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How to Change the World When You’re Tragically Flawed

Accidental Activists

You do a tiny thing, expecting it to be a grain of sand on a beach, and suddenly you’re the Lighthouse. It’s a big commitment, one for which you were never prepared. Some go there, and the Greatest Spirits live there.

I’m not one of those great spirits.

I am, by most definitions, a hermit. I rarely go out unless I absolutely have to, I wear solid colors and plain jeans so as to blend instead of standing out. I have maybe taken one selfie in the last five years, and that was because I had to for PsychCentral.  It’s quite clear in the picture that I’m not the friendly therapist type in the psych realm.  I’ve been publishing for two decades under pseudonyms.

But, my desire to be invisible is leveraged against my desire to do something. When faced with some large, devastating problem or injustice, I’ve had to wrestle my demons and decide whether or not to act. Usually, I have no idea what I can do or how I can help, but I just have to do something. Anything. Because injustice has to be confronted.

And, when I do, sometimes it makes waves. Sometimes, those waves are tsunamis. Usually, those tsunamis threaten to drown me.


Every time, I pull my bedraggled and embattled, utterly absurd self from the wreckage of my accidental activism grumbling, cursing myself, and insisting that I. am. retired.

Nevertheless, here I am, most decidedly not retired.

The Point of No Return

When an aircraft flies over water, it needs to have enough fuel to reach land. In exploratory missions, once the fuel tank hits the half-way point, there is no turning back. The pilot must persist and hope for a safe place to land with what’s left in the tank.

There’s no returning to the safety of familiar shores.

Most people never intentionally pass the point of no return. There’s too much to lose for that kind of reckless exploration. But, if society is ever going to ford new territory, someone has to go first.

That person is either a fool, a martyr, or a hero, depending on who tells the story.

No great genius has existed without a strain of madness.(2)

When one is captive in that stagnant place, realizing that all of the safe measures have been tried and none have worked, how can that person ever find peace? Because if you’re one of those rare people who are wired to ask the why questions, you can’t escape the weight of the answers.

A mental healthcare provider is going to advise following the route of self-care, self-soothing, and self-validation. Too much of a good thing is… too much, yeah? They’ll placate, validate, and medicate the curiosity right out of you.

After all, you can’t change the whole world, right?

You’d have to be a fool to think that crazy idea has wings. You’d have to be an idiot to throw yourself across the tracks of a train that you didn’t have any stake in fueling. You’ll ruin your career. You’ll be arrested. You’ll lose your mind. Everyone is going to hate you.

This isn’t healthy.

The day Rosa Parks decided to resist, she likely had no idea what an impact she would have on the world. She was taking a risk that could’ve, at least, caused her to be arrested. At worst, she could’ve been killed. Of course, the majority of people would’ve tried to talk her out of it. But, she started a revolution.

No great genius has existed without a strain of madness.

A Prophet Hath No Honor in His Own Country

There’s a verse in the Bible wherein Jesus says, “A prophet hath no honor in his own country.” Whatever your religion or lack thereof, it’s fair to say that Jesus is one of the most transformative figures in history. He started a major tsunami.

And, just like Gandhi, MLK, Harvey Milk, JFK, Abe Lincoln, and many more revolutionaries, he died for making big waves.

And, in their days, they were ripped apart by the media of their eras, deemed a nuisance, had every moment of their lives scrutinized, and were regarded by many to be insane. A therapist would try to pathologize that Iron Will. HR would have a problem with their antics, for sure.

The Proverbial Edge

How many times have you found yourself on that proverbial Edge, at the point of no return, and you know that a step in a forward direction means there is no going back? If you kneel at that football game, write that letter to the editor, report that sexual predator in a position of power, or come out of the closet… you know that there is no more sleeping in the insular safety of mediocrity.

The only choice from that point is to Move forward.

We are like snowflakes, all different in our own beautiful way.(1)

And that’s the most terrifying step you’ll ever take. You’ll have moved from the safety, dignity, and anonymity of your low-conflict life into a war you had no stake in waging. The Truth is, your efforts are likely to be a single drop in the ocean.

But, the most paralyzing prospect, the one that keeps you up at night and slicks your forehead with sweat, is that your drop will be the one that tips the balance on the Fulcrum of Justice and starts a tsuanmi. You’ll be hurled into the violent transition from person to novelty, from fodder to figurehead, and you’ll end up under the unforgiving artificial lights of scrutiny.

