The Dance of the Advocate

Recently, I’ve had a few friends step into advocacy. I’ve also enjoyed more time with those who have spent their lives committed to advocacy. I admire all of them, from the newly inspired to the longtime devotee. Each of you advocate on behalf of others, representing your own unique perspectives and passions: fair wages, better public education, access to better foods, breast cancer research, poverty reduction, gay rights, fair wages, religious freedom, gender equality in the church and in the workplace, and so many more. The world is better because of you but I know it’s not an easy path. I hope to offer you some encouragement with this post.

The Dance of the Advocate

It’s that moment you doubt everything about yourself. You’ve experienced so many moments of vulnerability and you feel too exposed to be comfortable again. You want to crawl under a rock or move far away. This time this mountain just seems too big.

The wounds seem too deep this time. There are far too many. And this time they came from so many places you trusted. You thought you were safe. You are embarrassed that it took you so long to realize you weren’t.

You didn’t expect those closest would turn on you. You didn’t expect their words to be so cruel. They pierced you in an unexpected way. You fear these wounds won’t ever heal.

Then in your moment of darkness, just enough light peaks through. It allows you to stop focusing on the pain for a moment and shines on the parts of you that cannot be ignored. After those countless sleepless nights, you finally own up to who you are. There is no changing who you were meant to be.

You acknowledge your errors, whether it is the poor choice in tone or the stupid decision that undermined your message. You wish you could take it back; just a simple do over would ease the regret. But you accept it as part of your journey. Mistakes will shape you. It’s so easy for others to only see your mistakes and judge you by them. It’s painful. But you know that mistakes are necessary and only those who stand still avoid them.

You realize they will never know how badly they hurt you; they may not care. You accept that you can’t make them see. That’s not your fight. You aren’t who you are for them. Once again, you decide to live up to your own expectations and you refuse to foolishly chase theirs anymore.

So you pick yourself from off the ground. You brush off your knees. You stand up as straight as your beaten back will allow.

And you remind yourself they want silence because some of your words make them uncomfortable.

But you know that discomfort makes us better. Oh sure, embracing discomfort hurts like hell. You feel it every time you speak up when everyone else remains silent. However, the conviction that change will not come without discomfort always pushes you into that pain.

Some will fight it.They will hurt you to silence you. They will fill your world with angry words. They will attack your character.

But you will not be silent. Who you are will not allow it.

Because the advocate must speak.

You speak on behalf of the downtrodden, the broken. You speak on behalf of the rejected and disowned. You speak out for the marginalized, for those whose voices get lost in the majority.

You speak because you were one of them. Or you speak because you used to hurt them. Or maybe you speak because you love one of them. Whatever the reason that inspires your voice, it gives purpose to your passion and strength to your conviction. Today, you hold that reason a bit tighter.

You remind yourself that you don’t speak for the selfishly opinionated. You don’t speak for those holding tight to their privilege or those who believe everyone else should adapt to them. You don’t speak for those who reject progress, tolerance, or acceptance. You don’t speak for those who reject empathy. You hope your words might reach them, but you don’t speak for them.

Oh but when your words reach or impact just one…you feel an overwhelming peace for a moment. You tangibly feel the purpose of your cause. But soon after the turmoil will return, and you will need to speak again.

Because there is no greater calling than the belief you should sacrifice your comfort to advocate for another. There is no more noble or exhausting of a cause.

You’ve learned that your skin isn’t as thick as you hoped. You bleed. A lot. You scar. And those scars will serve as reminders of your pain, your mistakes, and your commitment.

And you will speak. Because the advocate must speak. Even when you make mistakes. Even when you fail. You will still speak.

And just know, no matter the cause, no matter the message, if you advocate on behalf of another…

I’m here listening.

Because we need you. I need you.

So please speak up a bit louder.

It’s not fair.

“That’s not fair!”
“Life’s not fair.”
“But I want it!”

This conversation is on repeat in the Blair household. Our son is currently training for his career in law using this method of argument. It’s not working very well, he never gets what he wants. We try to explain why this method is flawed, but alas, in his black and white world he cannot comprehend why fairness does not define circumstances. I remember this argument with my parents. I remember the very low tolerance for my pouting and the irritation with the insistence of my argument. I understand the annoyance now. It really is annoying. But I haven’t outgrown this argument. I still use it, just now it’s an argument with myself. I’ve matured enough to at least recognize that this argument is no longer socially acceptable. As an adult I know that life is not fair, right?

Wrong. Most times, I don’t know. I only seem to remember that life isn’t fair when my friend gets a new car and I’m driving a beater or when someone else finds the perfect job and I’m still performing circus acts to get potential employers to notice me. Or the most common reminder… when I’m wearing the same dress I wear to every cocktail party and my friend is in a stunning new dress that makes everyone in the room turn. Yep. Life is not fair. And if we want to get incredibly honest, I actually recall a moment sitting on the side of my bed sobbing because I had nothing cute to wear to an event. Choking through my tears, I turn to my husband and say, “it’s not fair.” Embarrassing, I know.

I remember when we were trying to get pregnant and after both miscarriages the number of “it’s not fair” thoughts I had. Well, maybe not the number, there were far too many to count. But I remember how hard it was to be happy for my friends when they got pregnant so easily and I was wondering why my body didn’t want to work. Life didn’t feel very fair. I cried a lot. I felt angry and entitled to have a fair life.

Yes, upon reflection I can see that wanting life to be fair is a childish endeavor. By shouting to God, “IT’S NOT FAIR!” I’m not going to convince him to give me the toy anymore than my son will convince me. (I would be a constantly annoyed if I were God, can you imagine the number of “it’s not fair” he hears?) But it seems to be my default response.

So now is where I should emphasis the point that life isn’t fair. And we need to be happy with the path God takes us on and give an explanation about how those miscarriages were a blessing because without them I wouldn’t have this amazing child. And yes, that is all true. But that’s not where I am.

I read an article in the New York Times today about a child who lost his parents to genocide in Rwanda. At six years old he was scrounging the dump and trying to survive. He and many other children were homeless and without a family. They were the “forgotten” children. But someone stumbled upon him. An American running an organization took him off the streets and got him into school. The child was incredibly intelligent and driven. He excelled and eventually won a full scholarship to Harvard University. From a dump to Harvard.

I grew up in middle-class suburbia and I never even considered Harvard. Harvard was for people who lived a far more “fair” life than me. Community college was for people like me.

Our fixation on this idea that life needs to be fair cripples us. We lose all perspective. This idea forces us to focus on only those with lives that we deem “fair.” So naturally we focus on the people with the best things happening to them.  And when the best things only happen to them and not us, “it’s not fair.” But the irony of it all is that there is someone out there looking at us saying, “it’s not fair” about us.

I live in a country with freedom, wealth, and endless opportunities. I was born to a middle-class white family and with that received a high level of privilege. I never went hungry or without clothing. I learned to read and write at six years old. I was taught to articulate ideas verbally and in written form. I had the freedom to decide who I was and what my place might be in this world. I was free to question, challenge, and debate authority. I could walk away if I disagreed with someone.

It’s not  fair. I did nothing to deserve any of that.

It’s not fair. I won the lottery in my birth.

It’s not fair. Another woman with darker skin was born another place. She was hungry and without clothing. She never learned to read or write. She could never articulate her ideas. She was never allowed to choose who she was or where her place is in this world might have been. She could never question, challenge, or debate authority. She could never walk away.

It’s not fair.

