This is another riff on Adam Kahane's delicious new book, Power and Love – A Theory and Practice of Social Change.  (Incidentally Adam is speaking at Robson Square, Vancouver on Monday November 1st.  Details below.)

In an earlier incarnation as an advocate I saw the world in either/or terms.  Translation: I/we are right – you/they are wrong.  This myopic vision of the world enabled me to keep things simple.  I had no time for complications or complexity.  I didn't have to listen. I didn't have to accept or acknowledge there might be another point of view.  Just full steam ahead.   

Compassion, empathy, civility, respect was something I reserved within our organization.  The irony of advocating for a change in behavior toward people with developmental disabilities using the behavior I was trying to change, escaped me!

While we had advocacy wins, we also destroyed relationships. Relationship with politicians and public servants.  Relationships with supporters who didn't like our tactics.  Relationships with potential supporters we assumed didn't care so we didn't bother trying to communicate with them.  Relationships with anyone who wasn't prepared to 'sacrifice' for the cause.  This attitude caused reverberations for decades particularly inside government. 

Adam reflects on this dichotomy and dilemma in Power and Love.  He quotes the theologian Paul Tillich, psychologist Rollo May and the civil rights crusader Martin Luther King Jr. all of whom sought to reconcile these seemingly divergent concepts.

Advocacy without love becomes manipulative, destructive, self serving and paranoid. 

I can relate to that.  After one intense advocacy period I woke up one morning to realize I had become the dragon I was out there slaying! I had no respect for the government representatives I was dealing with.  I saw them as objects to be manipulated, molded and shaped.  I saw allies as objects to be manipulated.  I suspected everyone was trying to manipulate me!

Advocacy without power becomes feeble, sentimental and righteous.

I didn't need research or facts.  I was right regardless of what anyone said.  If I didn't have any facts, I could resort to throwing accusations and assertions -  You/this government is not doing anything right. You have never cared about people with disabilities.

Perhaps this was why some of our advocacy is so mean spirited. We need that harsh barrier because we are insecure, afraid we might be persuaded, we might change our mind.

Adam's book offers the possibility that our advocacy can help politicians make better decisions and public servants do a better job while we represent our concerns diligently and thoughtfully.   

That, is the same conclusion I have arrived at.  Too bad it has to take such a long time.

I'll end with a quote from Adam's Introduction:

 When we pretend that our world is empty rather than full, and that our challenges are simple rather than complex, we get stuck.  If we want to get unstuck, we need to acknowledge our interdependence, cooperate and feel our way forward.  We need therefore to employ not only our power but also our love.  If this sounds easy it is not.  It is difficult and dangerous.

NOTES:

(1) Vancouver residents can hear Adam Kahane in person next Monday November first at UBC's Robson Square.  Tickets here.

(2) You can read my previous post on Adam and his book here.

(3) You can access a recent video of Adam speaking at SiG at Waterloo here.

One Comment

  1. Donna Thomson

    I’ve just ordered this book. Can’t wait to read it. Thanks for another great post, Al!

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