised in protest.

I do.

I remember meeting with an angry, angry mother. Her rage took me by surprise because she always seemed so happy-go-lucky and met each day with hope. Her middle boy had Down Syndrome and I met her when I was working as a behaviour therapist and she had request help in learning how to teach her son some skills. She was one of the few parents who referred their children, not because of problem behaviour, but because she wanted to be a good teacher of positive behaviour. So rage - which flew out of her as if it, itself, feared the sound of the pounding of her heart, caught me off guard. Her boy was not to be allowed to go to her neighbourhood school. He was to bus for an hour and a half to a 'special school'. This stank of prejudice and unfairness, and she wouldn't have it. Her anger fueled her drive towards inclusion. She won. Not with a smile. She won. With a fist pounding on a table.

I believe in the power of fury.

I believe in the power of a finger pointed at discrimination.

I believe in the power of one, single, angry voice.

I do.

I remember seeing a young woman with a disability, barely in her teens, turning to her support worker and saying, clearly and loudly, "Don't speak to me like I am a little girl. I am growing up." The fury in her voice, the anger in her eyes, spoke volumes about her experience. She'd had enough. She would be spoken to respectfully. In a crowded theatre lobby, a quiet apology was spoken. In the midst of the chaos of the lobby, an apology was accepted. Fury spoke. Fury stated clearly that enough was enough and that there would be change. She won. Not with a cutesy little girl request. She won. With the voice of a woman wronged.

I believe in the power of rage.

I believe in the power of unrestrained emotion.

I believe in the power of an unrestrained voice.

I do.

Through my neighbourhood, should you and I ever walk, I can point to ramps that weren't there before I got mad. I can point to aisles free of barriers that were cluttered and impassible before I got mad. I can point to accessible tills that weren't always open until I got mad. In each case I requested politely. I requested repeatedly. But when I got mad. Things changed. I know that sometimes I have to throw water on the fire, to not go straight to anger, but I also don't fear the fire - because it doesn't burn me.

I am a positive person.

I wake with hope and work with expectation of better days coming.

I see change.

In people.

But I don't fear anger.

Positive thinking doesn't clear an aisle of barriers.

Being positive doesn't levitate one up a flight of stairs.

Accepting what comes with a smile doesn't open school doors to those denied.

I write this because I believe that there is a place for anger in the movement of those with disabilities or those who advocate with our community. I find myself accused, and others accused, of being too negative simply because we point out a wrong.

I write this today because I wanted to write about something that happened but was afraid to, even here on my blog, because I know that I will get emails from people who prefer not to comment, some quite harsh, to be told that I need to be more accepting, or that I need to understand where the other person was coming from, or that I didn't actually understand what happened. AND TO BE TOLD THAT I NEED TO BE MORE POSITIVE AND ACCEPTING. Pointing out wrongs doesn't mean that one lives feeling wronged. Expressing anger doesn't mean that one doesn't have a positive attitude. I positively believe that change can happen ... those who use frustration as a cause for a pity party, can have at it ... but me I BELIEVE and am POSITIVE that I can effect change.

I know that parents can effect change. Because they have.

I know that self advocates can effect change. Because they have.

And change never happens in silence.

Change is noisy.

Change is fraught with emotion.

Change is chaotic.

I am positively certain that change will come - but sometimes it begins with an explosion of anger, of fury and of rage.

Maybe tomorrow, I'll have the courage, to tell you what happened today.


Utter Randomness said...

No change was ever brought about by silence. It's important to stand up for yourself, even in righteous anger. It is equally important to have a supportive environment (or at least, a not-unsupportive one) to rant and vent about things that anger and frustrate you, to keep things from eating you up inside. Far from being an indication of bitterness, I see your odd (as in relatively infrequent) rant about injustice to be a measure against bitterness. It is the ability to talk about the things that anger and frustrate us with people who have had similar experiences that makes community so important, and I'm sorry to hear that you were afraid to engage with the community you've built here.

Alicia said...

Anger is positive, anger changes things, anger is not hatred. Injustice needs to be answered with anger. Being positive wouldn't change the world, being angry and hopeful changes things. It's not hard to be angry and positive.

Anonymous said...

There is a difference between been assertive, even strongly assertive - and anger. Anger usually is a cover for fear. Fear is part of being submissive to something else - situation or person. You need to be assertive to get things done and make changes. Anger and ranting may get something done short term (to "keep him quiet") but it is not usually a cooperative action, nor sustaining.

Baba Yaga said...

Oh, beautifully said.

Anger is a profoundly political thing, done right. (Done wrong, it's no more effective than anything else done wrong, positivity very much included.) It's motive force, the mover towards changing something, local or large-scale, the definer of boundaries.

For anon., the power of people with that motive force, working together to effect a change, is profoundly co-operative and bond-creating. Join Amnesty or WDM or any other focused organisation for change, attend one of Dave's talks (I infer), and you'd get a sense of that.