 

 

Elusive Happiness

I hesitate to say its been a rough month, because of course it is all relative. The office hasn’t been much fun. We’ve experienced a bit of change, some of which resulted in people losing their jobs. Not easy to watch. For the most part, those who were laid off are handling it very well. Most looking forward to their next chapters or not stressing too much about what is coming, I’m very proud and inspired by them. I’m sure there is bitterness or confusion, but they seem to be looking ahead. However, what has caught my attention more so than their responses, has been the responses of those around them. Meaning: the people with jobs. You would have thought by the negativity, grumbling, and anger that we all lost our jobs. Not to mention those who have tried to profit from the changes. Why is it those with something are never satisfied with what they have? It all presents this idea of an elusive happiness. We all seek to be happy and want more in life. We want wealth, acceptance, love, peace, appreciation, etc. Daily I am surrounded by people whose salary is greater than 90% of the U.S. population (if you want to get your own reality check, search for median salary in the United States) and yet they feel underpaid and under appreciated. And don’t even get me started as to what we have versus the rest of the world. The median income worldwide is $7,000. MOST countries it is less than $1,700. I keep threatening my boss to bring a slideshow to my office about how the rest of the world lives. We need a little perspective.

But this isn’t just my office. This is everywhere. We live in a society focused on what we have and what we don’t have. Everyday we are bombarded with ads that tell us what we need. They tell us what will make us happy. And then we get those things, and we still aren’t happy. We continue to go after more and more in search for happiness. But worse than the increasing debt or inhibited generosity, is the entitlement we develop. We believe we are entitled to the newest car, the best phone, the cutest clothes. We work hard, so we deserve these things.

Let me stop a moment and discuss working hard. Now, I feel that I work pretty hard. I’m always busy, finding ways to fill my time if no immediate work is brought to me. And I’m not afraid to work the long hours or do the hard labor when necessary, but after reading a book about the life of women in Congo… I’ve discovered that I’ve never experienced hard work. Hard work is walking miles and miles to carry as much water as humanly possible (and after hearing the actual weight of the water, it is not humanly possible for me, even with all my yoga training 🙂 ) Hard work is spending an entire day (and they don’t think 8 hours is an entire day) working to make one dollar to feed your family. Yet, these women do not feel entitled to objects of entertainment for their hard work. It never crosses their mind, because all they are trying to do is SURVIVE.

Entitlement is an ugly thing. It creates the ugliest of situations. Think about the child that throws the over the top fit in the middle of the grocery store because he wants the lollipop his mother is denying him. Most of us shake our head at that child. Now consider your behavior, how many times have you behaved this way? Come on, you know you have. When life hasn’t worked out as you expected or someone offends you or treats you differently than you believe you deserve. Or worse than that, what about when this child watches another child get that lollipop, now the temper tantrum has been taken to a whole new level. IT’S NOT FAIR!! How do you respond when someone else gets what you want? I embarrassingly admit that I, not too long ago– I wish I could say I was a teenager– cried because someone else had new and attractive clothes to wear and I am still wearing the same things from two years ago. I literally cried. Not a proud moment for me. After about five minutes, I realized… my God… people are literally dying because they have no food and I’m upset because I have nothing to wear. What a fool I am, why do I think I deserve more than them?

As I’ve said many times, we got lucky. We were born into a nation of luxury. I’m not talking about the Mercedes in a driveway or the Gucci in the closet, I’m talking about the opportunities that we are afforded just because of the location of our birth. As an American, I am afforded rights that women across the world are denied. Even the poorest of our nation are considered rich by the world’s standards. We did nothing to deserve this. We are not entitled to this luxuries. We just got lucky.

This luck is a gift. What are we choosing to do with this gift? WIth the gift of a job and an income that provides for you and your family, what are you doing with it? Are you allowing it to turn you into someone who is entitled or are you using it to better the lives of those who didn’t get as lucky as you? Are you focused on what more you can have or are you focused on what more you can give away?

I challenge you to stop the next time that you think you “need” or “deserve” something to stop, put that credit card back in your wallet and find a more worthy way to spend that money. I typically don’t like church signs, Andy and I have a game of finding the most ridiculous ones. But the other day I found one that redeems all the others, it said, “You aren’t living life until you give to someone that can never repay you.” Too often we give in ways that we can get something back, such as recognition, better education for our kids, a better community in which to live, a better museum, etc. When was the last time you gave to someone that could NEVER repay you? Maybe find a way to do that. I bet that is closer to happiness than that iphone you are holding.

“Indeed, man wishes to be happy even when he so lives as to make happiness impossible.”  ~St. Augustine