Compassionate Advocacy

October 8th, 2010 by Dionna | 17 Comments
Posted in Breastfeeding/Lactivism, Circumcision/Intactivism

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In the past several weeks, I’ve seen a spotlight put on some of the comments from a minority of “inactivists” and “lactivists” on various news stories and tragedies. I think (although I can’t know) that most of these comments are from the fringe. Every movement has people who have very extreme viewpoints – unfortunately, these people are usually the most visible. They certainly don’t represent my views, nor those of the many activists with whom I am acquainted.1

The stories – from formula recalls to tragic infant deaths – are gossiped and discussed in miniature from Tweet to Tweet, status update to status update. It’s like a virtual game of “Telephone,” and the further removed from the actual humanity the various commenters are, the more caustic and reprehensible their words seem.2

There is a unique problem in being an activist on the Internet – this faceless, often nameless and fleeting connection we have with others. Instead of holding the hand of a mother wrestling with pressures we don’t understand, our fingers encounter only the hard plastic of the keys as we clickety-clack away. We can’t immediately see the effect our words have on others, we can’t read body language or other subtle cues that we rely on during face-to-face conversations.

And with those plastic keys, with that hard screen staring impassively back, some activists forget to temper their message with sensitivity. Things we would never say to a stranger seated next to us on the subway, things we could never imagine shouting at a friend over the phone, they are typed, entered, and forgotten.

Most people who advocate for babies are inherently compassionate, whether they support a mother’s right to breastfeed anytime and anywhere, or whether they support genital integrity for everyone, boys and girls alike.

But the passion – the fire at the heart of our advocacy efforts – cannot make us insensitive to the hearts and minds we  hope to impress upon.

There must be a way to find the balance – to affect social change without attacking.

Do activists have to be quiet? To always be polite? No.

But we can be thoughtful.

We can remember who we are addressing: the words we use when talking to a group of doctors should be different than those we use when addressing a grieving mother.
We can remember that people are watching: even when we talk amongst ourselves online, we must remember that others are reading and evaluating. Scathing words are still scathing, regardless of where you speak them.
We can remember that while it may not appear that our words made an impact today – for this child – those words may percolate, the listener may digest, and the impact may be had with the next child.3
We can be champions for a cause without demonizing those who think differently.

If our goal is to improve the lives of children and to change hearts and minds, how does it serve us to be divisive?

Our advocacy efforts will be for naught if we alienate those we are trying to reach.

Please think before you speak online:

Will your message add value to the conversation?
Are your words meant to help, or hurt?
If your message were the only exposure someone had to your advocacy efforts, what would they take away?

Karen from Intentional Birth shared these wise words:

[Consider these three] questions: Is it True? Is it Kind? Is it Necessary? It is possible to filter what might not be helpful to the discussion, no matter which side of the equation/debate your thoughts may hold.

It’s not just about what you think. It’s about the impact of your comment. Does it help? Does it bring comfort and support? Does it bring peace? Does it promote love? Are you bringing forward a part of you – authentically sharing with another with no expectation, just to be helpful?

Or are you being critical? Skeptical? Are you expecting others to conform to your standards? Is the comment divisive? Does it purposely breed controversy? Is it ignorant or hurtful?

It matters.

Remember, activists:

Knowledge, not fear.
Compassion, not judgment.
Love, not hate.

Photo credit: jvdberg

  1. To the majority of activists who are not associated with these comments, this post is not aimed at you. And to anyone reading this post who is not familiar with the many sensitive, compassionate activists online, please do not judge us by the actions of the few.
  2. It was tempting to dig up some of the heartless comments I’ve seen lately, but I’d like to keep this space free from hate in any form.
  3. In other words, please don’t attack someone because they made a decision that is different from one you would make. That person may go on to have another child. A grandchild. She may think differently later! But if we attack today, we may inadvertently harden her toward our message forever.

17 Responses to:
"Compassionate Advocacy"

  1. TheFeministBreeder   feministbreeder

    Thank you. And thank you for not reposting the hateful comments here. They’ve already gotten enough mileage.

  2. I couldn’t agree more. Perfectly said.

  3. krysten

    i think this is great, not just for advocacy or activism, but everyday life! great when in a discussion with the husband, or anyone really. i’m going to bookmark this and keep it nearby, thanks!

