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Let Me Say This About That
Being a Part of the Solution, Part II

By Susan Cornutt

October, 1999

Recently, there have been a lot of changes happening at AIDS Survival Project with staff members resigning, new staff being hired, new positions being created...all of which tend to shake things up a bit here, taking us away from what we have seen as "the norm" and shifting us out of our comfort zone. These changes have also sparked a flurry of chatter among the volunteers -- some of which is to be expected, but some of which, in my experience, perpetuates a feeling of chaos.

I prefer an open discussion. I really try to be a pro-active person rather than a reactive one. I feel much better about taking direct action, approaching the source of an uncomfortable situation, rather than talking around a situation or behind someone's back. I find very little productive value in that kind of behavior. That's not to say that I don't spout off to a friend or two when I get angry or that I've never gossiped about someone. What a hypocrite I'd be if I tried to get away with taking that position. But I do try to go directly to the person (or persons) with whom I have a disagreement, and face my fears headlong, whenever possible. It's definitely not the easiest way for me to deal with a problem, but I find that in the long run, it is the most comfortable way for me to live. People tend to know where I stand and I can come out of the shadows of gossip, sulking and whining and be part of a solution. A long time ago, someone whom I truly respect told me that if I'm not a part of the solution, then I'm part of the problem. I'm still mindful of that today.

As vice-president of the AIDS Survival Project board of directors, I have a responsibility to be available to members for complaints and comments about the agency. I'm fully aware of that and I take all of my board responsibilities very seriously. I'm always approachable and I listen to all perspectives and opinions. I'm also a "consumer" of AIDS Survival Project's programs, a woman living with AIDS and a human being, complete with emotions and frailties...and I also have an opinion to share. I dislike change, as a rule, but I accept its inevitability. Nothing stays the same forever. Change can be anxiety-provoking for me. It can be accompanied by a myriad of different responses and emotions as well. I get my feelings hurt as easily as the next person. I certainly get angry when I feel I've been treated unjustly or been slighted. But, am I willing to cut my nose off to spite my face? Would I allow certain changes that cause me discomfort to take me away from a source of joy and fulfillment, without at least having my voice heard? Nope, I wouldn't. It's tempting. It's certainly easier. But, I've become so "selfish" after living 12 years with HIV -- so fiercely protective of what is important to me, my health and my survival -- that I'm not willing to give up something that I truly love and that brings me joy and a sense of purpose, without at least being heard.

For example, two or three times in the seven years that I've participated in AIDS Survival Project's women's support group, someone in the group has grated on my nerves so badly that I've been tempted to just throw up my hands and say "Forget this" and walk away. But the truth is, that support group is of great benefit to me and the relationships I've formed with the other women there mean a lot to me. So, each time I've ended up deciding that I'd be damned if I let anyone drive me away from my group without at least bringing up how I'm feeling in the group meeting. I find it's much harder to communicate my feelings to someone in an effective and a respectful manner than it is to bash on them behind their backs. For one thing, I give them a chance to point out things about me that I may not necessarily want to hear. In my case, I may also get feedback from other group members that doesn't totally support where I'm coming from. I may have to look at the situation from the other persona's perspective with some compassion, or I may be given directions about other ways to help the situation that require action on my part. I may have to work through a situation instead of leaving it! What a concept! (At least it's a fairly new concept for me, learned late in my adult life.)

So, what am I getting at here? What does all this have to do with AIDS Survival Project and our recent changes? I know I'm not the only one who is busy processing all these changes. And I certainly can't tell you what to do with any feelings you have about recent events. But I can share my own journey. It's become my personal position to look at change with hopefulness rather than with dread. I don't know what the future holds, so why not believe it holds good things rather than bad things? (This gift of "positive thinking" is a result of my interactions with the people of AIDS Survival Project.)

As a board member, I stay focused on the mission statement of AIDS Survival Project: "We are diverse people, living with HIV, united to promote self-empowerment and enhanced quality of life for HIV affected individuals through advocacy, education, peer support and treatment activism." I love that statement. There's such power there. At times, I tend to take for granted my mindset now -- the strength and the personal sense of power that I feel -- especially as compared to how I felt when I first came to AIDS Survival Project seven years ago. I was scared, ashamed, hopeless and isolated, with very little knowledge about my disease or what I could do about it. What a difference in my outlook and attitude from then to now.

I remember my personal mission. It is not so different from AIDS Survival Project's agency mission. My experience living with HIV is my "gift." I feel a responsibility to share that with new folks who come into my life, as well as be present for my friends and peers who fall on hard times, depressing times or fearful times now. No amount of changes, personal agendas or "AIDS politics" will change me from that personal pledge.

That's why I volunteer. Sometimes I may stray and forget that. Sometimes fear of change or personal hurt feelings or a bruised ego may cloud my vision. Shame on me. I know, deep down, the fear that comes with living with HIV. I've heard heartbreaking stories about the discrimination, the lack of access to medical care, the rejection by families and communities that happens to people just like me. I want to be part of the solution. I'll fight to be part of the solution. You'll get tired of hearing my voice, but you will never run me off...as long as I remember why I volunteer. And I challenge you all to remember your personal focus. Be pro-active. Share openly your thoughts on HIV/AIDS issues and any thoughts you have about changes within the agency. That's what self-empowerment is all about. Are you going to be part of the solution or part of the problem?




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