And you know the difference between lights and Lights.

You Against the World, or You against You

Inevitably, once you take that fateful step, or before you even get to that point, you’ll be engaged in battle. The invalidation will be brutal.

We are like snowflakes, all different in our own beautiful way.(3)

The messages are always the same, and they come from you and from anyone else who finds your Truth an inconvenience:

Who do you think you are?
What makes you think you’re qualified?
You have no business in this space.
You are not suited to be an ambassador of any sorts.
You’re a ridiculous, broken human being.

And, there’s truth in it. You are a ridiculous human being and foolishly optimistic. You are Don Quixote, the crazy but heroic self-appointed knight swinging at windmills. Or, you’re Van Gogh, the tortured soul who cut off his own ear. Or Princess Di, with her suicide attempts and eating disorders; or Tesla, who spent his last days in company with pigeons he loved more than people. Moses had a speech impediment and argued with G-d about not being the right person to lead a revolution.

Fatally-Flawed Ambassadors

You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone great in history who was not fatally flawed. Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Poe, Melville, Thoreau, Dali, Plath, Tubman, Frida Kahlo… and beautiful, Mighty Maya Angelou:

We are like snowflakes, all different in our own beautiful way.

So, with your lazy eye, your Solitude, your crowded teeth, your broken heart, your schizophrenia, your obsessive monomania, your failing health, your manic despair… at least, you’re in good company.

Because if you have the gift of Sight, and you’re one of those people who has the misfortune of seeing how all the shiniest, prettiest parts work together to to create the most sinister oppression, then the weight of that Vision is going to break bones and crush your spirit– unless you’re on the Move.

You don’t have to sing it right
But who could call you wrong?
To put your emptiness to melody
Your awful heart to song
You don’t have to sing it nice,
But honey sing it strong
At best, you’ll find a little remedy
At worst, the world will sing along

-Hozier, “To Noise-Making (Sing),” from the Wasteland, Baby! album, 2019

The Power of Being Broken

I am autistic and dyslexic with ADHD and PTSD. I’m a punctuated constellation in the DSM. I grew up in an isolated vestige of a coal camp in rural West Virginia. When someone from there is featured on television, subtitles are required because most people wouldn’t be able to understand the language.

I went to college thinking women had one fewer rib than men and the earth was six-thousand years old. My professors made fun of me when I spoke.

People making fun of that same accent once resulted in a prank that left me sandwiched between a row of DC cops on motorbikes and hundreds of thousands of people, leading a protest and chanting with my funny accent blaring through a riot megaphone. The news was abuzz for a few days asking, Who was that woman? They never found me. I was nobody.

I was not ready for social media’s ruthless stream of realities when I opened a Facebook account in the early 2000s. So profoundly was I triggered by the onslaught of injustice that populated my wall that I donated myself into poverty every month.

A video of what happens in the animal testing facilities of one of the world’s largest health and beauty corporations rattled me to such a degree that I didn’t eat or sleep for three days. What I did was write. I researched and I wrote through my tears and mania and sent the letter to the company’s CEO.

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A week later, I received an email from that CEO telling me that he had received my letter, and as of five minutes prior, he had sent out a directive to indefinitely end all animal testing at all facilities. He went on to say that he was consulting with his legal team to find a way to ensure that the moratorium was permanent and the animals were cared for in the most humane way possible. “I will do everything I can to make things right from this moment forward,” he assured.

I once started an anti-gang initiative that had my name on hit lists. The whole thing was an accident, a silly idea from a silly woman who had no idea what happens when you don’t know how to stop trying. Then, the Freedom Writers from California showed up with autographed books for all my students. A rapper wrote a song for my kids. Gangs became a non-issue in the city, at least for a while.

Another time, I had my students do an assignment that the superintendent asked all English teachers at my school to do: to write a letter to the city council asking for enough funds to renovate the school.

I sent a letter home to students’ parents relaying the details of the assignment. I figured if the Superintendent felt it was urgent enough to call a meeting, then it was important. The next day, he was waiting for me in the principal’s office when I arrived. He yelled at me, at times with tears streaming down his face, for forty-five minutes; but we got a shiny, state-of-the art new school out of my imbecilic idiocy.

And these are just a few of my hapless misadventures…

Broken Brains and Hearts Move Mountains

The reason I have continued to be an accidental activist is not in spite of autism, but because of it.

