This evening I was chatting with my friend Pseudonymous Bob (PB) about why we do the things we do. He pointed out that most people tend not to care about a thing until it touches their own lives. People who never donated a penny to breast cancer research suddenly become hardcore fundraisers after a family member gets diagnosed. People who never cared about disability rights suddenly become hardcore advocates for systems and legislative change after they have their own child with a disability.
My eyes narrowed slightly, as I knew PB was probably talking about me. I’ve jumped full-throttle into the wheelhouse of disability and mental health advocacy, and there’s no doubt I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my own daughter’s profound challenges.
If PB did have me in mind as he spoke, I’m not in the least offended. There’s a deep truth to his cynical view, and I will admit that the same thought has crossed my mind many times over the years. I’ve often wondered if my commitment to disability advocacy is fundamentally selfish, not altruistic. But as I’ve aged and softened — and after 8 transformative days of gratituding, honestly it’s like I don’t even know myself anymore — I can look at this phenomenon through a different, gentler lens.
Here, I’m going to make a Venn diagram to help explain my theory. Give me second.
Ooooooh did you know there are free Venn diagram generators all over the internet?? You just plug in data here and there and PRESTO there appears a bunch of overlapping circles and labels. See you in a couple hours; if you need me right away, you can find me at this free site making Venn diagrams.
* * * * *
Here we go:
PEOPLE WHO DO ADVOCACY STUFF
Maybe my ratios are off. Let me try that again.
Hold on, I just figured out my Venn diagram doesn’t work. It doesn’t work at all, except to point out what I now see is obvious: that little dark triangle in the middle of all three circles, that should bear the label “Most Annoying People on Earth.”
Good lord, do I live in the bulging triangle? Aw shit. Much self reflection is required, but I don’t have time for it today.
Let me try that again:
That is one ugly Venn diagram. It’s just awful. And now I’m sitting here wondering where all the other annoying advocates in the blue circle come from.
Is this better?
Nope, it’s not better. Venn diagrams and social theory clearly are not my skill sets.
* * * * *
Never mind the Venn diagram. I just figure, most people, no matter what happens in their lives, go along with those lives without ever stepping into the public service ring. But among those of us exposed to a particular challenge — say, cancer — there are some collection of people who are prone to take up a cause, any cause. Social justice warriors do it because something demands action, and they’re altruistic that way (or at least they think they are). Empaths do it because they don’t want others to suffer the way they’ve suffered. Egomaniacs do it for the likes. (I feel so post-modern to have said it that way.)
But regardless of our personalities and needs, maybe it isn’t as selfish as it appears, to drop into the advocacy bucket of what touches our lives most deeply. Those are the subjects we know the most about, after all, and so it makes good sense to spend our energy there. Maybe I don’t have to feel so cynical about myself. I can catalog the ways I cared, before I even became a parent — as a lawyer, as a devotee of pro bono work, as a donor to various causes. It’s just that now, I know a whole lot about this one thing, youth mental health, and I’d sure like to make the world better on this front. Is that so wrong?
[end of blog]
Oh! Wait. I forgot to do the gratituding. Fine: grateful for Venn diagram generators, grateful for my friendship with PB, grateful that I don’t have to work in a job where I have to make Venn diagrams. Good?