As a former public speaker during my mid-twenties, and something of an advocate for people with disabilities,
I often came across as an angry young man. It didn’t start that way, but for a number of reasons, trying to work as an ally for people who were navigating all the same obstacles both within and outside of the disability community was an exercise resulting in frustration at the best of times.
Truth be told, I was angry and frustrated.
On deep reflection, I had every right to be as angry as I was, but what I didn’t have the right to do was project that anger onto others.
So, to start today’s blog, I want to honestly apologize for that.
I am sorry for projecting my anger, no matter how justified it felt at the time, onto you. I am sorry that some in the disability community may have felt attacked by things I had written or said.
Trust me when I say, I’ve spent a lot of time and energy being angry about the state of the disability sector, and sometimes, angry about my own role within it. I am sorry for that too.
Guess what that anger achieved? Precisely nothing.
Was it justified? Yep, probably, and anyone who was involved in the inner circle and prepared to look beyond what was being posted on social media probably understood that.
That’s the thing about anger, and why we can often be tricked into having those angry feelings on more occasions than we would probably care to admit.
Anger comes from two very important things.
Firstly, anger comes from injustice. That actually only clicked with me recently, but it’s hugely important to realize when taking a step back to assess your behavior and mood.
Chances are, if you’re really angry about something, it is coming from a place of injustice that you feel, or have felt for some time.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to work out that there is a lot of injustice that goes on within disability land, and all of that injustice matters greatly.
I’m a firm believer that it’s our worst stories, the worst examples of discrimination, that should be where we focus because those stories are often buried somewhere near the bottom.
To build better, you’ve got to build from the bottom up. Being angry isn’t a bad thing, but taking an angry action toward the things that you do (both professionally and personally) will likely always have adverse results, especially if you’re on the ground and a part of that building work.
The second thing about anger is that it is often historical. The things we get most angry about, and the things that result in us using that anger in action, are often things we have historical experience with.
So, in my case as that angry disability advocate, there was that deep sense of injustice that had historical meaning for me.
Again, there is nothing wrong with having a deep desire to make some change in whatever community it is that you feel deeply connected to.
For me, I didn’t just want to make some change, I wanted to be a leader in that change. For a while, that’s exactly what I did, but what I wasn’t prepared to do was be patient.
When you feel like you’re doing good work, when you have a real passion for how that work can act as a vehicle for wider change, and especially when you’re young and inexperienced, patience isn’t exactly something that fits into the equation.
But patience, as the great leaders of our time would tell you, is a virtue you must have. Patience, passion, belief, and a whole lot of room to make the small adjustments needed over time.
There is no playbook to solving the problems that face our disability community. As advocates, and really as a group of people, we need to have a greater understanding of just why people might feel as angry as they do.
Anger, as I myself continue to learn, cannot be the emotion that drives the discussions we have in this community, but we can’t attempt to just shut it out either.
We need to accept anger, understand anger, and give people the real support to resolve that anger and turn it into something that can truly aid what it is we are trying to achieve here.
Don’t just shut them out and label them angry, negative, and toxic people. Don’t just block them on social media.
As for our leaders? They need professional development, they need mental skills coaches.
I know now that my anger within the disability sector, something that honestly did consume me for some time, came from a deep place of injustice with historical roots.
I know I am not alone in that, and what I’ve learned from being in that place is indeed a greater understanding of the things that made me angry in the first place.
The sense of injustice, the terrible history of blatant ableism. All of that, but what is getting angry about it going to achieve? Not much in all honesty.