2016 was one heck of year, wasn’t it?! We would be remiss if we did not acknowledge the very real emotional toll that this past year has taken on so many. Certainly, we felt it here as disability advocates. As, I’m sure you felt it too.
No matter where you stand, left, right or center, you surely witnessed (or perhaps engaged in) the discourse at some point. It was simply impossible to avoid. And I would bet that you felt pretty crummy having witnessed, or engaged in it. I know I did and at times I still do.
Generally in the New Year, we write an article about personal accountability and making sure you live the best version of your life possible. This year though, that idea felt a bit out of place, because, the truth is, it isn’t about me or you. It’s about us. All of us. I know that sounds cliché, but it’s true.
We simply cannot hope to thrive alone with our thoughts. We cannot wallow alone in our fears or anger. We must live each day with intent and purpose. We must look for opportunities to connect with our peers and support each other as best we can. We must come together and try to work side by side to solve the problems that our community, and indeed our country, has faced for far too long.
So then, what are WE to do? There is no single way to answer that of course, but here are a few things you can try today.
Turn off the TV and read. Every day.
Reading will help build a context for what is happening and will arm you with the information you need to advocate for a bright future for all Americans.
Read opinion pieces (particularly from people who disagree with you). Read historical accounts. Read biographies of prominent advocates and civil servants. Read news from around the world. Just read.
Engage in meaningful conversation.
The best way to learn about what is happening in the world is to talk to others who have different opinions and experiences from our own.
There is too much misunderstanding, coupled with an unwillingness to understand among people with differing opinions these days. Misunderstandings are almost always caused by a lack of open communication. It’s time to encourage open and constructive dialog on hard issues. The key word here is constructive. Don’t start a conversation to win. Start a conversation to understand.
For more on constructive listening, read Listening to Understand vs. Listening to Reply by Andy Ekland.
Share your story.
Sometimes it’s hard to talk openly about what’s closest to your heart. There is vulnerability there. We understand. But, for as long as we have been in existence as an organization, we have believed that the only way to solve these long standing issues that impact our community is to share and connect. You never really know how your story might touch someone or perhaps save someone.
Be brave. Be bold. Be open.
Connect on social media.
There are groups and chats for EVERYTHING on Facebook and Twitter. These virtual spaces bring people together to vent, discuss and encourage. Some groups are better than others. It’s easy to leave one behind if you find it is not to your liking.
Volunteer for or connect with an advocacy organization.
Again, organizations exist for every cause under the sun. If something is important to you, get involved. The organization does not have to be local for you to make an impact. Sign up for their newsletters to stay on top of action items. Connect with a group on Facebook or Twitter. Here are just a few National advocacy organizations:
Disability Rights: American Association of People with Disabilities
Civil Rights: American Civil Liberties Union
Contact your Legislators
Whether you agree or disagree with their policy positions, it is essential that your local and federal legislators hear from you. They need to hear your stories. They need to be reminded that you exist. Always be civil. Always be courteous. Always be firm.
“In all things it is better to hope than to despair.”