It’s just the same, only different

In recent weeks, this space has seen much discussion around the topic of self-advocacy. It seems a proverbial squeaky wheel that requires constant greasing in our heavy duty, high demand lives. And as such, we will continue supporting voices like #metoo and #knowthesigns until basic safety and human dignity are truly basic for all people. But today, I want to pull our focus back a stretch and take a look at the other half of the advocacy coin. It’s time to remember the fundamentals of speaking for the voiceless. It’s time to advocate for others.

How to stand bravely

We do it all the time and just don’t realize it. Chances are, many of us are already champion advocates without consciously making the connection between instinct and instruction. My night job affords me constant opportunities to stand for others, I had just never put it together before. Now I understand that I get to advocate for others every day, and it’s almost like a whole new job again. Some tips I have learned along the way include:

See something, say the same something

Perhaps the greatest challenge in speaking for others is authenticity. It can seem natural to let personal motivations leak in and corrupt the conversation. But when that happens, I find myself no longer representing a person or people. Instead, I notice the talk shifting to things like philosophies or policies and blah, blah, blah. So I must remember to keep the main thing the main thing. I must diligently pass along the information I have without adjustment or augmentation. It takes courage to deal in reality.

Hey, we all have needs

They are literally what get us out of bed each morning. They are also probably the root of whatever concerns someone. With that knowledge, I can reasonably expect in most situations that the issue is not indefinite. Generally speaking, human conflicts tend to resolve once the needed change, improvement, accomodation, or acknowledgement is made. Outcomes are really kind of natural things. As an advocate, I don’t want to work against myself trying to force a premature ending to the issue. It also takes courage to stand patiently in waiting.

Hear to help, listen closely

I never want to miss the cue that my assistance is no longer required. I care about helping. But I care more about self-determination. The individual person’s right to choose is really what advocates defend. And I am only useful in that regard if I am helping with your needs, as you see fit. The instant I lose sight of that, I might as well join the adversaries.

Three sides to every story

I will try to advocate for everyone’s needs. Because we all have them, remember? My role as an advocate is to ensure a voice for all those with something to say. I will prioritize the voices of the oppressed and the abused. And I will go so far as to provide that voice myself if need be. But I must always stop and ask, “What exactly do I care about in this situation?” before going any further than that. The whole point is to avoid adversarial or abusive conditions, not to join them.

Check out one of our favorite advocates, @sspencerthomas later this month, hosting an important #ElevateTheConvo Twitter chat event at 6pm MST on 11/30/17. It will be an excellent opportunity to support youth experiencing suicide grief while learning from Denver’s very own Dr. Sally Spencer-Thomas.

Tagged on:

Matt Mague

I've been with the Network as an intern since January 2017. I'm currently a senior at MSU Denver, in the Human Services program, and I'm training to work as a mental health counselor. I'm most passionate about eliminating stigma and empowering autonomy. In my free time, I enjoy bowling and golf.

See all posts by matt