A decade ago, I learned a life-changing skill that has increased my sense of satisfaction, accomplishment, and contribution: advocacy.
Advocacy is the art of communicating what you want, desire, need, or envision for yourself, for someone else, or for the world.
Here’s what advocacy isn’t:
- blaming someone or something
- stating your truth with hostility or resentment
- intending to insult or offend
- asking for permission
Advocacy is about stating a need and communicating your desire for this need to be manifest.
How advocacy changes the world (or just your small part of it)
Martin Luther King was an exemplar of advocacy for equality. His passionate speech and lived example of non-violence appealed to our citizens’ inherent sense of justice. He was relentless. He was committed. He inspired countless people, black and white, to take up the work along with him. King’s advocacy changed the course of history.
While King’s example may inspire you, you don’t need a podium to advocate. All you need is one listener. Sometimes that listener is yourself. It can be someone you love and trust. Your listener can be a person or organization with influence. What matters is that you communicate your truth.
Just the other day, I was caught off-guard by a surprising and uncomfortable conversation with someone who criticized something I did. You’ve probably had the experience of being confronted—you want to run away or fight, yet you also want the conversation to go well and have it truly resolved at the end.
Despite how alarmed and scared I felt by this person’s criticism, I advocated for myself by saying: “I’m really surprised by your words. I’d like to take a minute to catch my breath and then see what we can do to resolve your issue. Do you mind if we pause here for a moment?”
“Sure,” she replied.
I took a deep breath, wiggled my toes to feel the earth below, supporting me. When I opened my eyes, I felt more present, less triggered, was able to find a resolution together. In hindsight, I’m amazed (and proud) that I advocated for myself in the heat of the moment.
Four steps to creating change
Whether you’re advocating for yourself, for someone else, or for a larger issue, here are steps that will help you be heard and find resolution.
1. Describe what you see and the impact it has on you or others
Example A: “I notice we don’t spend much time doing fun activities together anymore, and I miss spending that kind of quality time with you.”
Example B: “I notice my rates have gone up, but the services have remained the same.”
2. Clearly state what you want, need, or desire.
Example A: “I’ve been thinking a lot about it, and I would like to start doing a regular fun activity that we both enjoy.”
Example B: “I would like to know how I can reduce the amount I owe each month.”
3. Explain why it’s important to you
Example A: “I value quality time with you and want to create closeness in our friendship.”
Example B: “I would like to keep working with your company, but cannot spend more than X.”
4. Ask for impact or input
Example A: “How would you feel about this?”
Example B: “How can we accomplish this?”
Based on what you learn from the other party, the issue may be resolved immediately—or you move into a negotiation about what both of you want. No matter what you’re advocating for, it’s important to hold in your heart and mind a deep intention to find a solution that works for all parties.
Advocating can be hard work. The person or people you’re communicating with may not be receptive to your desires. Be willing to stand up for your need in spite of resistance. Retracting, collapsing, or saying “never mind” is confusing to your spirit as well the person or people you’re speaking to. Hang in there.
When an issue seems intractable, being curious about what the other person needs can assist you in finding common ground. This can assist you in negotiating until you find a solution that satisfies you both. Although the details may differ, often the common ground lies in what you both intend. King appealed to people’s sense of fairness and justice, even though many disagreed on what equality looked like in practice.
Change is slow (but worth it)
Some issues, especially larger social ones, may take a lifetime of advocacy—of slow, persistent appeals to create the change you seek. In this case, it’s helpful to find allies with the same values and vision as you. A community of like-minded souls can quell the isolation and inevitable frustration that arises on this path.
It’s also a good practice to celebrate small changes. For example, when I came out, I was pleased when my Catholic college offered a gay and lesbian support group. Even though there were only six of us at the meeting, it was a small act of unity in a world that felt scary and condemning. Years later, celebrating the state-by-state legalization of marriage was a source of delight. As a young woman, I never imagined how the tides would turn and allow me to be legally married to my wife.
Life is short. Echoing Mary Oliver, “What do you want to do with your one wild, precious life?” What is worth advocating for?
Is there something on the tip of your tongue you want to express to someone or to the world? Feel free to share in the comments what you desire, seek, or believe in. Start here and let it spread out into your life and community.