Positive Advocacy

Since beginning my blog, I have had a few people who read it regularly come up to me and say what a positive person I am. This got me thinking about being positive about the role of positivity in my advocacy. I decided to explore this a little bit further in my usual Sunday blog.

So often in the disability world, advocacy comes from a place of anger and frustration. A lot of the discourse that surrounds disability these days is about the oppression, the struggle and the daily grind that disabled people experience in having their rights met and realized. In my university days, I was a firm believer in this form of advocacy. I was always in the front of the rally, raising my voice and prepared to take on the world. If people were going to challenge my rights as a disabled man, then I would be ready for a fight and I would take them down. There may be some people reading this blog who believe that this is the only true form of activism and that by not challenging these injustices assertively we risk being taken advantage of as a marginalized population. It is a classic fight fire with fire approach.

I no longer believe that this approach is the most effective form of activism. In fact, I now believe that this approach often causes more harm to the overall social position of disabled people than it helps. I instead now subscribe to the idea of what I call "positive advocacy". The premise of this idea is quite simple. You replace anger with optimism and replace frustration with education. A sense of humor and an open mind are my chief weapons as an advocate these days and I have a much happier person because of it.

I guess the question becomes how is change created and how are people most likely to respond to change. I firmly believe that a positive approach is much more likely to create the widespread systemic change because those in power want to feel like we are on their side. Being angry about disability rights or a lack of physical accessibility is so much more draining then starting a positive dialogue around the issues. Disability is an identity that should be a source of celebration rather than the source of struggle and depression. Yes, society screws us over sometimes, but that will only stop if we educate and embrace those who do the screwing over. In my mind, we should not villainize anyone for their ignorance on disability issues, because they will not respond well to our intent. By being positive, we can let people know why disability is an awesome identity and why it is important for society to be more accessible. The old saying "you get more flies with honey than with vinegar" is so true in the disability world.

As I sit here, I am thinking of the words of one of my idols, former NDP leader Jack Layton in his famous letter to Canada. "Hope is better than anger, love is better than fear, optimism is better than despair." In my opinion, the disability rights movement needs to take a lesson from Jack. I have and it is one of the smartest calls I ever made.