selfish diplomacy

Note: I ran out of time and the following is unedited. Good luck. 

1973 Godspell Sheep goats

{image is one of Brooke’s favorite scenes from Godspell, in which Jesus has divided the cast into sheep and goats. These are the goats.}

Someone recently asked me if I’d be willing to chat about diplomacy. Apparently, she thinks I’m diplomatic.

It’s funny; I have a friend who is an actual diplomat. Even though it’s a pretty amazing job, I’m pretty convinced that I’d rather chew glass than do what he does.

But when I told him that once, he laughed and said, “You do it every day, my dear.”

I had to admit he was right.

But my diplomacy is selfish.

You see, I want to talk to people. I want to learn stuff. I want to get better at this whole life-living thing. I want to convince other people to talk. And to learn stuff too. And to get better at this whole life-living thing too.

And I’ve discovered that we do all of that stuff – the talking and learning and bettering – a whole lot better when we do it together. I’ve also discovered that people tend to duck when we come out swinging, but they might just walk with us a while when we shoulder the bat and extend a hand.

My kid is different. The world, thus far, hasn’t been the most accommodating place for those who are different. In fact, it’s been downright hostile. I need to change that. I don’t just mean that I want to, I mean that I need to. Because I’m not going to live forever. I need her to be in a world that gets it. So I’m selfishly diplomatic. Because I need people to listen and talk and learn if I’m going to sleep at night.

So that’s the Why. Because I need a better world for my kids.

But the question that I was asked was actually “how?”

That one’s tougher.

Or maybe it’s not.

So, for the friend who asked, here’s what I’ve got.

Ed note: There are times when diplomacy simply isn’t possible nor appropriate. This is not meant to be an indictment of different kinds of activism. This is simply a how-to for my particular brand of advocacy, which is what I was asked to discuss. 

Ed other note: That was a diplomatic note about diplomacy. That’s funny. 

Ed other other note: I wish I actually had an editor to write these notes. 

Diary’s Guide to Selfish Diplomacy

Remember what it feels like to believe something strongly.

Whether or not you think that someone else’s thought process is inane, harmful, indefensible or just plain asinine, until you acknowledge the fact that it is as true to them as your disbelief of it is to you, you’re getting nowhere. The fact that it is obviously not true to you (because, duh) doesn’t make it so to them anymore than the reverse is true.


As soon as you make a joke out of what someone else believes, you lose all hope of convincing them of … anything.

As tempting as it may be to wade into the waters of sarcasm and snark when someone’s belief system is (to you) clearly at odds with reality, doing so is belittling, patronizing, and a really good way to ensure that you’ve lost all hope of changing their mind.

Making fun of people, particularly en masse, perpetuates a toxic environment and makes you look a lot more like a bully than an agent of change. 


You might have said it (whatever it is) too many times to count, but someone just joining the conversation doesn’t know that.

People join this community every day. Patience with those people can be hard to find. Find it. 


 You do not have to attend every argument to which you are invited.

Silence can be a powerful message.


Once you’ve chosen a side, you’ve created sides.

Wars have sides. Conversations don’t. 


Spend more time focused on what you are for than on what you’re against.

Deconstruction is sometimes necessary, but as a way of life it’s exhausting. And unapproachable. 

The good news? A fight for justice is a fight against injustice. A fight for respect and dignity is a fight against discrimination. Dr King was right; darkness cannot drive out darkness. Fight for light.


Anger detonates anger.

“How dare you?” is ignition fluid.

“I hear you and I understand where you’re coming from and I’d like to ask you to look at it from a different perspective,” is an invitation to break down the pieces, to find common ground. To talk, perchance to convince.


Be open to the fact that you might be wrong.

As human beings, sometimes being wrong is part of what we do. Learning from it is what we do when we’re doing it right.

Be just as willing to point a finger at your own foibles as at others’. That’s where your credibility comes from, but far more importantly, that’s where you learn. 


Treat everyone you meet, particularly in conflict, as though they were God. Or YOU.

In one of Brooke’s favorite scenes from Godspell, Victor Garber as Jesus divides the cast into two groups – the sheep and the goats. The sheep, he explains, shall (can’t really say, “will,” when we’re talking about Jesus, even when he’s Victor Garber) be invited to Heaven because when He was tired and sick and without a home, they came to his aid.

They look confused. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for the least of my brothers, you did for me.” 

The goats? Not so much. The goats say, “But, Master, we didn’t know it was you. If we’d have known it was you, we would have invited you in.” And he, of course, says, “Whatever you did not do for the least of my brothers, you did not do for me.”

When you’re tempted to go off on someone, no matter how egregious their sin might appear, ask the question, “How would I want to handle this if this person were God?” Or, if you’re not much for the whole God thing, if this person were ME. (Not me, you. Unless you want to ask how you’d handle it f the person were me, but that seems like a pretty pointless exercise, no? Okay, moving on.)

We all come from one place to another. We all, at some point in our lives, say things we wish we hadn’t, hurt enough to lash out at the wrong people, hold tight to harmful beliefs, allow ourselves to be led by fear. All of us. When someone comes at us from that place, it can be hard not to meet them with anger or righteous indignation or that lowest of common denominators, snark. 

Don’t. That could be you. 


Know when to give up and walk away.

There are people out there, especially in Internet Land, who love to throw flames just to watch their fires burn. Let them do it elsewhere. 

This is Diary’s Comment Policy. It pretty much says it all.