Karen said...

Anger and ranting are different things, one is an emotion, the other is a behaviour. Anger can give the courage and the NEED to be assertive.

Anonymous said...

I think there are some cultural differences around this. Some cultures are ok with anger, some are not. I sometimes hear ‘I’ll talk to you when you are not angry’ and this is, in my opinion, not a healthy thing to say to someone. It’s effective at minimising angry conflict, but makes anger illegitimate. And thus is profoundly disempowering to anyone on the wrong side of an axis of power and privilege- and being on this side of the axis means you have experiences that hurt. How do we want people to respond? Take it and give ‘understanding and forgiveness?’. Or is there room for their anger? And if you say, it’s ok for you to feel angry but I won’t accept you acting angry, isn’t that the same process of illegitimising anger?. Refusing to speak to angry people when you hold the power, or telling someone that their anger is misplaced or not acceptable, can put you in a superior, powerful position and can make other people feel rubbish about their anger and thus further harmed. I think part of the issue is that people don’t realise their position of privilege: Why are you so fired up about women having women’s space, L? Wouldn’t it be better if we all just got on without drawing attention to differences? BECAUSE I AM A WOMAN AND IF YOU WERE A WOMAN TOO YOU MIGHT SEE IT TOO!!!!

Anonymous said...

Anger may be a force - but it can be damaging. It can hurt others and turned inward, hurt yourself. I understand that it can be motivating - if it is initially felt inwardly and expressed outwardly in a constructive way. We've all see ranters on the news. I don't think they make us comfortable. Yet protests - organized expression in an assertive way pulls us along on the journey.

Look at animal rights - just so we are not poking fingers at anyone. We get upset when an animal has been abused - yes, even angry. From that emotion we devise action and find a way to express our anger in a way that makes a difference. We can't (or at least shouldn't) go knock on the door and punch the offender in the nose - no matter how much we may want to. But we can give money to fight the offenders, take in abused pets, pay for care, volunteer at shelters or rehab places...the list goes on.

Anger is not political. As stated, it is an emotion.

John R. said...

I have a theory. The root of all anger stems from 4 basic things.


If one looks at any time when they were angry, mad,rageful etc., it is definitive that the root cause of the anger is one or more of the above. Getting in touch with the roots of why one is feeling the anger is a great way to harness into positive outcomes. Anger alone is wasteful and dangerous. Anger with understanding the cause and reason can be utilized for progress and hopefully a process ofhealing into joy.

I am going to listen to my own advice and do something today that will utilize the source of my anger about a very important area in my professional life.

I needed this blog today, Dave. It is almost like you wrote it for me. So,.... Thank you. Thank you. Thank you!!

Tamara said...

I agree with you. I remember a time when an organization boasted about approaching disability activism with honey while disability advocates were protesting. To me they only perpetuated the myth that people with Down syndrome are just sweet and angelic and did nothing to truly communicate to politicians that their budget cuts were seriously harmful. They seemed to view the protesters as angry and mean, and didn't want to expose their "children" (men and women in their 20s and 30s) to that kind of behavior. The organization seemed to support that attitude, which is one of the reasons I'm no longer involved with them.

I tend to rant when I'm annoyed, but when I'm really angry, I get sort of calm and focused and very, very clear about what is wrong and what has to change. I think it is clear to those with whom I'm speaking that a line has been crossed.

That said, I don't go there very often, so when I do, I *think* it has more impact.

There are people who are angry all the time, and I do think that can be self-destructive. But I think we often should be angry - and sometimes for a long period of time - and use that anger to create positive change. Suppressing your anger is probably as self-destructive as living in anger all the time.

Anonymous said...

I hope you'll tell your story, Dave, without regard for those who may admonish you for your anger. Because you have the right to speak your mind on your own blog! Even though there are those who want you to grind your feelings down into pablum so they can be easily swallowed by all.


Kristine said...

A friend told me once that "feelings are not a democracy," and it has stayed in my head ever since. What you feel is what you feel, and it's not wrong to acknowledge it. I believe that authentic emotion is more powerful than manufactured emotion, no matter what the emotion is. And it's here in this community, and from your words, Dave, that I learned to give myself permission to be honest about my disability experience. You've helped me to use my voice more, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate that! I hope you won't hesitate to use your voice here, though I understand why you would. It hurts to have your honest, vulnerable, inner self and experiences attacked. It gets old...

Beth said...

I don't understand what you mean by "[p]ointing out wrongs doesn't mean that one lives feeling wronged." (Neither does my boyfriend, even in context, so it's not just my alexithymia, like I'd thought.) My best guess is that you're equating "living feeling wronged" with, say, "having a chip on one's shoulders" or routinely having a "pity party" -- but that's just a guess. I'm not sure what a "positive attitude" is, either.

