While our personal troubles may feel very private to us, they may indeed reflect public issues for society as a whole.
Here’s how. The 60-hour work week becoming the norm in this country for many professionals is regarded as outlandish in other countries that give four-week vacations and expect parents to have time and energy to raise their kids. Emotional abuse at home or work reflects a breakdown of integrity and trust, and when it occurs at work, it reflects a serious deficit in human resource policies. Credit policies that have put many people’s finances under the bus are now discussed in the news and are the subject of intense policy debates in Congress. Inability to concentrate, insomnia, and protracted grief are all symptoms of various mental disorders that can be treated if the person would just be willing to overcome their private shame enough to seek help.
Did I say “mental disorders”? Even the very term conjures up such stigma, blame, and shame that many people experiencing these difficulties don’t get the help they need.
What I’m talking about is called “critical consciousness” — a fancy term to indicate awareness that a private trouble may often reflect a public issue. When we engage in critical consciousness, we critically and consciously relate the private trouble to the larger context and take actions to address them. What allows this situation to even happen? What structures or policies should be in place to correct it? What can be done about it? If more of our private troubles were treated as public issues, there would be much less misery in the world — and a lot more joy and happiness.
From a private trouble to a public issue
In Parts 1 and 2, I talked about the advantages of reaching out to others when we have challenges and offered suggestions of how to find the right people to go to. Going it alone is fraught with difficulties and can keep us stuck. The mind — our mind — that created the problem may not have the requisite information to solve the problem. It often does take a village — having a good support system is essential for self-care. Others can help us make sense of our swirling thoughts and point the way out of the morass.
As you take care of yourself, you may also consider others in the same boat who may be facing similar concerns. This is where you move from the receiving end to the giving back part of the equation. You could help address the issue on a broader scale.
What can you do as just one person? The answer is you don’t do it alone. You join with others.
You can find a group devoted to the issue and volunteer or donate funds. If you feel committed enough, consider mobilizing others to join with you in initiating change. Chapter 7 in Reframing Change is one of many possible references for how to do this.
Candy Lightner famously founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving when her daughter was killed by a drunk driver. Employees all over the country are forming affinity groups to provide support and guidance to people facing similar challenges as themselves. Paul Loeb has written an outstanding book describing person after person who took a stand for a cause they believed in based on private troubles they had been experiencing. His book, Soul of a Citizen, is now in its second release.
State Representative Garnet Coleman, a Texas State Legislator and one of my personal heroes, has made a public service career turning his private trouble of bipolar disorder into public advocacy for mental health treatment. In the process, he has garnered many awards and recognition for his outstanding and unwavering support for this cause.
I feel passionate about this subject because as a former community organizer, I have seen how transformative it can be when people join together with others around a cause that they believe in. It happened to me. Now, in my organizational work, I see it over and over again when teams work together to figure out how they can make positive changes in their sphere of influence.
You don’t have to found an organization to convert a private trouble into a public issue. All you need are others with whom you can join or who will join you in figuring out what might be done. Any action, large or small, can help. As Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Have you had a transformative experience by joining with others to advance a cause or a group that you believed in?
To read Private Troubles, Public Issues, Part I, click here.
To read Private Troubles, Public Issues, Part II, click here.
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