Responsible Advocacy Demands Critical Thinking
I want to start this by telling you a little about me, and my thinking style. I have always been a trusting person. This, of course, has landed me at times in trouble! I believe people when they talk to me. I do not have a “little voice” inside at all times that says, “maybe they are not telling the truth.” I don’t know why. The trouble that has ensued from this trust, has been manageable although painful at times. Non-trustworthy people have entered into my life, just like they have into the lives of others. In response to being told I should be more suspicious, I really spent time thinking, “how could I become more suspicious?” and “do I want to become more suspicious — less trusting?” and “what kind of person do I want to be?” After a great deal of thought, I decided I did not want to change what I perceive to be a character trait. I like believing in others. I do not have much ability or skill in lying to others or even to myself. I do not care to develop that trait. I am willing to weather the times where the lack of trustworthiness in others has negatively affected me.
That does not mean, however, that I do not think about things, and analyze them carefully. I do. Sometimes when hearing or reading something, I wonder, “I wonder where they got that information?” and “what could be the source of that assertion?” I look things up. I ask others, “what does that really mean,” and “what is the source of that?”
Last year, as many of you already know, three different families asked for my help. Each of the families included an adult with intellectual and developmental disabilities who was involved in the probate court either already or about to become a Conservatee. In each case, I did not know the answer. I believed that the answers were to be found in a legal rather than psychological foundation. I turned to the Legal Director of our Project for guidance. In some cases, he did not know the answer either, and set about to look up the legal codes that would provide the answer. In some cases, I turned to one of our consultants (Angela Kaufman) who is an ADA expert…the law, again!
I watched as Tom, new to the field of developmental disabilities specifically but not new to advocating for people with disabilities. He asked, “where is that defined? Where is that documented? What is the source of that?” We hosted a conference on Conservatorships, where I expressed my complete ignorance—borne of trust- of how the probate court works. I had trusted that in court, the ADA, for example, was alive and well. I trusted that the attorneys working on behalf of the proposed conservatees were doing so, with adequate and appropriate training, and finding trainings to be best at doing their jobs. In the cases we had been called to assist with, I was wrong on all counts. This is called a WAKE-UP CALL. I have been awoken. All in attendance at the conference agreed that they, too, had been trusting for three decades that the courts were operating as they should. And we were all wrong…at a huge human cost to the conservatees.
I recently reviewed the testimony of a parent-advocate to a legislative committee. Her passion was evident. But her “facts” were not facts at all. In fact, some were complete fabrications, likely borne of her passion. Her conclusion, that what she advocated would legally allow her child to make decisions about medical care when in fact that right would be removed completely. Was she blinded by passion? Did she not verify the information she had obtained? Did she not question the source and its meaning? Did she not “check it out” with others? I think it is essential when doing advocacy, to check out what one is proposing/writing/discussing with others knowledgeable in the field. For example, I have an Advisory Board for the Project to whom I regularly send materials for review and critique before sending them out to the public. Doing so has invariably strengthened the documents I publish.
I am writing this, to encourage parents, paraprofessionals and professionals to employ the motto, “trust and verify” before stepping out on the ledge of advocacy. Other mottos that help me include, “walk a mile in their moccasins” in other words, if it would be good for me, would it be good for the person for whom I am advocating?
I am encouraging advocates to use their critical thinking skills, and build those skills, to be more effective advocates. I want to see advocates endorsing plans, proposals, bills, etc. that are well thought-out, legally sound, trauma-informed, and humane. I want advocates to be able to study “all sides” of an issue, and come out in favor of what works best for individuals with disabilities. And that demands variety, as the needs and skills of people with disabilities falls into a big range, and accommodations to the needs of each individually matters.
Trust and verify. Think it through. Consult with others. Think it through Trust AND verify.
Modify trust…for those who initially trust, that’s fine for your own personal advocacy, but when you assume advocacy for someone else, you cannot afford the luxury of “just trusting” others. It does not require trust alone.