Light of the Lamp
The light of the lamp is going out in all directions dispelling the darkness, and yet it is has no knowledge of what it is doing. A magnet does not act from volition; yet it continually draws objects unto itself. These are but illustrations of how we are continually exerting an influence upon those about us even though we may be altogether unconscious of it.
—Elder William Crouse, 1918
Al Chassereau, a citizen advocate for more than 20 years, sent this quote our way after our Annual Covered Dish Supper and Meeting. It captures one of the most subtle yet powerful aspects of citizen advocacy – the power of positive role models within a culture and a community. Some of the learning from these role models is conscious; some is more at the level of the unconscious. Both are powerful.
When we started our work 31 years ago, we hoped that local people would become citizen advocates for people whose lives were being diminished because of prejudice toward disability. We hoped that local citizens could use their influence to change what was and was not happening in another person’s life. We have hundreds and hundreds of stories about this.
As we listened to advocates talk about their involvement over the years, we realized that advocates were being deeply influenced by the person they had gotten to know. The person that we call the protégé had in fact become an unexpected teacher. This was a form of influence we had not expected.
There is also another kind of influence that we see in Technicolor at our Annual Covered Dish Supper. That is the influence that advocates and protégés and their personal stories have on other people.
- When 400 people look around the room and see people from very different walks of life together in solidarity, they notice.
- When 400 people see and hear a young woman talk about deciding to connect with a 4 year-old boy and help him have a good future, they notice.
- When 400 people see and hear two men talk about knowing and helping one another for more than 20, years they notice.
- When 400 people hear a man stand up and talk about how his life has been changed because of meeting a man that other people run away from, they notice.
- When 400 people hear about a man whose life was saved because another man said, “Yes, I will,” instead of ,“Oh, I am too busy,” they notice.
We have known that an advocate and a protégé influence one another and one another’s lives and circumstances in many ways. We are beginning to get a glimmer of how hundreds of people being more present and responsible in one another’s lives can influence the way people who live in Savannah think about their role in the lives of other people.
We learn from each other. Four hundred people learned some useful and life-giving lessons from their fellow citizens at the Covered Dish Supper. Those 400 people spread the word to their friends. Year after year, we tell stories of people being more present and responsible in one another’s lives. Thousands of people see and hear the stories. Gradually our picture of what people can come to mean to one another becomes THE picture of what people can come to mean to one another in our community.
When the accepted expectation of how we treat one another begins to change, we call that social change. It’s our 50 year vision. To create a change in what people mean to one another in Savannah – less focus on creating and highlighting differences and more focus on dedication to each other through heartfelt personal relationships.
These are but illustrations of how we are continually exerting an influence upon those about us even though we may be altogether unconscious of it.
Hope to see you at next year’s meeting.