Words can hurt, words can heal.
Words can be confusing, words can be concise.
Words can divide, words can unite.
Words can enrage, words can engage.
Too often organizations and individuals underestimate the power of their words. Over the past month I have seen firsthand the opposing results of words.
Andrew Becker, Director of Media Relations for the American Cancer Society (ACS) posted a blog criticizing the Bald Barbie movement. That in itself was not the tipping point of the outrage that followed, it was the words he used in that blog relating to raising awareness and his comments regarding childhood cancer.
The first several comments already had me surprised when he stated, “In a world already littered with cancer totems such as rubber bracelets and pink everything (a limited number of which are from ACS initiatives) , do we need one more thing whose function is to “raise awareness” about cancer? Is raising awareness worthwhile?” Um, hell yes Andrew, raising awareness is worthwhile, cancer still has a stigma among many societies.
But what really caused me and thousands of other folks to raise their voices in anger was his next comment, “Childhood cancer is exceedingly rare. I would also argue that cancer is rare among the age group of women likely to have daughters young enough to play with Barbies. Women have about a one in 50 chance of developing any kind of cancer before the age of 40.” Really? Where in the hell does he get off saying something like this. Did he forget who he was representing when he wrote this? Unconscionable!! The comments that parents posted, especially those that had lost a child to cancer, were heartbreaking to read. Becker obviously struck a nerve with his words, words that were not too carefully chosen or validated prior to posting.
What did Becker do after the uproar started? Nothing. ACS did post this comment at the start of his blog, “We apologize if the below post offended some of our readers. We realize that in our zeal to highlight an issue that deserves debate, we may have sounded insensitive. This post was written to provoke debate about the proliferation of products marketed to raise awareness, and we think asked legitimate questions. We believe discussions like this can help focus all our efforts more closely on our shared goal of defeating cancer.” Needless to say, the posted apology actually created even more outrage. There was a resounding number of posts stating that they would no longer be supporting ACS in their efforts and would send their monies elsewhere. Since that time, ACS has pulled the blog altogether which as you might guess, just completely spun the situation out of control.
“He does not know who he messed with,” a commenter named Mindy wrote. “An apology on their blog is not enough. We won’t stop until there is equity in funding for childhood cancer, and this man has a new job!” Becker told ABCNews.com in an email that he prefers to let his apology statement speak for itself.
Fast forward to earlier this week and announcement that the Susan G. Komen Foundation was changing its grant process which essentially meant that future funding for Planned Parenthood breast examinations, to the tune of approximately $700K, would disappear. The organization announced that this process change was in response to a Congressional investigation into Planned Parenthood and the appropriation of the Federal funding they receive. This investigation was initiated by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), Chairman of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for the House Energy and Commerce Committee. His political stance on woman’s health issues can be found here: http://stearns.house.gov/
Like the comment backlash that the American Cancer Society suffered, the Susan G. Komen Foundation did not think through what impact their words would have. The most disturbing part of their situation is that it appeared as if politics were now making their way into the non-profit world. Many people who supported this decision stated that since Planned Parenthood provides abortions they should not get funding. As with all opinions, there is always another side to the story. It would serve the reader well to do some research to determine the validity of the pro and anti decision voices.
According to Planned Parenthood, only about 3 percent of all their woman’s health care services include abortions. The statement that Federal funding is going to support abortions needs to be carefully researched. Since 1976’s Hyde Amendment, no federal money has been able to be used to provide abortion services. The organization Rep. Cliff Stearns wants to investigate, provides more than 800,000 women a year with breast exams, more than 4 million Americans with testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, and 2.5 million people with contraception, which prevents unintended pregnancy and thus abortion.
It is about providing health services to women that would not otherwise have access, we all need to focus on the cause we are so passionate about. I understand the passion with which many people oppose abortion, you have the right to believe what you want. I am equally understanding of those that support a pro-choice position. All I ask is that we engage in those conversations outside of the realm of non-profit funding.
In her statement explaining the decision to change the grant process, Ambassador Brinker stated, “We will never bow to political pressure.” Three days later, Susan G. Komen Foundation Board Members issued the following statement: “It is our hope and we believe it is time for everyone involved to pause, slow down, and reflect on how grants can most effectively and directly be administered without controversies that hurt the cause of women. We urge everyone who has participated in this conversation across the country over the last few days to help us move past this issue. We do not want our mission marred or affected by politics – anyone’s politics.” Sadly, Karen Handel, Susan G. Komen’s Vice President of Public Policy and a former GOP candidate who ran on a pro-life platform, made a fatal error of retweeting the following comment , “Just like a pro-abortion group to turn a cancer orgs decision into a political bomb to throw. Cry me a freaking river” The original tweeter was Jade Morey – she has since made her tweets private and blocked new folks from following her. Ironically, her Twitter profile includes the following statement, “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway.” It is one thing to have an opinion and stand firm in your beliefs, it is another to express your opinion and then hide. Again, words can have a powerful impact and we must all strive to temper our words when representing the organizations we all serve.
Words can enrage (as shown above), and words can engage……..
Last Saturday I had the honor of attending the Ulman Cancer Fund’s Blue Jeans Ball. This is THE annual fundraiser for this amazing organization. As with 2011, this event met and exceeded all my expectations. It provided so many of us the opportunity to engage in meaningful discussions about raising cancer awareness and funding programs that provide needed medical services and advice to survivors. There were a thousand touchpoints that evening. Touchpoints are what I call those moments when you meet someone and something they say touches you and inspires you to engage. Their personal stories are those touchpoints for me.
One of the most amazing survivors I have come to know and adore is Jessica “JP” Protasio. I had heard about JP some time ago, and when I asked Brock from Ulman for someone to come out to the Mid Maryland Tri Club and talk about the personal impact that the monies raised by 24 Hours of Booty meant, he immediately recommended JP. Let me tell you, nothing could have prepared me for the words that flowed out of this dear woman. I was sold, I became part of her loyal fan club immediately. Since that time I have been able to see JP touch so many people with her words.
I was thrilled to learn that she would be the “keynote” speaker at this year’s Blue Jeans Ball. She shared her amazing story, with all its ups and downs. Even in the darkest moments she remained positive. She is now helping Ulman with a new grassroots fundraising initiative called the 70 Society. You can find out more here: http://www.ulmanfund.org/Donate/70-Society.aspx
Words can inspire…JP said it best in her closing comments that night, “You don’t need to save a life to change a life”. That is why I am so committed to helping 24 Hours of Booty, the Ulman Cancer Fund, and LIVESTRONG – in the words of Mahatma Ghandi, “You may never know what results come of your action, but if you do nothing there will be no result.” Fortunately we have JP who has clearly demonstrated what results DO come of our efforts.
To catch a glimpse of why I am such a fan, just take a moment to read one of her blog entries here: http://hocowellandwise.org/2011/09/unfinished-business/ You’ll join in the ranks I am sure.
Choose your words carefully, don’t hold back words of love and encouragement, temper desires to utter words of anger and rage, embrace all the wonderful differences of those around you. Let’s stay focused on the fight!