Advocacy Mindset: It’s Good!

Continuing in our application of _Mindset_, next I cover the second G, which is Good.

How do you know an advocate is Good?

First, I’ll talk about what it means to not be good.

Many advocates I have met have been not too good.

That is, they have not listened to me at all. In fact, they made me feel like an idiot for having any ideas at all. They have often said one thing to one group of people and the opposite to another. The fact that our streets in San Diego suck for cycling is as much the fault of those who pretend to speak for me, but do not, as it is because of malignant neglect from those who have designed our streets to be so deadly.

For me, a key phrase of a not very good advocate is where they talk about education too much. The reason that this is suspect is because this means that they have a fixed mindset that is closed to listening to other people. Teachers talk a great deal and feel that they have little to learn from their students.

So what does it mean to be good?

First of all, a good advocate is honest. If she’s anti-infrastructure, she won’t present herself as anything else even if she knows that people won’t like her.

Thus, someone who is truly honest, who is good, might be less liked than someone who says what they know is socially acceptable. Good advocates are also not liked because they open their mouths when it’s not politically savvy to do so. That’s the point of being an advocate, being a pain in the ass. An advocate who’s liked by all is probably totally ineffective.

Another point of a good advocate is that they are balanced. This means realizing that they are not going to get everything that they want perfectly. I’d rather take some imperfect infrastructure than none at all. An advocate who is unbalanced believes that they are perfect and the expect others to be perfect at all times. This sounds silly and insane, but think about the Orlando 2003 paper which blamed each cyclist’s death on a tiny mistake that they had made. If only they were super-human, they’d be alive today.

Another aspect of being good is openness. A good organization has clear goals and will admit when they do not meet these goals. It’s OK to try hard and not meet all of our goals after a single try. If an organization has no goals or their goals are so vague as to be meaningless this is because they either are working against what they know that the public wants or they are too lazy to do anything meaningful. I suggest against giving your money and time to such organizations.

Finally, a good advocate is fair. They believe that the punishment should fit the crime. Too often, those opposed to decent infrastructure instead suggest that a minor mistake or traffic violation deserves the death penalty. Nobody should die for making a small mistake on their bicycle. Yet this is the world that the humans with power have constructed for those of us who enjoy cycling.

Knowing what makes an advocate good does not mean that I feel that any advocate is perfect. We can all do better. However, we should have some standards for our behavior in order to improve ourselves, and I do believe that the traits above are a good start.

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