I am a woman. I am a mother. I am a mother of an autistic son. I advocate for of autism awareness. I have plenty of opportunities every day to fall into the trap of bitterness.
This is a trap that no one is immune to. Why can’t I raise more funds for autism awareness? Why don’t people care about autistic children more? Why isn’t the government doing more? Why aren’t insurance companies doing more?
For the very same reason that causes autistic children to be so valuable. Diversity. If everyone cared about the same thing, then no autistic child in the world would ever want…but the hungry ones would. The sick ones would. The dying ones would. One of the reasons this world is beautiful and diverse is because we all care about, support, and contribute to different things.
If I allowed my own perspective to become bitter, I would filter everything through this negative interpretation. My friends are not struggling to pay bills, raise their kids, keep their marriage together, and contributing to what life has made a priority to them – oh no, they are simply uncaring and lazy. This is a BAD perspective. Bitterness is a very dangerous trap…possibly one of the most dangerous traps you can fall into.
The moment you stop being able to see what is important in other people’s lives, you lose the authority and right to ask people to see what is important in your life. Instead of a contributor, you become a burden. You are no longer giving of yourself to autism awareness, you are simply trying to take from other people for autism awareness.
If I ask people to open their hearts to something I am saying, I have to be willing to do the same for them.
If this world had unlimited resources, it would make sense to be completely outraged and bitter if your cause is going unnoticed. Right now, the United States government is being very slow to recognize autism in our society. I could fixate on this and see only what is not being done. But what is being done? A lot of money is going to other causes…to combat poverty, illness, violence. Right now, the voice of autism awareness is not doing its job. We are not making our cause visual, concise, and strong. So it is hard to listen to us. Part of this is because the autism spectrum is so varied and the members of its unique perspective have trouble speaking for themselves. Instead of focusing on being bitter, I need to focus on learning how to do my job better and I need to understand that there are a lot of other mothers and advocates in Washington, D.C. right now who are asking for help with cancer, blindness, poverty, abuse, and a lot of other serious issues. I would rather the government fix its spending problem than have it commit more than it can afford to every cause that asks. My son would be better off in a stable economy than a broken one…even if that means shouldering more weight myself. Carrying a 100 lb load for 2 miles is much better than carrying a 50 lb load for 200 miles.
If you are bitter, you lose your authority and your power.
What happens to the person who only spouts bitterness? No one listens. This person becomes the one that people stop inviting to dinners. Their Facebook posts are quickly scrolled past. No one really cares about their perspective anymore.
It is impossible to motivate people with bitterness. Bitterness tastes disgusting, it is hopeless, and it never offers a solution. People don’t want to put money, time, or effort into something if they don’t believe they will see a result. That means solid goals, game plans, and a positive belief that change is on the way. If you are too busy focusing on what is missing from autism awareness, you cannot offer people the good of autism awareness. The image you cast is dark and negative and ugly. If you really believed that autism awareness is worthy of people’s sacrifice, you have to show them your dream that is bright and positive and beautiful.
Unless you have contributed to every cause that the people in your life care about, put the bitter pill down, baby – you haven’t earned it.
Remember that Facebook post about contributing to a cause that you didn’t respond to? The one you didn’t even Like or Share? Remember that man who came to your door asking for a donation? Remember that letter you got asking for support? Remember that car wash or dog wash that you didn’t go to? You might remember a few. But you certainly don’t remember all of them. People simply cannot respond to every cause or need. Most of these causes and needs slip right past our radar because they are not on our radar. You will care about what has been put into your life. That is what gives your cause power. You don’t drain yourself dry and overextend yourself because you will stay true to what is important to you.
If people didn’t suffer, if they didn’t have to crawl down into the trenches and live out the hard stuff, then they wouldn’t advocate. You won’t sacrifice for something you can’t sympathize with. I had to go through what I did to realize how important autism awareness is. This is how advocacy begins. This is where it is the most powerful.
But you must remember that other people have lived through cancer. Other people have had a loved one commit suicide. Family members have been killed by a drunk driver. I could continue this list until eternity. Maybe a friend can’t give to autism awareness because they are doing the exact same thing I am doing, but because their child has cancer. Would you really want to live in a world where your child had everything, but other children went without?
If you are bitter, you have lost your ability to grow.
Only accepting your perspective means you are no longer seeing anyone else’s. If you cannot see outside of yourself, you cannot grow. You cannot reach new heights, or see new wonders, or hear new songs. Advocating is one of the most powerful teaching tools. It teaches you perseverance, humility, patience, creativity, and understanding. If you are no longer learning these things because you are stuck on the negativity of bitterness, please put the microphone down and quit harming the cause. Other people are having to work harder to undo your ugliness.
Choose another emotion, any emotion.
Get angry. Yell. Break something. Get sad. Cry. A lot. Get happy. Go crazy hyper. Laugh at nothing. This is autism awareness…do not take advantage of your ability to express your emotion. But get it out and get it done with.
There are people counting on you, make sure their faith is well placed. Be a positive, strong role model for your cause. Make your son proud that he has you fighting for him.
Right now I am focusing all of my fundraising into my Arkansas 5K Walk Now for Autism Speaks. The main website for Autism Speaks is http://www.autismspeaks.org. They have a focused mission statement that I feel encompasses all the key aspects for autism research, awareness, and support. If you would like to give to Autism Speaks, I would be honored to be your conduit. My Walk Fund page is http://www.walknowforautismspeaks.org/arkansas/rflinchum.
I hope my blog has been helpful. If you have a cause you are advocating for, please insert your cause name any place where I used autism awareness. I know most of the advancements made for causes like mine have been born in the heart of a family member and have been grown in communities around the world. Thank you to every advocate who has come before me and who will follow after. I am honored, and yet unworthy, to be among you.
From my heart,
(c) Rachel Flinchum 7/15/2013