Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t!

Gary’s article Taking Control, has inspired some very articulate feedback. I decided to put my comments up as a post, rather than in the comments thread, because one comment in particular, by Andrew Stewart, of Deafness Forum, struck a chord with me. 

I am fed up with all these people who want to be consulted, yet they are not even members of the organisations that are fighting for them!

If people want an increase in the captioning in cinemas or theatre, what have THEY done about it!

Are they members of the organisations trying to achieve change? Have they sent an email – yes, just one tiny email – to their organisation saying that they would like to be consulted.

If the answer to either of these questions is no, then can these people please go away, and find somewhere else to throw a tantrum about. If they are not prepared to even communicate directly with, and support the organisations doing the fighting, then they don’t have the right to be listened to!!!

My outrage at these people is partly due to my years of fighting for hearing impaired and Deaf people in other areas, and being so fed up with all the armchair generals that won’t get in and help me in the fight!!!

I would like to say more, but I have more work to do to fight for people such as these whingers…

I understand the points that Andrew makes. I have worked as part of a Deaf organisation, I have felt that same frustration and bore the brunt of armchair critics. I have been [and am] a client/ customer/ member of a Deaf organisation, and found that my voice fell on Deaf ears! I am now, an arm chair critic. A very proud one, and I take issue with generalisations such as this.

When a group forms with the express purpose of carrying out a specific objective, and publicly make a statement that they are fighting for a cause, or that they represent a group of people, then that organisation has a responsibility to reflect the wishes of the people they have chosen to represent. By claiming representation, it is open to both praise and criticism. It cannot, claim representation, then make demands of the people it has chosen to represent, by distancing itself from any criticism or claiming sole credibility for success. Or more pertinently, remaining silent in the face of adverse

What organisations tend to forget, but their PR/ Marketing gurus would have you believe otherwise, is that they are judged by their actions. They are judged by their behaviour. They are judged on the disparity between their stated objectives and the actual outcomes. Organisations are judged by the quality and the attitudes of the people who run them. This applies equally to the funded, such as charities and welfare, and the different volunteer groups that congregate inspite of little or no funding.

I quite agree, that it would be nice if the “armchair critics” would get off their arses and actually contribute to the work of the organisation. More participants means more work done. More participants means more things achieved. But that’s not gunna happen. There’s always gunna be more armchair critics than people who get off their arses. But the point still remains, the organisation has made a public declaration of representation. As such, it has to abide by that declaration. Inspite of the “armchair critics”. Too often, an organisation behaves in a manner that is different to their stated objective. Gary’s article, From the Slums of Mumbaih (Bombay), illustrates this divide between rhetoric and action.

The problem with comments such as Andrew’s, is that it does not endear the organisation to its detractors. Indeed, it does not endear the organisation to possible membership. One could easily retort, “Well, we didn’t ask you to represent us!” But credit, where credit is due. Without people actually getting up off their arses and working for change, we would never see change. And here is me thinking, “Why can’t they simply say, ’But we can’t do it all, we need your help’?” That would be a much more credible response than the assertion to be heard, you need to join this group or organisation.

The question they should be asking is, “What is it that we are doing wrong that is causing people to turn away from us, to criticise us?” The action they should be taking is an inward one. They should be conducting a navel gazing exercise to work out how to attract more, self appraisal that leads to positive change.

There is a further problem with the concept of armchair critics. It is assumed that armchair critics are just that. It is automatically assumed that those who are all too ready to criticise, are not too ready to volunteer or to lend a hand. Sure, there are those whose modus operandi is to exercise their right to express their opinion, and nothing else. But what about those armchair critics who actually do know what they are talking about? What about those who have become armchair critics, because the organisations they have worked for or volunteered with, has chewed them up and spat them out?

Then again, why the assumption that “armchair critics” do nothing but complain? Do not people realise that the armchair critics may actually know something? May actually have some experience, in life? Do people not know that armchair critics could actually be engaged in things unknown to the groups and organisations.

As enjoyable as people are, and as lofty as their ideals may be, working in groups can be akin to shovelling shit. But I digress.

It has been years since I was actively involved in a Deaf organisation, 14, thereabouts, and I am in no particular hurry to rejoin. Nor am I salivating at the prospect. Except as a member, but I find myself questioning the value of my current membership to the Deaf organisation I currently belong to. I have been a member going onto me third year. I took the plunge and signed up as a member. The question now for me is, “For what?” My original intention, was to receive regular communication about what is happening in the Deaf community, events, sub committees, and so on.

I understand that the group is run by volunteers, with only so much time and resources that they can access. Nevertheless, my expectations of communication and regular are not being met. Recalling the last group I unsubscribed to, where I resigned from committee work, but kept my membership. But the communication was woeful, which put paid to my membership to that group [and sadly, many others]. How can an organisation expect involvement from people if they are not actively engaging with their members? I’m not saying it’s all bad, there’s a lot of good things happening. But equally, there’s a lot more, and anecdotal evidence points to nothing is being shared!

Dean Barton Smith is quite correct when he says:

Organisations need to really sell their membership benefits in order to attract and recruit new members. It is more than just getting a newsletter. It entails active engagement, feeling important and valued and having the means to contribute without fear or favour and more importantly for the organisation to REALLY know their members and capitalise their knowledge, skills and expertise.

That is the crux of the matter for me.

I have one lingering memory, of my time on the different committees that I have been a member of. The membership is all. That is, if you are a member, you are kept in the loop, if you are not a member, you are damned! I remember the work we did for the members, but not much time, if any, was spent on recruiting, team building or paying attention to those important things that make groups work. Groups and organisations tend to cater for everybody except for those that live in Whoop, Whoop and Timbuktoo!

You know, there is a wealth of knowledge and experience out there that is being wasted. Equally, there is a wealth of experience and knowledge that is not being shared by organisations. When one is working on a committee, project or working towards some objective, it is easy to get caught up in the work at hand and lose perspective. To lose sight of the very people that an organisation purports to represent and work for. That you can be guilty of the same things, that your armchair critics are accused of.

I could write about so much more, but perhaps I will leave the last word to Gary, who responded to Andrew:

I take the view that whether they are members or not we have to do our very best to represent as many people as possible.

Its so easy to say JOIN and you will be heard. This is poppy cock – Why should they have to join anyway. Most of these organisations are funded by the government to represent ALL not just the ones that pay their membership.

Who do you join anyway? there is such competition for the membership dollar that you could literally spend over a thousand dollars joining all the different causes that say they will fight for you.

And then they often waste time saying one is useless the other is better. They spend so much time squabbling one could not be blamed for deciding to spend their hard earned money elsewhere.

Certainly I understand it is hard to reach everyone. I just done think we are creative enough or serious enough about the task at hand of consulting. Too often a group of four to five people create the spin and the argument and because they are the people that are paid or volunteering for the task think well that they can do that regardless as to what others might think.. I am sorry .. No! … Its about the people and we have to make more effort to reach them.


This article was cross posted at Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don’t!