  4. Amen! Thank you for this great post.

  5. Thank you for writing this. I just posted on FB about the travesty that this has all turned into.
    “The pro-cutting smear campaign against certain well known Intactivists is completely out of control!! They are out to get her and a certain other person is using this as yet another excuse to continue her senseless vendetta against her. The lies they are spreading on the internet is unbelievable.
    as someone who’s been following every word I can assure you that 99% of “intactivists” never EVER said a single negative comment to the parents of that poor baby. and the idiotic allegations on Twitter are just unbelievable- at no time has anyone EVER mentioned protesting at the funeral- where do these ridiculous ideas come from?! The vast majority of intactivists have offered nothing but condolences and sympathy and prayers for this grieving family.Those few who did lash out at the family did so as individuals and do NOT represent the opinions of Intactivists. do not judge ALL by the actions of the single lone commenter. We are just as mad at them as the pro mgm people are.”

  6. Our Sentiments   oursentiments

    Nicely written! It was horrific to see that wreck. I was analyzing everything I saw. I understood the heart of what they tried to say, but that was not the way to go.

    Yes, we are human and some can use anger as a vent for frustration. It’s sometimes hard to forget who/what we are really trying to change. It’s hard to fight/change the larger, more richer corporations (Formula Companies, Medical Society, etc.) That does not give the right to do what was done.

    I was shocked, I mourned. I have words in my head I wished I had never read. All I kept thinking was, October 15th is right around the corner, please be kind.

  7. RealMommy   TrueRealMommy

    I was also heartbroken by these messages. I had to find a way to distance myself from these zealots, while keeping my passion for intactivism. I decided these minority intactivists needed a new name:

    Thank you for a great post. We could all use these as reminders for how to act in our every day.

  8. shannon

    thanks for posting. i sometimes get swept up judging and i forget things like one of my best friends was induced a day after her due date, had an epidural and is considering circumcising her next baby…i would never say hurtful things to her about her choices because she is a person and i love her. but i can be harsh sometimes to those i dont know. thanks for reminding us to keep compassion in our hearts!

  9. Ashley   gleesonmama

    Beautifully put. Thank you for this.

  10. Maman A Droit   MamanADroit

    Great tips. It’s difficult sometimes to take a strong stance on one side of an issue without sounding like you are personally attacking people who’ve made the opposite choice, but I think trying to do it with compassion and keeping the real people reading your message in mind certainly helps!

  11. Very thoughtful post. Thank you for taking the time to write and remind us all that everyone has feelings and there is a ripple effect to everything we say, write, think and do, or don’t say, write, think or do.

    We may think we are right today but will we still think we are right 20 years from now? We can present our case but shouldn’t we let people have the freedom to make up their own minds.

    • Dionna   CodeNameMama

      I have little doubt that in 20 years I’ll still feel as strongly about breastfeeding and circumcision, but it’s definitely unrealistic to think we can shove our opinions down other peoples’ throats.

      Thanks to everyone for commenting and for keeping this a safe space. I try very hard not to let CNM get too contentious – it’s just not conducive to healthy discussion.

  12. Amber   AmberStrocel

    Thank you, Dionna. You’re bang on.

    I actually had an interesting experience this week when I read a study about how things I did during pregnancy may have hurt my babies. It allowed me to see a lot of these issues from the other side – the side of the parent who’s “falling short”. From that side, it’s much easier to understand how sensitive someone can be to a stray remark that we might never give a second thought to.

  13. Ruth

    You cannot possibly imagine how proud I am of you…for your compassion and wisdom. This poor woman is grieving so horribly for her lost little one…if only everyone who came in contact with her were as kind as you are!!!
    As we already know…we can disagree but still love each other!!!

  14. Melinda J

    Thank you for this reminder!!!

  15. Melissa   vibreantwanderer

    Thank you for this reminder! Very well put, as always, Dionna.

  16. Heather

    Very well written, this article really touched me. It doesn’t help anyone to judge people, and harsh judgment certainly won’t reach out to anyone. I loved every word of this, especially when you said it may not have an impact with ‘this’ child, but perhaps the next child. Almost 6 years ago when I had my son, while I did adopt many of the attachment parenting tendencies, I had no interest and almost no knowledge about a lot of the topics which are so important to me now – however, over time, and through a lot of reading and connecting on the internet, I have become much more educated about certain things through wonderful communities like this one, and my viewpoints have changed drastically (for the better IMO!) I believe it’s never too late to modify your parenting style, and while I regret that my son was circumcised at birth almost 6 years ago, because that is what my family told me “was supposed to happen” and I had never heard otherwise, I now know so much more about things like this thanks to moms like you, and I would never again put another child through that unnecessary pain. I can honestly say that I am a much different parent now to my two children, my 5yo son and 6 mo daughter, than I was to my son 5 years ago. The impact was made with me, although not without much deliberation. I am just glad I was exposed to the more compassionate activist mommas out there! Thank you all for being there when I finally decided to come around! <3

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