I recently wrote a piece about a very large corporation who, in my opinion, when afforded the opportunity, had failed to deliver a quality service to people with disabilities. In my piece I named the corporation and its branch I attended. On a friend’s recommendation, I submitted the piece to two well-known publications for consideration. Both declined to accept it, simply because they were not accepting new submissions (not because it didn’t fit or wasn’t good or wasn’t appropriate). I don’t think they even read it, to be honest.
Basically, I attended an event that was both insensitive and not inclusive towards people with mental health disorders and physical disabilities. Due to the nature of the event, I know for a fact that at least one or more of the attendees lived with a mental illness, and I thought that this company – me being a long-time supporter of their business – would seize the opportunity to serve those people. The result was sadly the opposite. Essentially their lack of planning or lack of care, I don’t know which, was triggering to many of the attendees, myself included.
After I had sent the piece off, I began to feel very anxious about it. This business is directly related to my line of work as a writer, and I felt really – dirty, I guess the word is – about writing it, even though I had consulted an expert in journalism beforehand to get her feedback on whether or not I would be violating any code of ethics. (I’m in journalism school; I don’t have enough experience to call myself a journalist yet.) The piece was an opinion piece and I explicitly presented it that way, and I never wrote anything like this business was bad and should not exist; I only pointed out that I think they missed an opportunity to serve these communities and that they should apologize, and make an effort to be more inclusive to these groups of people in the future. When both publications came back and said they wouldn’t be publishing my piece, I felt a sense of relief, I guess.
Something I’m struggling with lately is how much to reveal about one’s self and one’s life. If you were to peruse my Facebook, you would know everything about me. There’s honestly not very much I don’t put on there. A friend from work recently asked me, “What’s new, besides what you put on Facebook?” and I joked, “Nothing. If it’s not on Facebook it didn’t happen.” I believe in openness and transparency, especially when I am advocating for mental health. I do think it helps people to know what you’re going through, that you’re not perfect all the time (like social media may make it seem sometimes). And if you want to share something about your life with all your friends, that’s the easiest way to do it. But I know that’s not really the norm. People can be different in person versus online, and some people think that you shouldn’t put personal things on the Internet because it is forever or whatever. And I respect that. I’m not saying everyone should take the approach I do; but I do want to make it clear that if you are like me, there’s nothing wrong with that. Live your life the way you see fit.
From a business perspective, obviously writing a negative piece about a business you hope to connect with in the future is problematic. But at the same time, I think if people – people who are already being stigmatized and misrepresented in society – are being wronged in some way (I do think that events in public venues that are not inclusive to all people is wrong), it is my responsibility as an advocate to speak up about it. So I don’t know. I haven’t decided if I should try to get the piece somewhere else, or just drop it. If I’m uncomfortable with it, I probably should drop it, but like I said, I feel a responsibility to say something so it doesn’t happen again. It’s very possible that this business didn’t do what they did on purpose and honestly didn’t know what they were doing. I’d like to give them the benefit of the doubt because I don’t know their side of the story. But regardless, I do think they should issue a formal apology for how people were treated and promise to do better.
In the meantime, I’ll have to figure out this advocacy thing. It’s been seven years, and I’m still learning and growing all the time.