Permission to Fail



On Friday, May 8, when the election results were announced in Britain, I spent the whole day with a red and puffy face, and I couldn’t stop crying. Friends wondered why I was so upset about politics, but it was because I knew, even as it was announced, this would be bad news for the poor, and very bad news for disabled people.

In the election campaign I kept waiting for the drastic cuts to disabled people’s benefits to be brought up as an issue. I watched the debates, sure the populace would see this systematic of essential support being taken from disabled people as a terrible injustice. But it wasn’t even mentioned.

Then I watched for disabled rights to be mentioned in the Christian “voting issues” guides. I read one guide after another—it wasn’t there. Apparently the right to smack your children was more of a “Christian voting issue” than the removal of benefits affecting half a million disabled people. No one was speaking up for disabled people; no one seemed to care.

On Friday the 8th, I wept. On Saturday, I spent time with my family and kept off the Internet, and tried to forget about politics. By Sunday, I was ready to do something.

I was ready to do anything.

In a state of exhausted and over-emotional stupor, I put out a call on Facebook. “Does anyone know of a Christian organisation against the cuts to disability benefits? Because if not, I’m going to start one.”

If I’d had more sleep that night, if I’d been thinking logically, I never would’ve posted that.

I’m the last person who should be setting up a campaigning organisation.

Reason Number One: I have a severe autoimmune illness, myalgic encephalomyelitis, meaning I need to be in bed for 21 hours of the day and can rarely leave the house. I’m ill, severely ill, and have very limited capacity for reading and writing anything.

Reason Number Two: I don’t know what I’m doing. I have no experience with campaigning or politics.

I shouldn’t have done it—there are a thousand other people better qualified than me, more physically capable than me. But—and this is the key point—they weren’t doing it. I had been watching and waiting for others to step in, and no one had. I was tired of waiting.

I thought of SheLoves‘ Dangerous Women, and what it takes to change the world, and in my sleep-deprived state, I had an epiphany: “Something is better than nothing.” I decided to do it myself.

One week later, Compassionate Britain was born, launching with a blog post that had more than 13,500 views in its first 36 hours.

It’s early days, but already people are telling me they have written to their representatives about the injustice of targeting disabled people for welfare cuts, and that is something in itself.

I took this step because I gave myself permission to fail. Sometimes we say we have permission to fail, but we don’t mean it. We say, “something is better than nothing”, but we don’t believe it, because we fear doing something that makes us look foolish. We believe doing nothing is better than looking weak or stupid.

This month I have been giving myself permission to fail, (and flail wildly), as I learn on the job what it means to campaign, still wrestling with the significant limitations of my health. “Something is better than nothing,” I keep whispering to myself. It’s weak, and I’m weak, but it’s glorious, and it smells of Jesus.

Whenever you feel a burning desperation to change the world, my advice to you is to get sleep-deprived and weak. Be so weak that you know your dream is impossible, and you will probably fail. Be okay with that. Turn off the logic and the fear, and give yourself permission to fail.

Something is better than nothing. Do that something.