Monday, December 13, 2010

Autism Science Foundation and A Recipe For Hope

Last week, Kathleen and I were delighted to post a guest post by Alison Singer for Recipe4Hope at the Autism Blogs Directory.

This week, I'd like to share here my recipe for hope and encourage readers to be moved to action. Kathleen and I have written over the last year about acceptance, appreciation, and accommodation. At Squid's prompting, we added action to that list of As.

Earlier this year, I wrote in response to Autism Awareness month: "On this day, this week, this month, and every other day, we should seek to help, to reach out in compassion, to those who are still new to this journey, to gently remind them that this isn't about them, the parents. Autism awareness is about the individual on the spectrum, about seeing them, their value, their worth, and appreciating them as they are: human in all its glorious diversity."

Awareness is important, but it's not enough. In psychology, I teach students that there are a series of steps we must all go through in order to get to the action. It is not enough to be aware of a situation (although that is the necessary first step). We must believe that it is something that requires action, then we must decide that it is our responsibility to act, choose how we'll act, and finally, carry out that action. At any point along this decision chain, we can abort and do nothing, even if we feel action is needed, even if we think we should act, even if we know what we should do.

Action comes after awareness. Acceptance, appreciation, and accommodations are all actions; they are all conscious decisions that require behavior to be implemented. If I accept you, my behavior will demonstrate that. I will include you in my in-group; I will converse with you, and I will treat you with respect and appreciation. In order to appreciate you, I must first accept you. If I accept you, if I appreciate you, then I will make whatever accommodations are necessary for you to function successfully.

Action is not, unfortunately, an inevitable consequence of awareness. You have to decide that action is needed, and that it is your job to commit to an action.

There are a lot of charities asking for money, a lot of individuals, as well, out there, asking for assistance. Far too often, we see people in need, and we do not act. In a zero sum world, there will always be losers. I think many of us may feel impotent or incapable of helping. Too many people asking, too many people needing, and we can be overwhelmed at the decision of who to help and how much to help.

I don't have any easy answers, but I believe that when we find a charity or a foundation whose principles or outreach we agree with, we should help to the degree we are capable. We should carry out our convictions and act. I'm not tooting my own horn, and I'm not suggesting that my contribution to the ASF is vast, but it is what I could give. While most of my charitable contributions I keep to myself, I think that writing about and promoting a charity, asking others to act, is more likely to prompt that action when we can show that we have the courage of our convictions, that we mean what we say, that we do what we can do. That's why my name  is on the Chefs page at Recipe4Hope. I wanted readers to know I believed in the ASF enough to act.

That act, that simple charitable contribution, is a recipe for hope. In the act of giving, we receive much more than we let go of. I don't believe in a creator, but I do believe in man's fundamental character: most of us care about others, most of us want to make the world a better place.

Sometimes, that involves our wallet. Sometimes, it involves our words. And sometimes, it requires a little more overt action on our part. Whatever you decide, I hope you will act to make the world a better place. Maybe it's not the ASF's mission that speaks to you. Maybe it's the local food bank. Maybe it's the Salvation Army. Maybe it's Toys for Tots. Maybe it's to provide respite care for a family in need. Whatever it is, I hope that you will feel joy in the act of giving and help to prove that this is not a zero sum world.



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