I didn’t understand the full social ramifications of my actions before I engaged in them. The outside-of-the box way my brain processes language and generates ideas sometimes frames an old effort in a new paradigm, or my lack of awareness comes across as reckless bravery.

I sometimes know exactly what I’m doing, but I act impulsively on my passions because of ADHD before the fear has had time to motivate me to behave reasonably.

Mostly, I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to be so brutally honest with people, or so bold. I didn’t know I was supposed to be afraid of breaking the rules because I didn’t always know the rules. Or, I knew them, but I was wired to Dissent.

We are like snowflakes, all different in our own beautiful way.(4)

I didn’t know that the superintendent didn’t want his fiery rhetoric to make it to the public, and that his impromptu meeting was intended to be insider-speak. I didn’t know it was wrong to put “powers that be” in quotes on a letter I sent home. I was just quoting him…

Mostly, I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to talk to my students as if they, too, were insiders. I wasn’t supposed to make them stakeholders in their own destinies.

I didn’t know they’d make video documentaries and photographic presentations or send off samples of the black goo that dripped from the ceiling to be analyzed. I didn’t know there would be news cameras at that meeting…

The Status Quo

Some people are not wired with the innate ability to perceive the invisible hierarchies that keep the status quo in place. They don’t see the boundaries they’re not supposed to cross. And, once they’re made clear, they can’t feel any loyalty to those confines.

They’re wired to break orders, be they orders the agents or orders the principles.

When they operate outside that status quo and fail to reverence the power structure that keeps everyone in place, a dam breaks.

They are too different to not be seen, for better or for worse. They’re blunt, right? And honest.

The Impact of Telling Truths

Disenfranchised people are waiting for someone to tell the Truth, and when some Wild fool does it first, it gives them permission to do the same. Good people, allies with privilege, are tired of feeling hopeless and spending their heart and soul coloring inside the lines. They are empowered when someone crazy or oblivious enough stumbles through the lines and opens up new channels for the colors of their Love.

No great genius has existed without a strain of madness.(1)

Because it’s the status quo that holds those systems of oppression in place. It wears a starched and pressed suit, has an artificially-straight and white smile, and speaks in carefully-crafted, flowery rhetoric that sounds official and means nothing.

The rules become more nuanced and complicated as the altitude rises in the power structures. It’s a language of privilege only few can speak, and to abide in those spaces requires an unspoken agreement to not tell the wrong truths to the wrong people.

So, if you want to make change, you have to break the unspoken rules and move outside the status quo.

To the Wrong People

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.

-Rob Siltanen

A Lunatic Urgency

Being where I am, many klicks past the point of no return, is a high-definition life. It means being made aware of a stream of the most devastating hardships faced by the most profoundly disadvantaged people.

But, it’s also intersecting with the Wild changemakers who are passionate and just “crazy” enough to be driving social progress. Being around these people, knowing them, sharing their passions, and seeing the fruits of their labor is to know Love mobilized. It’s being in the sunlight, and that’s how it feels to be a part of The Aspergian team.

To drive big change, you don’t need to be perfect.  You don’t need to have credentials, money, a high IQ, or even reserves of titanium courage.  You just need to do something no one else has done, or show up at the right time, or be your unapologetically honest self.  It will cost you to step over the edge and pass the point of no return, and I can’t promise that it will be worth it or that the consequences won’t be greater than the rewards; however, in my experience, what I lost was a cage and what I found is an endless marvel.

Your single drop might be the one that starts a tsunami.

Your Story of Change

Have you ever found yourself on the proverbial Edge? Have you ever been thrust into the storm of accidental activism? What is your passion for change? Let me know the song of your heart in the comments.

How to Change the World When You’re Tragically Flawed

Terra Vance

Terra Vance is an industrial and organizational psychology consultant specialized in diversity, inclusion, multiculturalism, and poverty dynamics. She founded NeuroClastic, Inc., a nonprofit organization led by actually-autistic individuals and showcasing autistic perspectives and talents. Parents, service providers, educators, employers, and autistic individuals will find a wealth of information and resources at NeuroClastic for self-advocacy and supporting autistics. To contact Terra via email, click here.

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APA Reference
Vance, T. (2019). How to Change the World When You’re Tragically Flawed. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 11, 2020, from


Last updated: 23 Apr 2019
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