There are mass protests in the streets of China. Iranians are openly defying the oppressive theology ruling their Sun-scorched land. Thousands are being murdered for civil disobedience. They are standing. They are dying. All for something larger than themselves.
So I ask: what principle are you willing to die for? I don’t mean self defense or protecting your family. I’m talking about something you believe in.
Would you denounce your faith if someone put a gun to your head? What about if someone just made you feel uncomfortable? Would you pull a Peter and deny three times? Would you give up your arms if government storm troopers were going door to door? What if it was less than that? How about government buy back? Say $5,000 per weapon? $1,000 $50?
I don’t know. People talk big on the internet and in real life, but if it came right down to it, would you give up essential freedoms for the charms of a comfortable life?
I’m sad to say it, but we already have. The Patriot Act was sold to us on the promise of security. The listening device in your pocket masquerading as a phone was sold to us on the promise of making life easier and so much more fun. Now you can barely function in the world without that tracker recording every move and word. I’ve tried to go without one. I can’t. My entire personal and professional life is tied to a device. I gave up my privacy long ago for bread and circuses.
So I say all that to say this. I’ve realized I’m just a reed in the storm a lot of times. The reed survives the storm. The proud Oak breaks. In other words, those who just go along are the ones who survive. They may even prosper. Those who stand for something get cut down.
We’re taught from the time we’re young to be reeds. Do what you’re told. Don’t rock the boat. Go to college, get married, have 2.5 kids, buy a house, cars, things and distractions. Work. Don’t look to your sides because side quests are pointless to the overall story, aren’t they?
Be good because Santa is coming to town and he’s got a list that he’s checking twice to see who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. From day 1, we are conditioned not to take risks at any level because it might upset our comfort levels.
In the big picture, you’re punished if you stand up against problems in the world. You get sued, you get cancelled, you get black listed. In the recent past these kind of troublemakers were beaten or killed or both for standing up for simple concepts like labor reform, civil rights, and just asking for common human decency. American hands of the past are just as bloody as Chinese hands of the present.
We used to be a place where 55 men signed a piece of paper of high treason. If we lost the Revolution, those signers would have been killed as would their families. They did it anyway. Nowadays we just go on, are taught to keep our heads down, get by. They tell us to play the game and to turn your nose brown for the right people. The concept leaves me feeling dirty. A politician doesn’t have to be an elected official. A politician is just someone who does what’s easy rather than what’s right.
And the sick part? The older I get the more of a politician I become. Some say it’s inevitable. They say things like pick your battles. I’ve found myself saying the same when dealing with the difficulties of people and when facing the doom and darkness descending around us. Because in truth, what’s in the hearts of Chinese and Iranian leaders can be found in the hearts of many in the elite group of Americans that live above us all. Watched a movie the other day – sci-fi – where a woman from our time went forward to facist year 2100. When she asked how did this happen, she was simply told 80 years is a long time.
How long does it take? How long does kicking the can down the road last before it’s too late? 80 years? 50? 1?
Questions like those are too big. So I pick my battles knowing full well I’m still going to lose the war. I do it because questioning causes discomfort, and each time I know less and less of what I’d be willing to stand for. I hope there’s something out there. But again, what do I know? I’m just a reed trying to weather the storm. Just a reed in a nation of more than 300 million others.
Just remember that fear is the weakest of motivators. Powerful only in the short term. Shame, however, is the most potent deterrent to moving forward.
Being frightened is human. It’s ok. Remaining afraid is shameful and weak. And that’s not ok.
Fear is used to make us seek the line. Our own shame keeps us there.
(Josh Beavers is a teacher and a writer. He has been recognized five times for excellence in opinion writing by the Louisiana Press Association.)
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