How to Change the World When You’re Tragically Flawed11 min read

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 it was manda­tory.  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 some­thingAnything.  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.

1 vbK1jUlIrIUggKgWDf46SQ

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 caught up to me to be rea­son­able.

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 change-makers who are crazy enough to be dri­ving that change.  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.

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 us know the song of your heart in the com­ments.

#seachange #theAspergian

Stalk us


  1. Bravo! Portions ought be read at our gath­er­ings of like-minds. Autistic, dyslexic, with OCD and PTSD and GAD and .… much hope, here. Your friend, Sam

  2. Months later, I’m coming back after sharing this link far and wide when it sur­faced in early April and I’m sur­prised at only one com­ment. So I’ll add mine.
    EXCELLENT ARTICLE, you’ve hit the nail squarely upon its head Terra. Thank you for your activism.
    Carbon Bridge

Talk to us... what are you thinking?