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Advocacy and frustration

Messages
7,649
Points
29
A few days ago, in a forum for web designers, I posted some suggestions for someone. My suggestions were largely about layout and presentation, something I do have training in, and I admitted up front that my code-writing skills are minimal. Since then, I have gotten all kinds of “free advice” (that I did not ask for) about how to improve my code-writing skills and all kinds of subtle insults implying that I am an incompetent dolt, etc. The more I tried to politely say “buzz off – I wasn’t asking for advice”, the more I got accused of being overly sensitive and so forth. It takes a lot to really tick me off and I am uncharacteristically seriously irked at the moment and in need of just letting it go because continuing to try to explain to the bozo(s) only makes things worse.

I think Citizen Planners often have to deal with the exact same kind of frustration when they are trying to do advocacy work: people acting like they are incompetent dolts because they have no relevant degree or they don’t know the “right” (professional-sounding) words to use for something. I know they deal with enormous frustration and are frequently put in the bind that I have been put in this week, where they are insulted and disrespected and if they try to set boundaries and say “No, thanks. That isn’t even relevant.”, then they get treated like big cry babies, etc.

The whole thing reminds me of something I wrote for someone in a homeschooling forum earlier this year for a woman considering trying to get her gifted daughter placed with an older class (for art or foreign language or other enrichment). She felt she was in a double-bind because she knew that most schools would initially say “no” based solely on the girl’s age. If she was “nice” and accepted their first answer, then her daughter could never get into any interesting classes. But if she “pushed”, her daughter could end up in a class where she was very much not wanted. Here is what I wrote about advocating for her daughter, and I hope it is helpful to some folks here:
---
Okay, this is what I learned while really sick and playing "musical doctors" and my life depended upon a) advocating for myself, b) not agreeing with their conclusion that "there was nothing physically wrong with me but a psychiatrist might be REALLY USEFUL" and c) remaining polite enough to not "prove" their theory that I was some rabid nut. It may sound kind of "new age" or "ditzy" or something, but I wouldn't be here to annoy <wink> everyone on a regular basis if I hadn't done this:

Do a little "meditating". Get it straight in your head and in your emotions that

a) These people are not out to get you, it has nothing whatsoever to do with you or your daughter, and if they just knew her, it would eventually be apparent to them that she DOES "belong" there and WILL "fit in" -- try to go in person so they can see what a darling, bright child she obviously is.

b) Do all within your power to let go of any negativity from the first conversation or from a "previous" conversation with someone else/some other class/whatever. Start totally fresh with no preconceived ideas whatsoever about the outcome. Make the "future"/outcome a Blank Slate in your mind, like a completely motionless pool of calm water that you can cast your pebble into and create gentle ripples wherever you so choose. In other words: do whatever you have to do to set down any emotional baggage you might be tempted to carry with you and project onto some poor, unsuspecting person who has never done anything to you to merit you assuming "ill motives".

c) Believe with all your heart -- because it is the absolute truth -- that there is absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by gently broaching your "radical" idea and inquiring what they might think, how this might be accomplished, etc. This is also something I sometimes call "Don't say 'no' for them". If you develop a negative attitude and decide there is no point in even trying because all the other schools said 'no', hey, you've already lost the battle.

When you have those things down pat, then you can go have a nice little conversation with some of these schools about your interest in their program, which sounds like such a good fit for your daughter. Twenty of them may tell you "no" and treat you like you are a Loon. Pay them no mind. They obviously are just having a bad day/didn't understand what you were trying to say/have never encountered such a unique situation/something-- ANYTHING-- else that neither "blames" them nor places "guilt" on you.

Then, start over with a) putting down your emotional baggage AGAIN (hopefully, it will get lost along the way and never arrive and then you will have to buy "new clothes" when you get where you are going and they will be far more glorious than the garbage that was so fortuitously lost) b) assuming NOTHING c) GENUINE respect for the poor people whose minds you are baffling with your radical ideas.

Two- or three- dozen "fresh starts" later and people will marvel at this incredible thing you so 'effortlessly' accomplished. Then bite your tongue and let them believe it was "easy" -- because it will, eventually, get easy. I doubt Arnold Schwarzenegger has trouble carrying in groceries from the car. With enough practice, you will find it easier and easier to pull this off. And never mind the dozen or so times you may have fallen on your face and made an utter fool of yourself. THIS new school knows nothing about that. Pretend you don't either.
 

