I love metaphors. A few days ago on I scrolled by a meme on Facebook related to autism awareness. It got me thinking about eating disorders and brain science and my work with F.E.A.S.T., and I thought it would be a great title for a blog entry, so here goes…
I’m sorry to disappoint anyone, but this isn’t going to be a blog on neuroscience or technology or even directly about eating disorders – it’s about advocacy and relationship building and how F.E.A.S.T. works to support our mission and achieve our goals.
I have been puzzled by the latest flurry of “old vs new” attitudes between ED advocacy groups with similar goals which is occurring on social media.
Of course some groups are older than others, but that doesn’t mean that a “new” approach is any better than another group’s “old” approach. Every group needs to work according to their own operating structure, which will be different, not “good /bad” or “old /new.”
Basic Advocacy is Simple.
Anyone can advocate for something they believe in. On the surface it is a simple recipe:
1. State your mission.
2. Set your goals.
3. Do your research.
4. Plan your strategy.
5. Get to work.
Along the way, you will probably find others with the same goals. Collaboration is good and can broaden your voice; but, as a wise friend once told me, collaboration is about relationships, and relationships are far from simple.
F.E.A.S.T. began with simple. A group of parents found each other through whatever networks they could – conferences, online groups, letter writing, phone calls, etc. They identified a similar mission and similar goals and they got to work. The “Around the Dinner Table” forum was the result of that first effort, and continues to be a place for caregivers to connect and share resources, experiences, and support each other through the crisis that is a loved-one with an eating disorder.
This group realized that the ineffectiveness of many eating disorder treatments, the lack of research, the lack of support for families and the stigma around mental illness were creating huge barriers to understand and treating eating disorders, and were breaking apart families needlessly.
By creating F.E.A.S.T., choosing a Board of Directors, establishing a set of Principles, adopting by-laws, and filing for legal status as a non-profit organization, F.E.A.S.T. was poised to start building relationships with other organizations in the eating disorder community. As F.E.A.S.T.’s membership grew, the voices of families and caregivers began to be heard by professionals and other advocacy groups in the field.
F.E.A.S.T.’s Primary Mission is to Empower Caregivers.
2. We provide access to facts and resources for caregivers to educate themselves and others about eating disorders.
3. We provide public spaces for discussion of ideas and advocacy issues.
F.E.A.S.T.’s discussion spaces are public because we believe transparency fosters a broader dissemination of ideas, and a broader point of view for all stakeholders in the eating disorder community. F.E.A.S.T. does not censor discussions even when they do not align with our principles and our discussion spaces are moderated because we hold high standards of conduct.
Censorship is not the same thing as refusing to tolerate bad behavior. Kindness and civility is our first and most important rule and we will step in to stop personal attacks, or self-promotion and will occasionally close down a thread when a discussion becomes disrespectful, hurtful, or when others use F.E.A.S.T.’s spaces to promote their own agendas, events, or initiatives without permission.
Censorship is also not the same as setting requirements for participation. Our ATDT Forum is public for anyone on the internet to read; however, only caregiving members may join the discussion. We have important reasons why we do this, but that is the subject of another blog!
Relationships are Complicated.
F.E.A.S.T. believes that educating caregivers gives them the tools to advocate, and we are excited to see new advocates starting new groups with similar goals. Unfortunately, sharing goals doesn’t always make for effective collaboration with groups that have different missions, different strategies, and different operating procedures. Alliances work when relationships work. Relationships work when we respect each other’s differences.
F.E.A.S.T. believes in a collaborative approach to advocacy that requires mutual respect. F.E.A.S.T. welcomes opportunities to collaborate with other non-profit organizations in the eating disorder field, and individual advocates and other advocacy groups working on specific initiatives. These proposals are brought to a committee or the F.E.A.S.T. Board and discussed before a decision is made to partner with or join an initiative, support a position paper, publicize an event, etc.
F.E.A.S.T. understands that challenging an idea is different from challenging an organization or an individual. F.E.A.S.T. believes in having difficult conversations in order to open doors and build relationships. F.E.A.S.T. has never shied away from criticizing ideas that contradict our principles or scientific fact, but we do not find it productive to do so by publically putting a potential ally on the spot, or by demanding insight into an organization’s internal operations or discussions.
F.E.A.S.T. plans its advocacy efforts through our Board of Directors, Committees and Task Forces. We welcome new ideas, constructive criticism, and individuals who want to join our volunteer pool and help with specific tasks or programs. F.E.A.S.T. is only as strong as its members and its relationships and we hope you will join us or work alongside us in the spirit of respectful collaboration.