My greatest hope is that the discourse on this blog and its accompanying Facebook page can serve as examples of environments in which compassion, understanding and mutual respect are paramount.

That said, I publish nearly all comments, but there are rare exceptions.

I have long been frustrated and deeply saddened by the chasms in the autism community, not to mention the broader, just plain-old human community. I will not allow diary’s comment section to become a megaphone for the anger that serves to keep us divided.

I will not abide personal attacks, either on me or my readers. While I actively welcome constructive disagreement and respectful discourse, this is not a forum for unproductive anger, particularly that which is directed at one another.

While I am happy to respect anonymity, please note that I also do not publish comments without a name (or consistent pseudonym) and a valid e-mail address.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you – not just for sharing in our family’s journey, but for joining the conversation. And in so doing, respecting each other, supporting one another, and finding ways to bridge the space between us.

Edited to add: Diary and its accompanying Facebook page mean the world to me. The people who gather here to laugh together and cry together and learn and fight and breathe together, to celebrate and mourn and pray together, have become my family. I will do everything in my power to keep this space safe for them, for all of us. I therefore have a “zero tolerance for intolerance” policy. Neither hate nor bigotry are welcome here. Ever. I have a “ban user” button, and as much as I hate to use it, I will engage it freely in order to protect this place. This is my home. I will not abide hate in my home.

Thank you for being here and sharing in this incredible journey.







12 thoughts on “selfish diplomacy

  1. Very, very well said. My oldest has an “offshoot of the spectrum” diagnosis, and my middle daughter, I have come to accept, is on the spectrum. In my older daughter’s case, it was very obvious very early. My middle daughter’s “quirkiness” has become more obvious as she’s gotten older. I’ve been trying to teach her to advocate for herself, and how to be diplomatic. It doesn’t come naturally to her at all. This post might just help me find the right words to speak to her about this. Thank you. And thank you for all you write – it has accelerated my acceptance of my middle daughter’s issues. TI’ve always chosen to pick my battles, and you’ve helped me see what are and are not even battles to consider fighting. Thank you.

  2. Jess – somehow you are on a cosmic list for just what I need when I need it. I’ve been spending time today in tears because on top of coming home each day saying he does not want to be himself any more – because he is ugly ans stupid- today the school called to let me know there was an “incident” at lunch where some other child shoved him to the floor. I probably don’t have to tell you that my first and burning desire is to go punch out some 2nd grader. But that won’t really help my baby in the long run will it? I am so broken hearted right now I don’t know what to do or where to start but I know I’m going to have to dig deep to address it from a positive place.

  3. Yes, what Leslie said. Great blog today and applies to everyone, everyday. What a great world this would be if everyone took this to heart.

  4. Thank you for publishing this list. Well said. My daughter is also autistic. She is almost five and she’s beautifully quirky. And do you know what makes me so, so proud of her to no end? It is the fact that she is just the kindest little soul – never a mean word about other kids. I’ve seen kids her age push others out of anger, run away from kids in an act of exclusion, or use language of exclusion. These are things that, as her mom, I just know my daughter does not do, even though she’s been subjected to them. I try to teach her what she might say or do to assert herself, but her kindness and goodness breaks my heart when I think there are so many people, so many places, in this world, that see only labels and automatically exclude autistics. We were just told by a highly regarded primary school, to not even try to enrol her (which was within their right as it was a private school). As soon as they heard “autism”, they shut down. There were no questions about my child asked, there was no interest to include. And this was a school that prided itself on being inclusive and fostering each child’s individual potential.

    Thank you, for wanting to make this world a better, more inclusive place for these kids – and for actually doing so much toward this urgent, worthwhile goal.

  5. Ah, the “I” word. If I am upset or angry or disagree with someone I have learned to start my sentence with I instead of you. That way it doesn’t set someone off… it works!

  6. Jess – how did you know that my hubby and I argued terribly (again) last night, each holding on to our own side? How do you know these things? I don’t live anywhere near you!

    God – you’re good…

  7. Finding ways to bridge the gap in our community has been on my mind a lot lately. I truly believe that we have to first seek to understand the other person’s point of view before we can be understood. We also have to seek to educate others, so that they, too, understand and can be ambassadors for the society that we need for our children.

    I wanted to share this story with you. Recently, my son was invited to a birthday party by one of the little girls in his class. I was apprehensive about him going, but it turned out that he had an amazing time. It was a painting party, and the birthday girl wanted my son Ben to sit next to her and share a paint set with her, even though he was extremely messy and mixed the colors, and she was obviously trying to keep her picture neat and pristine. I could tell she genuinely enjoyed having my boy as her friend. Then, tonight, I saw this post on her Mom’s Facebook page. The little girl’s mom had posted an article on her Facebook wall about embracing differences. In the comment section, she said, “I hope that my children will grow up seeing all of the abilities in people, not their “disabilities”. Loving them for them and not caring what the others say, but continuing to believe in what they know is true and speak up when needed.”

    This- right here- is what we need in order to change our society for the better. The good is spreading.

    Keep doing what you do, Jess!

  8. I am always amazed by how smart you are and how well you write. If anyone can change this world it will be people just like you. My only complaint is that I wish you could have come to all this very powerful knowledge when you were a little kid so I wouldn’t have had to go through so much with you as you grew up.
    I am so very glad that you are part of the generation to lead us to the future. You are wise way beyond your years, but then, you always were.
    Love you,

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