Is it just me, or does there seem to be more bickering in the world than there used to be? You can see it in almost every relationship — between countries, between races, between political parties and candidates, between other community members. A speech in the Madam Secretary TV show this past week caught my attention. The Secretary of State in the series said in part, “…we must never lose sight of our common humanity, our common values and our common decency. I was reminded recently of our nation’s founding motto, E pluribus unum. Out of many, one. Thirteen disparate colonies became one country. … governments can’t legislate tolerance or eradicate hate. That’s why each one of us has to find the beauty in our differences instead of the fear. Listen instead of reacting. Reach out instead of recoiling. It’s up to us. All of us.”
There is a disturbing reality that is reducing our effectiveness as the Independent Living Network. It isn’t new, but I am discouraged that it never seems to end. Because I am a neutral third party, sometimes I hear two sides of an issue that is plaguing our movement in a specific state or between specific centers or other partners. And sometimes it seems we are so quick to judge the “rightness” or “wrongness” of an idea don’t we don’t wait to hear each other out. Sometimes partners even develop intentional barriers so they can avoid listening to each other.
I used to shrug and say that we are all advocates and sometimes in our fervent advocacy we forget who our friends are. In the last couple of years I have looked at our political system, and thought maybe these very fixed opinions are part of our current culture. I hope we will see a shift back to being kinder to each other — the alternative is so very painful. And sometimes the divisions between members of our network are so long and wide that I am not sure they can be crossed. The philosophical interpretations are so important, but each party sees them dramatically differently.
I don’t have any easy answers. In a few cases the animosity runs so deep and has so much history that I don’t have a lot of hope. Still, I feel a need to offer a few thoughts.
- Make a connection person to person, not agency to agency. Take time to know your partners as individuals who, like you, are a part of the Independent Living Network, even if you question their commitment to Independent Living Philosophy.
- Be respectful and kind every time you can be. Our world needs a lot more kindness, and each of us can do a part in reacting in kindness, especially to others in our network.
- Listen to what they have to say. Now if you are in one of those longer feuds, I am willing to guess that you are sure you already know their opinions and you disagree with them, so you don’t have to listen. I would challenge you, though — you can find a spark of what drew that person to IL in there somewhere. Listen, and then listen some more. They already know your protests, too, so if you discuss you will just keep cutting each other off. Listen without discussing and you may hear something new.
- In every advocacy situation there are specific points that are of concern. When you can, focus on those points and not on specific personalities. Even if that individual moves on tomorrow, the issues and policies and practices will probably still be of concern. Work on those specifically.
I don’t need to give you lessons on advocacy — you know the many ways to effect change in your communities — but you usually start with education. Make sure the other party knows your concerns and why they are an issue. Educate the others first, giving them a chance to do the right thing. Then, of course, you do what you must to bring about change.
And one last thought. If you are in one of these difficult situations, if you and a network partner are at odds, has the advocacy you are doing now worked to improve the situation? If not, I urge you to step back and try another way.
And to “… find the beauty in our differences instead of the fear. Listen instead of reacting. Reach out instead of recoiling. It’s up to us. All of us.”