Rise Up: Brockovich encourages using flaws as strengths

Dana Guthrie
Staff Writer

In a packed room at the Benton Event Center, consumer advocate Erin Brockovich shared her journey with the crowd at the annual Benton Area Chamber of Commerce banquet, telling of the importance of believing in yourself and how the power of that confidence can change the world.
“We the people are rising up,” Brockovich said. “We are recognizing the power of our collective voice. We are speaking out and becoming more involved in what's happening in our own back yard. We are getting to know our neighbors again and our community.”

Brockovich is most known for her investigation that uncovered the poisoning of the Hinkley, California's, water system by Pacific Gas & Electric and the Oscar-winning movie that chronicled her journey, starring Julia Roberts. The result of her work brought about the largest direct action lawsuit of its kind and the company was forced to pay out the largest tort injury settlement in United States history in the amount of $300 million in damages to more than 600 Hinkley residents.
"Sometimes we don’t know why we are doing things,” Brockovich said. “Sometimes it just becomes a calling and I was just truly compelled to help these people. I saw something that was wrong and I wasn’t going to be afraid to speak up.”

Brockovich said that she looks back on her time and reflects on what it was that drove her to do what she did for the people of Hinkley.
“It always brings me back to my upbringing,” Brockovich said. “I can see clearly and with certainty that my upbringing was pivotal in preparation for what was to come.”

Growing up in Lawrence, Kansas, Brockovich spent a lot of her time enjoying outdoor activities. She struggled in school, due to her dyslexia, until the intervention of one of her teachers who became a mentor to her.
“She taught me that just because I was different did not mean that I was inferior,” Brockovich said. “That is a really important message. I worry with the youth that see that just because they are different that they are somehow inferior and nothing can be further from the truth. My mentors helped me believe in myself even though I was different.”
After learning about Brockovich’s struggles, the teacher began to give her all of her exams orally and Brockovich began earning top marks in her classes. Brockovich also said that the fact that she is dyslexic was instrumental in the Hinkley investigation due to the fact that she looks at things differently. The way she examines problems is different from most others and working a problem from the end to the beginning is how she was able to discover what was going on in Hinkley.

The other two mentors in Brockovich’s life include her mother and her father. She credits her mother with instilling in her the concept of stick-to-itiveness.
“It became an empowerment word,” Brockovich. “We are not necessarily born with it. You have to develop the habit of perseverance even when you don’t want to and it would be easier to give up. We all have those moments where you hit that wall where you think you can’t. I hear my mom say, ‘Where’s your stick-to-itiveness?’"

Brockovich said that it took her a long time to learn that what others chose to impose on her is their own self-limitations and that she had the choice to see herself in a different light.
“We always can choose to see who we are going to be,” Brockovich said. “We don’t have to leave that up to someone else to label us."
Brockovich also credits her father as a third mentor who instilled in her the importance of honesty.

In working with the families in Hinkley, Brockovich said the lessons her mentors instilled in her earlier became more important than ever.
“We believed that we could,” Brockovich said. “We chose to be determined and persistent and we were not going to let others convince us that what we saw and what we were living in was in fact wrong and not the norm and that we together could stand up and make difference and that’s precisely what happened.”
Brockovich also spoke about the four “L’s” that people can use as tools in their own lives, causes and communities — logic, leverage, loyalty and love.
Her most recent project is the development of the Community Healthbook Homepage where people can self-report environmental hazards and issues that they are experiencing in their local communities. Through the website, Brockovich has been able to continue her work and reach out to communities that need help.
“If the problem is in your backyard, rise up,” Brockovich said. “It every person did that then we would be able to solve some of our problems.”

Brockovich also said that the acronym RAM is also important to her.
“You’ve seen a RAM out there,” Brockovich said. “They are majestic.”
The “R” stands for the realization of oneself.
“Often times we think that someone is going to come along and realize things for us, but you have to realize that more often than not the person standing in your way is you,” Brockovich said. “It’s important to learn to get out of your way. Don’t turn away from those things you don’t want to realize about yourself. Accept those things about yourself. Realize your flaws. We all do because we are human; embrace them. I had to accept that I was strong and that I was flawed at the same time. I had to learn to trust myself and stand by my decisions ... quiet that voice of self-dour that says you can’t do it. Oh yes, you can.”
The “A” stand for assess.
“Taking stock, not of what you have or what you drive or the house we live in, but taking stock in who you are,” Brockovich said. “Take an assessment of shortcomings, mistakes, strengths — look at all of it and if there is something you don’t like, change it.”
The “M” is for motivation.
“Motivation can be difficult,” Brockovich said. “I understand how easy it is to lose your mojo. Especially these days. This world is spinning faster and faster. There’s less and less time. There’s less and less energy to do things we want to do. We are running at warp speed and many of us can find ourselves on empty. There is a trick to staying motivated and that is self-renewal.”

Brockovich said making the time and choice to put down phones and concentrate on something as simple as the act of breathing can make a difference.
“Stop and literally check that you're breathing,” Brockovich said. “Stop and smell a rose ... reboot. Smell the rain. Feel the warmth of the sun on your face or a breeze and how good it feels against your skin ... hear your own voice and hear your own thoughts. Find who you are. (The world) is speaking to you every day and if you can just stop for a moment and listen, the silence says it all.”

Brockovich closed with reminding the crowd of the importance taking the time to hear what life itself is trying to tell you and of embracing the flaws you may have and turning them into your strengths.
“When you can find this place and make time for this place where you hear your voice, where you can feel your own heart beating again, you will find the motivation,” Brockovich said. “You will find that love. You will find that place to go out there and do it again tomorrow. I wish I could guarantee you that every day will be perfect, but I’m not going to because it will not be.
"There will be days when you feel like you’ve been pushed back down to the bottom. You don’t want to get out of bed and you can’t face another day, but when you can visualize that you are the RAM, find your stick-to-itiveness, pull together those four 'L’s' and go out there ... you will get up today.

"You will get up tomorrow and you will fight for another day. I guarantee you that you will discover there is not an obstacle you cannot trump. There’s no challenge you cannot meet and there’s no fear you cannot conquer, no matter how impossible it may seem.”