Hedwig

Member
Messages
15
Points
1
Frustration

MZ, this is great advice and very timely for folks in my neck of the woods. We've just been alerted that a huge big box development, spearheaded by Lowes (home improvement business in competition with Home Depot) is quickly heading our way, in violation of the city's big box ordinance, in violation of the adopted plan for the area, in violation of all sorts of other considerations, from community planning to aesthetics, you name it. And although it's situated just across the road from our Traditional Historic Community, it is within land that used to be part of the THC before a crooked majority on the county commission shrunk the boundaries in 1996. The plan also includes roads that would end up, inevitably, shooting through the THC, negating a hard-crafted arterial roads plan that was the result of years of volunteer citizen effort and won a national planning award for the participants and the lead city and county planners. I'm huffing and puffing and feeling very threatened by this thing, which is a bigger and badder incarnation of a development we've fought off here since 1993. It is very difficult to be civil to the project's latest local agent, a lying young sleezebag who'd likely sell his grandma if he could get a good price for her...The biggest problem this time around is that key property owners being enticed by the project are also key community people here-- I'm reminded of the movie Newsies, where the hero is tempted to quit the fight when he's offered a good deal by Joseph Pulitzer. We are in danger of becoming a divided community because of the bait being waved in front of certain noses...and since my family and I are not in that position, we aren't big landowners, we aren't in a position to be tempted to sell out-- we are only in the position of suffering the consequences if people sell out.It's pretty discouraging. Meanwhile, even folks who are supposed to be helping us seem to believe that we should just roll over and become completely slumified, that it's our destiny, and that rural preservation is a stupid pipe dream. Funny though, that Santa Fe still sells itself to the outside world and to those who can afford the good life as a place full of wide open space, clean air, a healthy environment...And those of us struggling to keep some of that for ourselves are told we are unrealistic-- we are supposed to become completely clotted up, living in high density squalor at our end of town, so the folks on the north and east sides can live out their fantasies without the nuisance of poor people living near them.

Quijote
 
Messages
7,649
Points
29
I know you have heard this before, a few months back, via private e-mail. But I think it bears repeating:

When I was so sick, a few times, I really lost it. I broke down and cried in the ER a couple of times. And another time, I went on a rant about how imperative it was for the doctor to DO something because my life was in serious danger and I was afraid that I would die if he did nothing.

I had some totally delusional fantasy that if he saw how much a well-grounded, reasonable person like me was getting so emotional over the whole thing, he would see how very serious it was. I had already been extremely ill for several months and denied treatment on a few occasions and the doctors really had no idea what was wrong with me. Well, the problem with my theory is that the doctor had never met me before. He had no idea what I am like normally. That doctor asked me if I wanted a referral to a psychiatrist and the ER doctors, when I cried, also told me there was nothing physically wrong with me, my symptoms were due to "nerves". It was a hard lesson to accept, under the circumstances. I was in excruciating pain, 24/7. And a part of me did not wish to live. Death seemed like it would be blessed relief. But I never made that mistake again.

Since I do not usually LOOK terribly ill when I am in the ER, I generally have a long wait. I made it a habit to make a conscious effort to let go of all the emotional baggage of the previous 2 dozen or so doctor's visits. I made a conscious effort to remind myself that THIS doctor had never seen me before and he had nothing to do with what any previous doctors had done. I made an effort to calm myself and to let go of any expectations or preconcieved notions and just be "in the moment". I also figured out WHY the doctors kept denying me treatment and referring me on to the next specialist: medicine is a very conservative field and they are taught to "first, do no harm". And their refusal to take any chances was killing me. I finally was able to tell some of the doctors that "The specialist you want to refer me to does NOT exist. The condition that I have is so newly discovered that NO ONE has any expertise in it, not even my CF doctor."

With understanding their point of view and not getting upset with them, I was finally able to get effective treatment. It was a major turning point and I finally began to get well.

I think that citizen planners who are working for the community they live in tend to feel the threats to their community or cause very personally, just as I felt the actions of the doctors to be a very personal threat to me. I know this is a very hard thing to do. But now is the time to work at dealing with your emotional reactions separately from dealing with the people you must address. If you let yourself get distracted by your emotions, it will reduce your effectiveness and possibly sabotage your efforts. If you really want to succeed, you have to recognize that your feelings are your problem and the opposition does not care how you feel. In fact, being overly emotional can be seen as a reason to dismiss you as a "nut".

You are always welcome to e-mail me during this difficult time. Such times are good for becoming more philosophical and "spiritual", regardless of your specific belief system.

