In my last post—“Why not opposition in adolescence—who really has a problem with it?”—I discussed the definition of opposition and its synonyms, related words, and near antonyms, all of which brought to my mind words like struggle, conflict, liberation, and power. These words came to mind because I imagined the act of opposing something or someone, how it feels to oppose, why a person opposes, what a person opposes, and the goal of opposing. As I continued to think about opposition from this angle, I realized that opposition itself could be good or bad, depending. Depending on what? Depending on whom really has a problem with it. Could the person on the end of the stick, who thinks and feels disadvantaged by the outcome, be the one with the problem? Does the problem belong to the opposer? Or is it a shared problem?
If it is true that opposition is a means to a desired outcome, then opposition can be something necessary and useful to bring about a positive change. This is where advocacy fits into the picture. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, advocacy means “the act or process of supporting a cause or proposal.” Advocacy has a positive connotation, especially with the associated word “support.” Opposition has a negative connotation that speaks to a fight and being against someone or something. To make a difference, bring about a change, or move forward sometimes requires opposition or a fight.
The civil rights movement in the 1960s moved our country forward by way of opposition to discriminatory laws and practices and advocacy for equality. This opposition brought about positive changes for many, which those in power and those who felt like they were losing something disagreed with and felt disadvantaged by the outcome.
As a social worker, I can relate to the use of opposition and advocacy to fight social injustices and bring about positive changes. Social workers have a rich history of opposing and advocating on behalf of and with people fighting for access to resources, services, opportunities, fair housing and education and equitable laws and policies. In the NASW Code of Ethics, the mission of the social work profession is rooted in a set of core values and principles that include service, social justice, dignity and worth of a person, importance of human relationships, integrity and competence. Social workers are charged with having ethical principles for the broader society. This charge entails “acting to prevent and eliminate domination of, exploitation of, and any discrimination against any persons, group or class based on race, ethnicity…” In other words–opposition as advocacy.
Mimi Abramovitz writes in her article, “Social Work and Social Reform: An Area of Struggle,” about the conflict and struggle social workers have with “adjusting people and programs to circumstances or challenging the status quo.” Abramovitz calls on the social work profession to demonstrate a greater degree of activism. This activism would entail greater degrees of challenging and opposing the status quo for the benefit of those serviced by social workers instead of adjusting those people to programs. This activism would work in conjunction with advocating for equal rights and opportunities. Again, opposition is a means to a desired outcome and not an inherent problem in itself.
The image of the adolescent has been one characterized by many over time.
According to Stephen Marcher in his book, How Shakespeare Changed Everything, Shakespeare invented teenagers and described their “terrifying beauty,” specifically referencing Romeo and Juliet. Marcher charged Shakespeare with creating this “new category of humanity,” leading us to look at adolescents with a spirit of wonder. Marcher writes, “He loved his teenagers even as he paints them in all their absurdity and nastiness.” Marcher goes on to state that the “most important feature of adolescent rebellion is that it’s doomed. The opposition between the adolescent and the mature orders of the world can have only two possible endings … one is comic … the other is tragic.”
In 1904, G. Stanley Hall, published Adolescence, a book credited as the first psychology of adolescents, which Hall developed from studying boys. Hall described adolescence as “a time of storm and stress,” where adolescents were “more vulnerable to depressed moods” and “susceptible to the media.” Hall and Marcher painted an image of adolescents as unstable, incompetent, and a joke for adult entertainment. An adolescent is a person not to be taken seriously. This image of adolescents is still with us today.
The writer Amanda Ripley, in her article, “Can Teenage Defiance be Manipulated for Good,” would disagree with Hall and Marcher. Ripley writes how current “research and educators have noticed young people more sensitive to notions of social justice and autonomy.” She claims, “teenage rebellion can be virtuous—even wholesome—depending on the situation.” Ripley describes a study where adolescents in school reframed healthy eating, which “depicted teenage rebellion as a potential asset to be cultivated, rather than as a threat to be squashed.”
I totally agree.
This is a very different image from the one painted by Hall and Marcher. Ripley’s description of the adolescent is a capable, competent, and altruistic person who can use “rebellion,” another word for opposition, as a means to create positive changes. The teenagers from the Bronx who are trying to transform New York City’s segregated schools illustrate this point best. Watch and listen to them advocate in their own words.
Let me know what you think…please share your stories of opposition and advocacy as a means to an outcome. Where you the opposer or the one opposed? What was your experience like?
In my next post, I will continue our discussion of the image of the adolescent by looking at the research on the adolescent brain and development. Stay tuned!