Advocacy and the Law of the Garbage Truck

by multilingualmania on January 11, 2011

in Bilingual Advocacy, Books

51oYDbiqp1L._SL500_AA300_I’ve blogged in the past about the difficulties associated with being an advocate for bilingualism and/or multilingualism. I tend to find many people in the online world who have a romanticized perspective of multilingualism-they think it is wonderful, positive and an asset. I also hold that perspective. But there is also a dark side to being an advocate for multilingualism that can wear even the strongest type of person down.

Bilingualism and multilingualism are often caught in the crossfire of different camps of people in society who are competing for power and privilege. While multilingualism with one group of people might be celebrated, multilingualism with another group of people is seen as a threat to mainstream values. And when you are on the side of the group whose multilingualism is perceived as a “problem”, the metaphorical bullets that you have to dodge on an every day basis seem just almost too must to take.

Sometimes I almost throw my hands up in despair and just want to stop advocating for bilingual programs. I’m tired of being spoken down to at work, and I’ve suffered my share of being yelled at and disrespected by people in the institution. I get tired of having to fight so that our teachers, students, parents and bilingual programs are not treated like second class citizens. It’s mentally and physically exhausting to have to fight, kick, scream and battle for equity. I often internalize all of the crap that I am forced to endure.

Two months ago I almost gave up. I felt like resigning from my job as a bilingual coordinator while I was on vacation and sitting in the doctor’s office, receiving a lecture from the doctor about what extreme work stress was doing to my body. And then I read The Law of the Garbage Truck: How to Respond to People Who Dump on You, and How to Stop Dumping on Others, which has really helped my perspective.

The basic premise of the Law of the Garbage Truck is that people are like garbage trucks, driving around and dumping trash all over other people. We allow them to dump trash on us, and sometimes we become garbage trucks and dump trash all over other people and also all over ourselves. It’s not enough to “stay above it” or “let it go”, but we need to learn to avoid garbage trucks who come around and wave at them as they pass up by. We also need to learn to forgive ourselves for our flaws, and not be distrustful that everyone who comes into our work life is a potential garbage truck.

The book has really helped me immensely over the past couple of months learn to just totally disregard negativity and has changed the way that I interact with and respond to negative and unprofessional people at work. It has also given me a new perspective about my perspective. For example, instead of taking everything personal when someone is rude to me I just immediately shrug it off and wonder if the person had a bad day. I have begun to minimize the internalization of people’s negative and unprofessional behavior and my anger and thoughts of being slighted in some way are beginning to dissipate. I know it sounds so easy to just let things slide off of your back, but it’s been something that is extremely difficult for me to do because I am so emotionally invested in my belief system and my community.

If you work in a high stress job, consider yourself to be an advocate for bilingualism or marginalized students, and sometimes internalize all of the negativity that you are forced to endure, then this book might be helpful to you. Being in the field of education is sometimes enough to make you want to go crazy, with all of the constant negativity about education that is perpetuated by the mainstream media. A couple of months ago when I was feeling extremely burned out, I asked a veteran in the bilingual education community how she was able to have the physical, mental and emotional stamina to be able to last so long in such an emotionally grueling job. “It has taken me years to perfect the art of imagining myself in a bubble that protects me. If you do not perfect your own art of self-preservation, being an advocate will either kill you or render you ineffective due to extreme burnout”.

Have you ever felt the same way? How do you protect yourself from exhaustion and burnout from the things that are important to you?

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