All for one, or one for all? Criticism in advocacy

All for one, or one for all? Criticism in advocacy


Compromise is inevitable. Everything that involves more than one person with their own particular interests and preferences requires some kind of compromise. Government is full of a need for compromise. Cycling advocacies/advocates, I don’t need to point out, are no different.

When I say compromise, I’m not thinking about where both parties get some of what they want. I’m thinking about compromising your own need to win for the far better reward of achieving something greater than that.

There will always be differences of opinion

When advocacies form, they usually have some pretty specific interests at heart – which isn’t a bad thing – and it’s likely the case that if they didn’t have some sort of specific agenda then nothing would ever get done.

With an overarching goal, which any number of organizations could actually share, you’re going to have to have some sort of plan as to how you’re going to tackle it.

Sometimes these differences of opinion seem to be at odds with another groups version of how things ought to work, and sometimes you get conflict between different groups that actually have the same goal. Sometimes the differences of opinion are strongest among those with the same or similar goals.

In a free society, this is just how it is. There is no getting around this. You’ll find differing opinions everywhere you turn, and if you are working towards something greater than just your own satisfaction, then you have to ask yourself if it’s about the issue at hand, or about you. Certainly from a layman’s perspective, political parties seem far more interested in advancing their own agendas rather than stepping back from what’s best for the greater good, and it seems rare enough to encounter genuine bipartisan cooperation.

In general, what happens all too often is that people think they have all of the answers and stop listening. We all do it. We build an argument based on our own understanding, but usually it’s more about having enough information gathered to support your own preferences.

We get invested in our own position. To defend it is our default position, because it’s uncomfortable to compromise, or even worse, admit that your way isn’t the best way.

This is just me thinking, but I think that cycling advocacies, like all groups that have a goal outside of themselves (I’m looking at you, Government), need to have a look at Academics. The one’s who are true to their calling and engage in peer-reviewed research and embrace criticism. You know – that thing that most people think negatively about.

Criticism = Good

Criticism isn’t negative, or at least it doesn’t have to be. It’s actually quite the opposite. It seeks strength, validity, accuracy, rigor, impartiality. Criticism is the pursuit of improvement, yet most people flinch at the idea of having their position torn to shreds.

Research depends on good criticism. Everyone is prone to gaps in their knowledge or being blinded by their own perspectives, so discussing things with others – especially with those of differing opinions – is crucial for an increase in knowledge.

(It’s probably worth remembering that good criticism goes both ways. Being able to receive it is a skill most people could use more of, but it also needs to be given well. Many people let emotion get in the way of giving useful criticism and it arrives encumbered with attitude, pride, slights, jabs, or anything that isn’t about the content itself. I can’t stand it when people launch an attack and then suggest that “if that’s how you want to take it, then that’s your problem!”.)

Academic papers that haven’t been peer-reviewed aren’t considered as valuable or legitimate as those that have been. Journals that publish non-peer-reviewed work aren’t regarded as highly. Likewise, those in the hard-sciences wouldn’t dream of claiming success until their work had been tested and re-tested lest there be any faults or errors in their work and their theories are proven wrong.

What I’m getting at is that I think advocacy needs to step back from itself a bit and consider its relationship to those who aren’t part of their own specific in-group (but still part of their sphere of interest). With those who have a different goal or a different method of working toward that goal.

Advocates need to view criticism positively, and welcome those who have differing view-points into the conversation with the aim of discovering what is best for the cause they are working to improve, rather than merely working to prove that they are a better advocacy than another one.

I haven’t attended any cycling-related summits or conferences, where I have to assume (and hope) that the overarching attitude is one of collaborative engagement with the issues, so I’m reasonably sure that I’m mostly thinking about advocacies that exist primarily in the social medias. In general I think that social media is a special place where conflict breeds and thrives, where validation is measured in likes and shares and retweets. As many advocacies, like pretty much any… thing, invest in an online presence to a greater or lesser extent, to be wholly outside the reach of this slightly narcissistic attitude (intellectually or otherwise) is difficult, whether you initiate it or are responding to it.

In any case, I feel like cycling advocacy needs to make more use of the scientific approach that craves for knowledge and seeks it and tests it wherever it can find it. When it finds something that doesn’t line up with their thinking, that it seeks a fuller understanding of the situation with the aim of learning and improving the body of knowledge that exists beyond themselves and is for everyone to reap benefits from.

Sure, there are researchers and scientists and politicians and even advocates that are in the pocket of influential entities and/or those who are driven by their own ego, and there always will be. Maybe I’m naive (more than the assumed amount, I mean), maybe things aren’t actually all that bad, and maybe there’s some weird necessity for competition that drives even advocacy, but this is just the thoughts that are going through my head.

As usual, lemme hear your thoughts.


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