Please know that I say such things to be supportive and not critical. I do know it can be hard to hear.

Wishing you the best of luck,
MZ
 

maximov

Cyburbian
Messages
137
Points
6
Thanks, MZ. I almost never take it personally when someone does something that hurts what I see as the future of my chosen home (or even my own livelihood, for that matter). Maybe I even worry too little about how people 'treat' me, but I always attribute the bad stuff to greed, or intolerance, or plain stupidity. I usually --in spite of the two times I was mortified to find tears running down my face in meeting-- manage to avoid any emotional response, trying instead to be practical and educate myself and the others in question however I can, in my naive but indelible belief that the facts will determine the outcome. But here's what frustrates me: no matter how fact-filled and logical my position might end up being, they almost always counter with (artificial) emotion! Using emotion is WORSE than a personal attack, because it so often convinces people to do impractical things. Now, THAT makes me wanna get western.

Sorry about your plight, Q; march on, and good luck!
 
Messages
7,649
Points
29
Maximov,
One of the facts you have to deal with is people. This may be partly a "thinker/feeler" issue: the feelers may need to work on separating their emotions from the facts and the thinkers may need to work more on dealing with the reality that this is a very human process and cold facts don't keep you warm at night, so to speak.

The other thing I learned from my medical ordeal is that other people have a VALID point of view, even if the answers they come up with are wrong because they are missing information: After I received the diagnosis that I have an obscure genetic disorder, I was a lot less upset over how the doctors had treated me. The disorder I have is obscure and recently discovered. My diagnosis was very cutting edge and I was incredibly fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. The odds were long against getting real answers. Looking back, it is not shocking that two-dozen doctors had never heard of my obscure disorder and, therefore, did not know to look for it. My problems simply did not fit anything they knew and the reality is that there are people with Munchhausen Syndrome who make up medical problems just to get attention.

When you argue the facts extremely well and it gets you nowhere, you may need to work on those touchy-feely people skills. Which isn't to say you have to be mushy or anything. But you have to genuinely respect the point of view and personal boundaries of other people in order to have any hope of buy-in.

Hmmm... I am really wrestling with how to say this.

Let me try this:

I have special-needs kids. My 17 year old has my obscure genetic disorder and a few other obscure problems. He was 11 years old before we began getting answers and he used to just make me nuts. When he was still little (I think he was 4 1/2 and his brother was 2), I visited my folks. It was winter and my mom got down on the floor to check if the kids might be getting too cold. And she told me "Adults sit on the couch and they feel fine. They don't know if the floor is too cold. And then, when the babies get cold and start to cry, the adults think they are just being bad. You have to get down on the floor where they play to know if the kids are warm enough. It isn't the same temperature as the couch."

That was a rubric I held near and dear for many years, while trying to figure out how to deal with my mystifying and maddening oldest child. The more I learned about how HE experienced the world, the more his bizarre behavior made perfect sense. For example: He has bizarre color preferences. Orange is a favorite color of his. He also likes strong contrast and will wear orange with black or red with silver or other similarly garish color combinations. Well, it turns out that he is colorblind and has some other visual problems. In talking to other parents of colorblind kids, I have found anecdotal evidence that yellow or orange is often a preferred color of such kids because they can SEE it. And my son needs the strong contrast of garish color combinations because otherwise things blend together and he has trouble distinguishing them. With coming to understand how he literally sees the world, I no longer feel there is something "wrong" with his color preferences and I no longer try to "teach him good sense and good taste".

So, I would like to respectfully suggest that if you are dismissing the point of view of others as "greed", "stupidity" or "intolerance", you are setting yourself up for failure. If "greed" is the motive -- well, we all have to eat. There is a saying about "being able to AFFORD a middle class morality" and there is a lot of truth to that. If your need is excessively great, it is much harder to "just say no" or “do the right thing”. Think of the movie “Walking Tall”: he stood up to corruption because he was uniquely qualified to have a chance at succeeding and surviving it. He was a big man, with lots of strength and stamina, and military training to boot. Think of the old TV series “Kung Fu”: he was well-educated, physically strong, with training in martial arts. When he stood up for the right thing, he knew he had the strength to take on the bad guys.

So, where others see “greed” I usually see “need”. If you genuinely understand and respect that people have needs and wonder what their needs might be and see if it is possible to help them meet their needs and ALSO get what you want, you can win over “greedy” people more often than you might think.

