The word "advocate" means, "a person who pleads for or in behalf of another." It's a word that has been near and dear to my heart lately. We may find ourselves advocating for people who are in their early years and unable to make decisions on their own. We may also find ourselves advocating for those who are in their later years and also are unable to make decisions for themselves. But how about other people for whom we advocate?
When we advocate for children or others who can't make a decision for themselves, we are assuming the responsibility of knowing what is best for them. There are times when we might become voices for the voiceless. We may advocate for our children when they are being bullied. We may advocate for someone who has been falsely accused. We may advocate for a loved one who has lost the capacity to make decisions for him or herself.
Advocacy is a good thing, but like every good thing, we always need to be careful about what a friend and colleague in ministry calls, "the shadow side." The shadow side is the shadow that is cast by something good that happens to cast a long shadow. The better something is, the bigger it is, the more opportunities for it to cast a long shadow.
I have seen times when people become advocates for others who still have a voice and the capability of using that voice. When this happens, we tread into dangerous territory, potentially removing the voice and decision-making ability of those whose faculties still allow them both of these things. If we advocate for people who have not yet lost their voice or who are still able to make rational decisions, we had better make sure that we have had a conversation with them to ensure that we understand their viewpoint well enough to advocate for them.
If we begin to advocate for someone without finding out what their heart beats for, we also run the risk of falsely representing them, their thoughts, and their opinions. If we are advocates, we best be careful to be as aware and educated as possible.
I see two major implications for this. The first is the fact that people can claim to advocate for a specific demographic or people group based upon a limited slice of the population that has been polled about their thoughts and opinions. For instance, if we have only spoken to 2 or 3 people out of a possible 100 and then begin to advocate for that group based upon the opinions of these 2 or 3, we are making false claims in representing them. We need to have a much wider viewpoint of that group than the one that we have with a measly 2 or 3% representation.
If we are high empathy people, we may find that in hearing a few voices, we begin to presume that if there are 2 or 3 that feel this way, then surely the rest of this group feels the same way. In doing so, we can inject our own presumptions into what they want rather than really seeking out their desires.
This gives me pause to really think about whether or not I am fully aware of those for whom I advocate. If I am not, I need to spend some more time getting down to the heart of who they are, what they think, how they feel, and what they want. It's much easier to presume or even live out my own preferences vicariously through them. It's much harder to engage with them and others to find a true representation of what they think.
The other implication that I see is this: as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called advocates and ambassadors in Scripture. How are we representing and advocating for our Savior? Are we truly representing Him or are we presuming that because we think and feel a certain way then that way must be the right way? Are we seeking ways to find out the Father's heart in matters or do we simply go with our own preferences?
This is certainly convicting for me. I want to make sure that I am being the best advocate that I can be, for my children, my family, my friends, and my Savior. This requires time and it is my responsibility to find out what makes their hearts beat. Looks like I know what I'm going to have to focus some more of my time on, how about you?