How to speak up—for your­self and oth­ers

Reader's Digest (Canada) - - Front Page - BY SADIYA AN­SARI ILLUSTRATION BY JENN LIV

THERE’S A SINK­ING SEN­SA­TION that hap­pens when you’ve been silent in a sit­u­a­tion where you wish you’d said some­thing—whether it was stand­ing up to a bully as a kid or keep­ing mum in a meet­ing while a peer rail­roaded an idea you worked on for months.

Speak­ing up seems like it should be easy, but when we’re faced with power im­bal­ances or strug­gling to nav­i­gate bu­reau­cracy, it can be chal­leng­ing to sum­mon an in­ner ad­vo­cate. This co­nun­drum of­ten comes up in med­i­cal set­tings, where jar­gon-filled con­ver­sa­tions and lim­ited time with doc­tors can leave you feel­ing un­heard.

Robin McGee ex­pe­ri­enced this first­hand. In 2008, at 46, she was told her rec­tal bleed­ing was likely a re­ac­tion to an an­tibi­otic she’d taken months prior for an in­fec­tion. She wanted to be­lieve her GP, but two years, three other doc­tors and many med­i­cal mis­takes later, the clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist based in Port Williams, N.S., learned she ac­tu­ally had stage 3 col­orec­tal can­cer.

McGee’s ex­pe­ri­ence is com­mon for any­one ea­ger to have their needs taken se­ri­ously by peo­ple in po­si­tions of author­ity. Her per­sis­tence meant she re­ceived treat­ment and went into re­mis­sion for a time. She’s since writ­ten a book about the ex­pe­ri­ence and helps ad­vise oth­ers who are nav­i­gat­ing sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions. Her tips may be use­ful if you’re strug­gling to speak up.

Be­ing Your Own Best Ad­vo­cate

McGee was armed with knowl­edge and had the con­fi­dence to ques­tion her doc­tors. But de­spite her es­ca­lat­ing symp­toms and fam­ily his­tory of the dis­ease, she was re­peat­edly dis­missed.

If you’re wor­ried about be­ing heard, start by mak­ing sure you’re us­ing all of your avail­able re­sources. If you’re talk­ing to a doc­tor, for in­stance, McGee sug­gests do­ing your home­work: look up your symp­toms on­line so you have a sense of the range of con­di­tions that should be dis­cussed.

If you’re strug­gling with an author­ity fig­ure who doesn’t seem to take your con­cerns se­ri­ously, don’t be afraid to reach out to some­one else for help. In a med­i­cal set­ting, that might mean ask­ing for a sec­ond opinion, ei­ther by re­quest­ing a re­fer­ral to a spe­cial­ist or find­ing another prac­ti­tioner. If you’re nav­i­gat­ing road­blocks within a gov­ern­ment agency, con­tact­ing an om­buds­man—who in­ves­ti­gates com­plaints—may help re­solve the is­sue.

Fi­nally, fol­low up: don’t hes­i­tate to call a clinic to en­sure your re­fer­rals have been sent and re­ceived or con­tact a case man­ager to in­quire about the sta­tus of your fi­nan­cialas­sis­tance ap­pli­ca­tion.

Stand­ing Up for Oth­ers

It can be tricky to speak up for some­one else, es­pe­cially if we don’t have a close re­la­tion­ship to the per­son who needs help. But it’s es­pe­cially cru­cial to look out for peo­ple as they age. Phoebe Van Ham, a Chicagoarea so­cial worker and life coach for se­niors, says older adults can find it tough to make de­mands: they may ex­pect oth­ers to look out for their in­ter­ests, or they may lack a sup­port net­work as friends die or move away.

Mary M. Gil­hooly, a pro­fes­sor in the depart­ment of clin­i­cal stud­ies at Brunel Univer­sity Lon­don, in Eng­land, has stud­ied the fi­nan­cial abuse of el­ders and says there can be many rea­sons why peo­ple don’t in­ter­vene—a neigh­bour wor­ry­ing she shouldn’t poke her nose into some­one else’s busi­ness, for in­stance.

The key to a suc­cess­ful in­ter­ven­tion is to make sure you have per­mis­sion from the per­son af­fected, ac­cord­ing to the Cana­dian Net­work for the Pre­ven­tion of Elder Abuse. There may be a rea­son why some­one hasn’t ad­dressed a sit­u­a­tion you may view as ex­ploita­tive—an ag­ing par­ent may re­al­ize they’re be­ing taken

ad­van­tage of but would rather live at home with their chil­dren than be put in a nurs­ing home, for ex­am­ple.

Con­fronting the abuser should be avoided—they may take it out on the vul­ner­a­ble party. While re­port­ing abuse to the au­thor­i­ties might seem to make the most sense, other op­tions, such as con­nect­ing the vic­tim with a lawyer or so­cial worker, may lead to more pro­duc­tive out­comes.

Fight­ing for the Greater Good

Ag­i­tat­ing for change on a broader scale is a daunt­ing prospect for many of us. “Dwelling on how help­less we feel to­ward larger prob­lems is the great­est in­hibitor to ad­vo­cat­ing,” says Ilana Landsberg-Lewis, the Toron­to­based ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the Stephen Lewis Foun­da­tion.

Another bar­rier, she notes, is the idea that only a cer­tain type of per­son can make a dif­fer­ence—that if we haven’t de­voted our lives to ac­tivism, we’re pow­er­less. “That isn’t true,” she says, “be­cause it takes ev­ery­one’s tal­ent, pas­sion and in­di­vid­ual con­tri­bu­tions to cre­ate so­cial change.”

Through her work at the United Na­tions and the char­i­ta­ble or­ga­ni­za­tion she es­tab­lished along­side her fa­ther in 2003, Landsberg-Lewis has sup­ported grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tions with is­sues like com­bat­ing vi­o­lence against women and stem­ming the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa. She ad­vises those who have never done ad­vo­cacy work to find a cause that moves them and re­mem­ber that ev­ery­one has some­thing to con­trib­ute.

Samiya Abdi was moved to act in Fe­bru­ary 2017, when she learned that So­ma­lia was on the brink of famine just six years af­ter around 260,000 lives were lost dur­ing the last cri­sis. “I made a vow to my­self—I’m not will­ing to see such dev­as­ta­tion again,” the 35-year-old Toron­to­nian says.

Abdi had never done fundrais­ing, so she so­licited help through Face­book. She con­nected with six young Cana­dian women of Somali de­scent, all of whom boasted spe­cific skill sets—from fear­lessly re­quest­ing do­na­tions to spread­sheet mas­tery.

In April, Abdi and her group, Fight the Famine, hosted an event in Toronto. In com­bi­na­tion with their on­line cam­paign, it net­ted $30,000— and they’re still col­lect­ing. Since the event, the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment has de­cided to match in­di­vid­ual do­na­tions, mean­ing the group’s $30,000 con­tri­bu­tion to Is­lamic Re­lief Canada will ac­tu­ally be worth $60,000.

At the end of the fundraiser, Abdi re­al­ized they’d be able to sup­port emer­gency re­lief for 400 fam­i­lies for a month. She fo­cuses on the im­pact that money will have, rather than get­ting over­whelmed by how many peo­ple are still at risk of los­ing their lives. “We need to con­tinue,” she says. “This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.