If "stupidity" is the motive.... I would call that "ignorance", not stupidity. And I find no blame in ignorance. Ignorance is merely a lack of knowledge and no one knows everything, so we are all "ignorant" about plenty of stuff. My feeling is that ignorance is probably one of the easier issues to "fix": whatever I am involved in, I see it as my job to inform people, to the best of my ability.

The best cure for "intolerance" is for me to be genuinely tolerant, respectful, and accepting of people. People who are "intolerant" usually have a very good reason to fear that their concerns will not be addressed, that being helpful or giving or cooperative is the same as being a "doormat" and it is merely a means to invite abuse. Assaulting such people only proves to them that they are Right to be suspicious and defensive.

Learning to “walk in the shoes” of my oldest son so that I could bridge the enormous difference between him and the rest of the world taught me to always try to understand where someone else is coming from. And that is the real basis of effective communication. Words hold different meanings for different people. Understanding the subjective experience of another person and how they arrived at their point of view and why they have a legitimate reason to see it that way is the first step towards figuring out what you need to do to help them genuinely understand your point of view. And that is the point at which negotiation BEGINS, not ends. Before that, it is merely a Tower of Babel. And in a Tower of Babel, more words do not help. They are merely building blocks for a growing wall and growing distrust.
 

maximov

Cyburbian
Messages
137
Points
6
Michele Zone said:
Maximov,
One of the facts you have to deal with is people. .
Good point. Sorry, Michele, I guess I sorta veered off track there and was unclear. I wasn't talking about people who are merely on the other side of an issue. I was talking about dealing with the "bad stuff": when someone is personally attacked, or facts are directly misrepresented in public, or lies are deliberately told behind the scenes, to further personal interests. Greed and intolerance and stupidity are just examples of unfortunate but perfectly understandable reasons why someone might behave in these ways, and if you are able to identify one of them as a motive you may end up feeling pity, or trying to think of new, more productive angles, rather than wanting to assault the guy. Really, it's a little like 'walking in the shoes' of the offending person. For instance, I agree that knowing you have actual greed (which, in my mind, is much more extreme than wanting to feed the children or make a profit on land) on one side of a question could be really useful in resolving a contentious issue. And yes, all points of view need to be considered seriously to get to the best solution. Sometimes this even leads to supporting things one personally would rather not see done, because most people want it, or it makes good economic sense, or, best of all, it represents a good compromise.
 
Messages
7,649
Points
29
I have been meaning to post a public reply for the benefit of the forum. Maximov contacted me privately because, like most of the human race, she isn't as comfortable publicly digging around in her emotional guts as I am. So, she and I have had a lengthy discussion and our views on the matter are much closer than our public comments might appear to some folks. Therefore, she doesn’t really need a public reply from me. But I feel an obligation as the moderator to clarify a few things.

First of all, I want to make it clear that when I said '...IF you are dismissing people ..." I knew that such an assumption might well be in error and, in fact, it is an erroneous assumption. She has made it clear to me that she, personally, would not dismiss anyone but, instead, meant that she attempts to understand where people are coming from in order to humanize the source of the conflict rather than vilify the individual.

Second, I never intended for it to sound like an accusation or a scolding of her. I wanted to put those ideas out there in case it was something she had not thought of but, also, for benefit of the general audience. I think they are extremely good general points but I do want it understood that my words were something of a shot in the dark, aimed more at things I know about people generally than at Maximov in particular.

Third, I also have been meaning to state that I do not see her comments as "veering off track". Advocacy is very frustrating work, made all the harder by being unpaid and something we must fit in around making a living, having a life, and so forth. I think that holds true generally. But what frustrates each individual will vary a great deal, depending upon personality and the specific situation an individual is up against.

In closing, I would like to take this opportunity to state for the record that I am well aware that I am comfortable having public discussions about things that make other people really uncomfortable. So, please, do not hesitate to contact me privately (as Maximov did) if you want to discuss something that you feel uncomfortable putting in a public forum. I don't care if the reason is simply that you are an introvert and you find a blabbermouth like me just 'too much' in public. :) I live with three introverts and I fully respect such issues. I know that introverts sometimes think I am Evil Incarnate and trying to publicly humiliate them when I am just Being Me and being chatty. But I want everyone to be comfortable in this forum and to not feel like the lead moderator is The Problem. :)

My apologies for taking so long to post this. I meant to do it days ago but it did not seem urgent since Maximov and I had discussed it privately and I knew we were both cool with it. And I was just busy with other things that were a good bit more urgent.
 
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