Recently I was asked how our family deals with the heavy weight of advocacy work. I rabble-rouse in health care for a living and my youngest son Aaron has been involved as a self-advocate in Ready for My Shot and Down Syndrome Resource Foundation (DSRF) initiatives like this one about mental health. My partner Mike manages advocacy campaigns such as Equal Pay BC. We’ve all been involved in climate actions that are led by First Nations people. We pay attention as advocates. Health inequity and the climate crisis are big issues for us. Lately there’s been too much bad news invading our house, mostly through Twitter and other Internet news. Our balance is off and our conversations have turned dark and negative. Aaron is a sensitive person like his mama and he picks up on all these emotions. This isn’t good for him or for us either.
Here are practical strategies that we have adopted with Aaron. Some of them were suggested by Susan Fawcett, the Director of Therapy, Behaviour and Family Support at DSRF. These suggestions are adaptable to any person or social injustice issue. Maybe they can help if your balance is off too.
Making meal time a ‘no bad news’ zone.
Finding a good news item to talk about at dinner so Aaron knows the world isn’t totally a horrible place. Google ‘good news stories’ and they will pop up.
Talking to other people involved in advocacy to support each other. Aaron is taking an Advocacy and Climate class at DSRF this summer for this very reason.
Sometimes actually saying overtly: NO more talk about bad news for the rest of today.
Reminding Aaron that our family is safe right now to try to keep perspective and to help him stay in the moment.
Taking action – On the pandemic front, Aaron has gotten all his COVID boosters and wears a N95 mask in all indoor places. He is in charge of the recycling and plugging in our EV, we attend climate action protests and donate food + money to protesters. Being involved helps us all have a sense of control instead of despair.
Saying no to opportunities to speak up if we see signs that Aaron is becoming overwhelmed with negative emotions.
Watching our own consumption of news and recognizing that Aaron is listening to us all the time. If Mike and I talk about issues – especially if we are angry - we wait until Aaron is out of earshot.
You have to intentionally commit to doing the hard work to stay soft. I don’t want us to become hardened, as this is what leads to dehumanizing others, which is exactly the opposite of what I stand for. My sensitivity is my super-power. Viva to those with thin skins!
So stay soft warriors! Keep fighting the good fight. Teach your children well. Seek rest. Find what brings you joy. Laugh. Find small comforts.
Do you what you have to do keep railing against the status quo in this horrible, beautiful world.
I offer talks and workshops for patient and health professional advocates about sharing your story for change and caring for yourself as an advocate.
I’ve written about advocacy many times, both in my books and here: