Advocacy…Because Life’s Not Fair, and We’re Going to Fix It

Imagine a Mother has two boys–an Older and Younger–each biting at the other’s throat for many years.  Oh, they love each other in that special, sibling way. They defend each other fiercely against outsiders.

Yet they’re always bickering about whose life is more unfaaaaaaaaair.

Now imagine the Mother intentionally sides with the Younger boy in every, single situation–because he needs more defending.  When Younger complains, “It’s not fair that Older gets to drive! I didn’t choose when I was born!” their Mother agrees…it’s NOT really fair.

So she makes Older park the car and stay home.

When Younger cries, “He won’t let me come in his room! No fair!” the Mother agrees it’s pretty rude for Older to lock him out.  So, she tells Older to take the door off the hinges and let Younger come and go freely.

The Younger often demands the same bedtime, the same amount of dessert, the same chore-list, the same friends, etc. even though Older’s age makes him both bigger and more responsible in many ways.

And Mother appeases her little guy, because she feels he shouldn’t be left out for something he can’t control.

Unfortunately, she really doesn’t notice what she’s doing to the Older child, whose opinions are always trumped by the baby. 

Older tries to tell Younger, “I know you think my life is peaches and cream. But it’s not really better. In fact, now I get punished by Mom whenever you cry.”

…and that makes Younger cry.

“Mooooom, he says I’m wrong!”   So Mother comes to solve the dispute.

“Older!” she scolds. “You don’t understand how hard it is to be left behind…Now go play catch with your brother.”

Would you say this situation is “fair?”

—-

Now imagine if Younger gathered a group of friends and started the Youngest Child Club, which picketed and protested the way Older Siblings get to do unequal things.

And, in response, all the Older Siblings of the world grabbed their signs and bullhorns, and responded that the Youngers actually had more power in the family–because they use their supposed disadvantage to win all the time.

In the United States, this scenario is called “advocacy.”

And we consider it a good thing. This arguing with each other about whose life is more difficult is–we think–the crux of the Civil Rights Movement.

The problem is, most advocates think they’re fighting for fairness. When, actually, most of them demand extreme one-sidedness for themselves or a loved one.

Let’s use a fairly benign example. Someone I know was on an airplane recently, when they made an announcement over the loudspeaker:

“Attention, everyone. There is a passenger flying with us who is extremely allergic to nuts. So, we won’t be serving our in-flight snack today. And if you have anything in your carry-on containing soy nuts or peanuts, we ask that you refrain from eating it. Thank you!”

You might say, “Well, people shouldn’t have to stay home because they’re allergic to peanuts,” which is like advocating for Allergy-Equality.  But, on the other hand, is it fair to make 200 other people go hungry on the flight, because you are allergic to their food?

Nope.

Sure, most people won’t mind cooperating in this case. (Avoiding nuts for a few hours is a pretty small thing.) But it’s inconvenient.  It requires a favor from people you’ve never met–and if they agree, it’s due to their kindness.

Not because it’s the fair thing.

Okay, how about a more emotionally-charged scenario? Recently I wrote about Mama Bears, who make particularly powerful advocates.  But, when they picket for mainstream schooling for their disabled children, is that really fair?

I’m familiar with the Americans with Disabilities Act and yadda yadda–but I’m not asking about the law. I already know that Mother stands up for anybody who claims to be “left behind.” But what if this slows down the others?

Is it more fair that way?

Should my Older child park her car?

And what about businesses required to accommodate certain customers? Should bakers make cakes for weddings they don’t support? Should hotels be forced to build elevators and ramps in their pools? Should backward, raging, self-centered racists be forced to serve burgers to blacks and Asians?

Perhaps.

But I don’t think it’s “fair.” Now that business owners can’t decide when to close the door in their “rooms,” it’s just unfair in a different way.

There are many overlaps to my post about breast-feeding in public, and women like me are the Younger Brother in that scenario. Mother agrees with us.  We win.

But I asked fellow mothers to cover their chests out of respect and empathy for other people. I’m asking if we will stop fighting for ourselves long enough to see the struggle of our brother?

To Women’s Advocates and Race Advocates and Disabilities Advocates and all other Advocates: every victory for your cause means things are less fair for the people you’re fighting.  And, not only that, your small win hasn’t actually made things more fair for you or your family, either.

Not really.

His peanut allergy will make ordinary things difficult for the rest of his life. I don’t need to tell you how unfair that is.

The same for folks with disabilities. For all the things they’re able to do–for all their great qualities–at the end of the day, they’re going to suffer in ways most others don’t. Why are some of us born with obstacles like that?  How is it fair?

It’s not.

I totally understand struggling with that reality.

But everybody has to deal with a set amount of fate-sponsored “unfairness.” (Yes even the Older Brothers have problems.) “The System is real”–but I just call Him “God.” He allows every person a measure of struggle, which means we ALL have something that makes us question His idea of justice!

Life certainly isn’t “equal.”

And we’ll never be able to fix all of our perceived wrongs with enough advocacy.

Do you think we might keep this in mind, next time we’re competing with our siblings?  Life isn’t peaches and cream for them, either.

Maybe we’ll pause, when we feel like running to Mother and signing petitions and calling the newspaper/TV-crew, and tweeting about the business being sooooooo misogynist or anti-family or in-need-of-education, because how dare they not immediately see how little and victimized I am?

THAT version of advocacy is the very real down side to all the hype surrounding the Civil Rights Movement. We’ve been taught that groups of Little Brothers/Mama Bears can band their trucks together and run over those who disagree. To those militant activists, a word of caution:

There really is a fine line between standing up for your family and becoming a bully. 

If–at some point–you’re no longer asking for cooperation, but you’re actually forcing them to give up freedoms for your sake, using social media to tarnish reputations and celebrating when you crush them with the force of the law, then you’re a powerful, culturally-acceptable bully.

I don’t feel sorry for the son born second when he learns how to manipulate Mom.

And, if all your friends always encourage you, and Mother never balances your perspective, never cautions you to be wise–then you’ve basically built a team of lackeys. Somebody in your circle ought to have freedom to say, “Slow down.” Someone needs to balance the addictive power of “advocacy” when it goes too far.

-“Sweetie, your breasts don’t offend ME. But, slow down. It’s not the issue of the century for others to want modesty.”

-“Yes, it’s inconvenient to drive. But, slow down. SOMEBODY will be inconvenienced by our son’s allergy, and I don’t want it to be strangers on the plane.”

-“No, that business doesn’t need ‘education’ or ‘awareness.’ Slow down. WE should be aware that we’re asking for a sacrifice; it’s not a right.”

Yes, injustices happen every day. And it’s our job to stand up for the helpless. But, I’m asking advocate groups to understand we often make things more unequal by championing ONE side, every time.

Like the Mother feeling sorry for her youngest boy–our culture really hasn’t solved anything.

We’ve simply sponsored a different brand of Not Fair.

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10 thoughts on “Advocacy…Because Life’s Not Fair, and We’re Going to Fix It

  1. Stephanie Rose

    Interesting thoughts. I’m not as eloquent as you are, but I’ll do my best to express my thoughts. I agree with you that some advocacy appears extreme and infringes on the rights of the majority like reverse racism. However, I think that you’re ignoring the unfortunate reality of white privilege. You and I can’t begin to understand the oppression that ethnic minorities have experienced and continue to experience because we are white. Society favors those in the majority and has even promoted abuse of those in the minority. I’m all for advocacy that promotes a more equal society for the underprivileged.
    I also disagree with you about what the crux of the Civil Rights movement is- it’s not “arguing with each other about whose life is more difficult.” The Civil Rights movement was born out of terrible injustices (lynching, Jim Crow laws) and continues to advocate against terrible injustices, although progress has been made. I do agree with you that advocacy may seem extreme at times, but then again, you and I are privileged to be in the racial majority. No movement is perfect. Overall, I see advocacy as striving to reach down and help assist those who are less privileged to be more at the level as the rest of us. I don’t view it as trying to take away the rights of others.
    The heart of God is for the victims and those who are down-trodden in life (many verses illustrate this). Unfortunately, many Christians opposed the Civil Rights movement at its inception and actively promoted racial discrimination. I would not want you to be perceived as agreeing with these Christians and opposing the Civil Rights movement entirely when I think that it has done a lot of good overall. (I also think the feminist movement has been beneficial in some ways, but I’m sure you beg to differ 😉

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      Thanks for reading, Stephanie.

      First, I completely reject the theory of white/male privilege. It’s not easier to be born pale and with a penis. It’s not better. Yes, there are *different* struggles. But how can we pick whose problems we’d RATHER have (unless we’ve lived life both ways?) It’s quite naive for the younger child to say, “You have aaaaaaall the fun!” because big brothers face hardships, too…just different ones.

      Second, even though you don’t view civil rights as trying to take away the rights of others, that’s what effectively happens. I attempted to prove that in my post.

      Finally, I totally agree with you (and God) about bringing comfort to victims. 🙂 We should aide the oppressed. I’m just saying: we have to stop trying to figure out who the victims of oppression are by looking solely at their color/gender.
      http://blog.chron.com/texassparkle/2014/05/the-myth-of-white-privilege/

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    2. mrsmcmommy Post author

      To clarify: the Civil Rights Movement accomplished several good things. But I stated that now “we THINK” we can fix anything if we complain loudly and often enough to politicians. We’ve taken a bright spot in history waaaaay too far. There’s a BIG difference between being beaten/killed by someone who LEGALLY OWNS YOU–and all of the so-called objectification Americans claim to face today. We’re not fighting for justice so much as addicted to being heard.

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  2. bethagrace

    I would much rather just not eat peanuts than force someone to drive across country so they wouldn’t die. You say it’s not “fair,” but it really is, as long as they would make the same exception for *my* deathly food allergy.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      Aw man, Bethany, we’ve historically agreed over politics! That’s what this is: a post about laws vs. personal conduct. Surely we’re back on common ground?! 🙂

      I used the airplane scenario as an example because it’s less emotionally-charged than the others. (And because there currently aren’t laws prohibiting peanuts on ALL flights…though it’s not hard to imagine.) I just want readers to be aware of the give and take in pretty much EVERY human interaction. When you take (and take and take) certain “rights,” then usually somebody else is giving up something.

      Americans tend to believe the “fair” thing is to blame invisible barriers, and then have laws written to correct these “injustices” of birth. But every law in favor of one individual puts a small leash on another. (I know you agree with me here!) 😉 I’m saying it’s important for us to have the self-awareness enough to think from other people’s perspective. We should slow down the advocacy marches now and then, to make sure we’re not stepping on somebody else.

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      1. bethagrace

        I don’t completely disagree with you. We should be aware of what getting our way (whether right or wrong) will affect other people. And really, that’s why a lot of advocacy groups are created: People don’t see how getting what they want affects other “little” people, so the little people create an advocacy group to fully show what’s going on.

        So for your education example, parents of “normal” kids should be aware of the challenges faced by parents of children with disabilities. And parents of children with disabilities should be aware of what they’re asking of parents of children without disabilities. And if we both realize the hardships we make for one another, maybe we can make something that works for everyone.

        The peanut example just struck me as a little… over the top.

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      2. mrsmcmommy Post author

        Just two points about advocating for the “little guys.”

        #1. As I mentioned to Stephanie above, the problem in our culture is trying to figure out who plays the role of the “little guy,” since everybody seems to think their lives are harder than average. I think there are several groups who used to have legitimate “little guy” status, but they’ve switched to bullying “big guys” thanks to cultural/political surges of power. That’s the basis of this post. We should be careful to assume we’re victims–even if we might have qualified in the past.

        #2. Advocacy becomes even more complicated for Christians, who technically are looking for ways to “lower” themselves…to attempt out-giving, while intentionally accepting unfairness in the name of love. After all, Jesus BECAME a little guy for us. He totally had the right to picket and protest, but he humbled Himself to the cross anyway. I think that Love at least *attempts* to drive cross-country to avoid being a burden to others. Maybe? Sometimes? And, in turn, it gives me the chance to lovingly respond, “Nonsense. Allow ME to make room for YOU on this flight?”

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  3. bethagrace

    It’s true that Christians are told to “not resist an evil person.” However, that makes it all the more important that we DO stand up for others who are being abused or simply not considered. Ideally, I’ll give up my cloak to the person who demands my tunic, and hopefully YOU will say, “Hey, now, that was wrong. Why don’t you give Bethany back her stuff?”

    As for flying, the person who reports his peanut allergy is assuming that we as a society have agreed that our love of peanuts is overridden by our hatred of killing people or wildly inconveniencing them. Perhaps we simply aren’t aware that our tiny packets of peanuts will kill them. Now that we are, MOST of us are just jolly with having pretzels instead–because we weren’t actually the evil person in Matthew 6. We just didn’t realize how we were hurting out neighbors.

    Now, let’s say the airline refuses to budge on the peanuts. Yes, the family is going to have to drive. However, when we find out *why* the family drove instead of just flying, we, as Christians, should then stand up for that family. We should be the ones who call the airlines and explain the issues that our neighbor is facing and ask them to please just serve pretzels instead of peanuts. And maybe we’ll even go as far as to say that we won’t fly that airline until our friends can. Maybe we will ask others to do the same. Maybe we ask others to share our friends’ story. Voila! Advocacy at its best.

    Advocacy at its best is a partnership between the oppressed (explaining the problem) and people who support the oppressed (telling decision-makers that they care about the problem, too).

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  4. Stephanie Rose

    I apologize for my delayed response. I was out of town for a few days and missing part of my power cord for my computer. Thanks for the clarification, Amanda! And I agree with Bethagrace’s definition of advocacy as a partnership. Amanda, I found the post about white privilege an interesting read. I still do agree with white/male/social class privilege, but i agree with you that the issue is complex. Every person has his/her own struggles as well as privileges that go beyond race and sex. However, I do believe that society historically has favored and continues to favor certain groups of people. There are many examples such as slavery and limited rights to women. While I agree that every person has certain difficulties, I believe that some people have the deck stacked against them and face more difficulties than others. I think it’s useful to study the various ways that people struggle, including understanding the privileges and discrimination that are ingrained in our society. Your example of an older and younger sibling is creative, but I think it is too simplified and fails to capture the complicated nature of the issue. The analogy is different from real-life in certain ways: The brothers are in the same family and of the same race/sex/social class. Due to his age and maturity, the older brother is understandably given reasonable rights and responsibilities that are greater than the younger brother’s rights. Most people would agree that the older brother deserves to have more than the younger brother…. This aspect of your analogy doesn’t translate well to real-life situations. Minorities do not deserve to have fewer rights and greater discrimination than the majority. Society unfairly favors certain people, and I think it’s beneficial to learn about these power differentials and help reasonably advocate for those who are down-trodden and overlooked by society.
    Btw, I read all of your blog posts, I just don’t usually have the courage to comment 😀 Thank you for your thought-provoking posts

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