I agree that anger can be powerful and used to good effect. But I'd like to stand up for feeling wronged. If I've been wronged, it's good if I recognize that. If I understand I've been wronged, it's good if I have feelings about that. If I didn't understand I'd been wronged but had feelings about the incident, I may well blame myself. If I don't understand and don't have feelings about it, that means I'm accepting something bad as normal. If I understand but have no feelings about being wronged... that's creepy and likely indicates another problem. None of those things are good.

Aside from common slights, several people have committed heinous offenses upon me, including at least half a dozen felonies. How am I to live, feeling I haven't been wronged? knowing I've been wronged but not caring? Much better for me to live feeling wronged than to deny reality and my feelings. (Not that I think you meant either, Dave, only that the phrasing is ambiguous and can suggest living this way is bad.) In fact, sometimes I draw great strength from the fact I've endured (overcome?) so much. being wronged is obviously bad, but, if that's so, living as if I've has been wronged is better than the alternatives.

Dave, I'm sorry there has been something recently that has provoked such an anger in you. I'm sorry, too, that you fear to say, that we have so failed you. Take care and may you ultimately channel your emotion into whatever change needs be.

Rachel in Idaho said...

What is a better response to injustice than anger? Anger of the sort that pushes people to do something about the injustice? Where would we be as a species without it?

Screwed, that's what. Nicey-nicey isn't going to solve all the world's problems. Sometimes it takes some good old-fashioned righteous anger.

GirlWithTheCane said...

Wonderful post, Dave. Thank you.

Maddie said...

I think people need to feel all sorts of different emotions. Some days your anger wins out, some days your happiness wins out. It doesn't mean one is better than the other or more productive, but they all have their places and the key is to know when each is needed.

CAM said...

A very wise woman, certainly the wisest I have ever had the honour to know, once told me in order to fight injustice, you must be able to do two things.

Get mad. Stay mad.

Anonymous said...

I want you to think - really think of people who have made a lasting impression and difference in the world. Do you see them as angry people? Ex: Mother Theresa, Dali Lama, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Jesus Christ,Florence Nightingale...the list goes on.

I'm not saying they didn't see some injustice or wrongs - but they worked on meeting and defeating that injustice with determination. I don't think they could accomplish all they did/have if they were always angry.

Anger as an initial motivator - maybe. Anger as a way to accomplish things - hopefully not.

Amanda said...

I think one of the sources of disagreement here is language. 

I 100% agree with what Dave is saying here. Or as close to 100% as to be unimportant. And that's not only because I'm reading the words. It's because I know Dave and I know what he means when he says these words. 

I've also seen words very similar to this said by other people. Only the meaning underneath the words was very different. People saying anger when they meant hatred. Using the word anger to justify hate. Or people full of rage at the world, who fire it indiscriminately at anyone who sets it off, even when undeserved, but use oppression and activism as excuses to do all these things, to hate, to bully, to attack. 

Depending on whether they have seen these words used to justify perfectly justified political anger, or whether they have seen these words used to justify bullying and hate, people are going to have different reactions when seeing them again.  Especially depending on which of those things they personally consider justified.

Personally given that I know what Dave means, I trust him completely. 

Also, this is why I've responded here many times in the past when Dave sees and responds to obvious discrimination, and other people second-guess him and try to convince him that the behavior he witnessed was harmless and well meaning. I don't think that's the most useful response in most cases when an oppressed person relates an account of bigotry. Someone once described me as "defending Dave" when I said that, and told me he didn't need it. My actual intent was to defend oppressed people in general from the idea that our instincts are usually wrong in these situations. Because we need those instincts for our own safety and we need not to be taught to second-guess ourselves. 

Amanda said...

I also see a huge difference between what Dave is talking about and being always angry. I know that Dave knows that the most important foundation of any community is love and compassion. I worry far more about people who make anger central to communities, confuse it with hate, and make love optional -- or obsolete. But I've never seen Dave do that.

My only worry at all with Dave's words is the way they'll be taken by some readers. Readers who really are always angry or hateful, and who will take encouragement from this even though it's not what he means at all.

Emily Davis said...

Thank you Dave for posting this piece. I absolutely agree. We try to be diplomatic when we see things that need to be changed. But sometimes, diplomacy is not enough. People don't like to change. They don't like new things, and they don't like being told the way they have been doing something is not "right." Even our own bodies try to reject new organs after a transplant, even though doing so successfully could actually kills us. But I always tell myself that just like the body doesn't always know better, so do people. Whenever I see someone doing something that inhibits the inclusion of another person, I stop and ask myself, "Is this person INTENTIONALLY trying to exclude people?" Usually, the answer to that question is no. They just don't know better. So yes, I start with diplomacy in my attempts to get people to see things in another light. If that fails, I take it as a personal mission to show this person how passionate I am about the matter. Often times, this involves anger, as well it should. People fear change, but they fear pissed off activists much more. Change is change, even if it was only brought on because it was presented as the lesser of two fears.