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The One Thing

My morning reading has garnered the following response. Feel free to connect, challenge me, or offer a new perspective. This is a forum for questions, conversation, and complexity.

I was recently told by someone close to me to “pick an issue” as I am “all over the place”. This person meant well and was concerned about me in the juggling of advocacy, life, family, school, and building a new vision for mental health care that centers on inclusivity, compassion, mindfulness, and action. Rather than our current system which merely responds to crisis.

So ok, I’m picking just one issue - finding our voice. I’m pretty sure that’s not what they meant but I’m known for being difficult.

It’s the core of all the issues faced by everyday people who do not have a seat at the table. It’s not the people at the rallies chanting or the hooded few in the streets overtly expressing their hate that are most concerning to me. It’s the people who watch and say nothing. It’s the people who believe their best interest is being considered or whose privilege allows them to sit back in relative comfort and choose not to act. Not because they don’t see the problems but because they don’t believe they have the right, or worse because it feels like too much work.

People don’t like to feel uncomfortable. We work really hard to avoid it.

In case you are not aware:

The people at the table make decisions that are in their own best interest. Not yours. Always. This transcends party lines. If the people at the table are not compelled to consider you - they will not consider you - other than as a means to an end.

In another recent conversation I was told that sometimes leaders make decisions to overlook the terrible behavior of wealthy philanthropists because losing their money would hurt the good work being done. My response was that while I empathized with the difficult position, maybe we just need to have faith that there is more money out there and that it might take a little more work and a shift in focus, but that a person’s (or corporation’s) bank balance should not buy them the right to abuse, silence, or control just because some good may come from their financial contributions.

Ask yourself how much you consider the value of an individual because of what they have. We all need to be asking ourselves how much we play into the status quo - even if we consider ourselves to be “woke”. How often do you choose not to challenge someone because their financial position in the world has caused you to believe that they are more important than you are?

In the peer recovery movement within mental health and substance use disorder communities the phrase has been coined “Nothing about us, without us.” In other words, people with a bunch of letters behind their names should not be allowed to make decisions for an individual, instead they should be expected to establish an environment in which all parties come together to create a plan of care that meets the needs of the individual within a framework that they had a hand in designing. This way is harder than just telling people what they need to do. It requires more work, more coordination, more listening, more compassion, and is ultimately MUCH more effective.

How many of us hand over our power to individuals and corporations to make decisions on our behalf? How many of us don’t ask hard questions, challenge those in power, or assert our needs and expectations because we have received the message that being liked is essential to getting what we want and people won’t like you if you make too many waves.

How many of us have accepted the dismissive arrogance of a doctor, a police officer, or school administrator who encouraged us to ignore our instincts, and question our experiences in order to make peace in the moment?

How many of us have put our faith in systems that have failed us, abused us, or taken advantage of our trust?

How many of us have never been shown the power of our own voice and how to effectively use that voice to make change without hurting? Often people are taught that speaking out only comes in the form of yelling, spewing insults, and destruction.

How many of us understand that to some being challenged in any way is insulting; but that we can address our issues armed with facts and fortitude, and that we have the right to our own persistence - even if we are getting on someone’s nerves?

How many of us understand the nuance involved in this distinction? Or have ever questioned it?

I don’t believe that this happens only in a place of protest and advocacy. Fighting silence happens at every point in our lives. It happens in the assertion of our needs, wants, and expectations at every part in our lives. This happens in the way we engage in the functions of daily life. We do not get comfortable speaking up by going from silence to carrying a protest sign. We get there by being thoughtful, questioning, and educating ourselves.

Real change comes in the ways in which we challenge the status quo daily. Teach our daughters that it’s ok to say no, speak up, not be “easy to get along with” all the time. They don’t have to smile unless they feel like it. Teach our sons that it’s ok to cry, ask for permission, care about people, and give love accordingly. We do not need to be giving all, or taking all, in order to fulfill our roles as humans.

We’ve been fooled into thinking that we need stuff to be valuable. We need to be liked in order to be respected and listened to.

The perpetual striving for the things that signal value in America has distracted us from what it means to actually be part of humanity. The perpetual striving for the things that signal value in America has conditioned us to hand over our power for the perception of control.

If you made it this far, thank you for taking the time to consider my thoughts on these complex issues. Please consider leaving a comment or contacting me directly continue this discussion.

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