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There’s an advocate in all of us. At times it lies dormant — and at other times, it’s explosive. It’s strong, passionate, focused, result-oriented, and it can define who we are. We can spend a lifetime seeking issues in the world to advocate, or we can let the issues find us.
The truth is, whether you seek to advocate or choose to let advocacy find you, there is no greater or more noble calling than to become involved in the issues that impact your life, find ways to affect public policy, regularly express your thoughts and stand up for what you believe in. Equally important is to take a stand on what you may not believe in.
Whether you support or oppose an issue or cause, the only mistake is to choose to be silent, to seek anonymity.
Based on my work and as a lobbyist on Capitol Hill, you’d think I’d write on the intricacies, complexities and inner workings of the legislative and regulatory processes; people seem to like that. Perhaps even the intrigue and mystique of American politics. You might think that I would have wanted to spin stories of power, influence and the glamour of Washington, D.C. — perhaps even some gossip inside the Beltway. All of which exist, and I’ve seen a lot.
Some would even expect that I’d write a book series about the energy and enthusiasm of a wide-eyed young man beginning his life’s journey working on the Hill more than three decades ago, and the delusion of that young man when faced with the realities of how the system works. It would seem to make sense that I’d write about that; after all, it’s all I know. But it wouldn’t be accurate.
You’d think I would have written about all these things, but I didn’t. My takeaways are far vaster than the system and positive. They have led me to share my thoughts about the lessons I’ve learned.
Mindset of positive change
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines advocacy as the “act or process of supporting a cause or proposal: the act or process of advocating something.” I’ve read this definition many times and spent a lifetime in its pursuit, but it always lacked something — something of great significance.
Don’t get me wrong. I respect you, Merriam-Webster, I really do. But this definition simply doesn’t do “advocacy” justice. Though the statement is accurate, and I understand the challenge to define it, it still stands incomplete. Certainly not the fault of Merriam-Webster.
Advocacy isn’t the subject of a functional or mechanical definition to comprehend its meaning. Advocacy is a mindset, a belief, a lifestyle that can lead to an understanding of who you are, thereby adding value to your life and leading to meaning. Most would believe that advocacy is related to and only refers directly to the act of lobbying.
Kind of true, but kind of not. Though advocacy can involve lobbying issues in both houses of the U.S. Congress, the administration or White House, federal regulatory agencies or state legislature, it means much more to comprehend its completeness.
Advocacy can offer an individual the greatest gift — an opportunity to achieve the very measure of oneself as a human being. It provides and allows us all the opportunities to affect positive change around us, including the ability to do absolute good to help improve the quality of life for our families, friends, colleagues, communities and future generations.
Whether you advocate to have a stop sign installed at a busy and dangerous street corner to make it safe, for increased funding for career and technical education for the skilled trades, to protect the sensitivity of intellectual property rights, or to advance national health care, one’s committed involvement is the test of an individual’s resolve.
In other words, how badly do you want your cause to succeed? How badly do you want to move your mountain? Advocacy outlines a beginning, a middle and an end to achieve.
Advocacy doesn’t give you purpose. It does, however, draw out, challenge and define your purpose. It allows you to discover who you are based on what and how you’re willing to apply truth, integrity, charity, tolerance, friendship and love for humankind. This helps to define who you are and will ultimately deliver you to your purpose.
An early obsession
For me, the journey of advocacy began when I was a kid. It’s always assured me I’m in the right walk of life, my wheelhouse.
I remember as a kid, sitting at the kitchen table in the house I grew up in, having a bowl of Cap’n Crunch cereal. I loved Cap’n Crunch. I saw something on the back of the cereal box sitting on the table that caught my eye and lit me up. And I wasn’t merely lit up because the cereal contained enough sugar to make my brain explode. I saw something — an advertisement for a Cap’n Crunch treasure chest — that seemed unbelievable.
I wanted it and absolutely had to have it. I became somewhat obsessive. I was not unlike almost every other kid, and I had to have that treasure chest. I truly don’t remember how my family reacted to my obsession. I don’t know whether they supported my obsession, but I’m sure they thought it was silly. Didn’t matter to me, though. I wanted that treasure chest.
My issue, however, was I needed money to purchase the treasure chest, money I didn’t have. I needed what I thought was a fortune at the time, something like $7, not including postage. When lumped together, the cost of the treasure chest and postage seemed like an unreachable fortune.
I had a mission. I asked my parents if I could do odd jobs around the house for money. I searched the couch for loose change; I searched the house for forgotten pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters. And I walked around park benches with my head down in search of spare change that might have dropped out of someone’s purse or pocket.
I even thought about selling my little sister. I wanted the treasure chest that bad. So, I saved what money I could.
One day, after I saved about half the money needed (including postage), I pleaded with my mother to help me. Actually, I needed two favors. I needed half the money to supplement what I had, and Cap’n Crunch would only accept a check for payment; I didn’t have a checking account. My mother agreed to help me. I gave her the money I had, and she wrote a check for the full amount I needed. I mailed the form and check.
Painfully, I waited for what seemed like years. But three weeks later, my father called to me while I was playing in the backyard and told me a package had come for me in the mail. Heaven on earth! I ran into the house, grabbed my package and opened it.
My Cap’n Crunch treasure chest wasn’t anything close to what I thought it would be. It wasn’t close to what was advertised. It wasn’t close to what I had been promised, and it wasn’t close to my dream. I loved Cap’n Crunch, but the Cap’n crushed me.
I was angry. I felt ripped off, and I wanted to do something about it. I was disillusioned at an early age, and I let the world know about it — the local newspaper, friends, family my elementary school at show-and-tell.
I wrote to the Cap’n and let him know what I thought of my treasure chest. A couple of weeks later, I received a letter and a coupon for another box of Cap’n Crunch. Satisfaction? Hardly. But the point here is that I was heard. My mountain wasn’t big, but I felt as if I moved it. And so began my life in advocacy. My new obsession became consumer rip-offs.
The father of three young boys wakes up on a typical business day morning, takes a shower, dresses for work, throws down a cup of coffee, says goodbye to his family, jumps in his car and fights traffic for the next hour to get to work. Pretty common stuff.
Midmorning, while at work, the phone at the receptionist’s desk rings at the organization where the father works. And soon, over the intercom, the father is paged by the receptionist who informs him that he has a call. “It’s your wife,” the receptionist says. Pretty common stuff.
The father gets on the phone and hears his wife crying. She tells the father that she just returned home from taking one of their sons to the doctor for an impromptu check-up. He had a recent bout with the flu and an insatiable thirst while the family was on a recent vacation at the beach.
“He has diabetes,” the wife tells the father.
Suddenly — instantly — their world is turned upside down. The family is devastated. They know little to nothing about diabetes, and their first thoughts are that their son is in severe jeopardy.
From that moment on, the family becomes immersed in the issue of diabetes — insulin, syringes, blood tests at least twice a day for the rest of his life, insurance, hospital expenses, candy-less Halloweens, sugarless birthday cakes, diabetes research, and how to care for a little boy diagnosed with diabetes.
It also throws the family into diabetes advocacy to care for their son and to help lobby for increased funding for diabetes research to find a cure.
This is the story of my family.
Remember earlier when I mentioned that advocacy doesn’t define your purpose but challenges your commitment? In essence, it defines who you are. You never know when you’ll be thrown into a life of advocacy that defines your purpose. But it happens to all of us and measures our resolve.
Advocacy doesn’t give us purpose; it helps us to understand our human qualities.