Lipstick in a War Zone

“Language is the cornerstone of society. It is the first weapon to be drawn in war.” ~ from the film Arrival

Does anything seem truer right now?

Whether you feel like you’ve been swept up into a collective, post-election panic attack or you’re an ALL CAPS “WE WON! YOU LOST!” gloater, weapons have been drawn and are being waved around wildly. Armed skirmishes abound.

I get it. I’m flabbergasted such an obviously unqualified, coarse, hot-head with less maturity and self-awareness than my seventh grader is about to have access to the nuclear codes. Speaking of, he just announced his intention to resume nuclear proliferation on Twitter. (See what I mean about that quote up there?)

If you voted for him and this doesn’t concern you, I can’t imagine what it would take. Uniformed thugs goose stepping down your street? We haven’t even made it to the Inauguration yet and each new day’s antics and pronouncements feel like some fresh hell. It’s going to be a long four years.

So yeah, I feel like lashing out too. After all, scorched-earth ragers feel so good going down, don’t they? Like the buzz from the first drink of the night as it hits your blood stream.  I’ve held my tongue a lot over the past 45 days because good things rarely come from acting out of blind panic or reactive fury.

I’m trying to take a measured approach because I think he wants us immersed in chaos, distracted and jerking off on Twitter in righteous outrage over his latest shenanigans while he presses forward with destructive, destabilizing action. It’s hard to mount an effective resistance when half the people are in a full-on panic.

We would do well to keep the essence of this Drive-By Truckers lyric in mind when thinking about DJT: “[he] ain’t as smart as he’d like to be. But he ain’t nearly as dumb as you think.”

Vigilance is key.

“Cooler heads will prevail” is an oft-repeated saying for a reason. Maturity means taking a pause to let the flush of emotion pass before letting fly something that can’t be unsaid. Also, lobbing verbal grenades from the sideline while offering no useful suggestions to improve a situation is just intellectually lazy. It’s the least personally challenging thing one can do.

I can be as reluctant as anyone to step outside my cozy echo chamber, but I’m trying to change because it’s likely the only way out of this mess. Every problem before us is complex, and simplistic answers – seductive though they may sound – are a total fiction. It’s crucial that I listen to points of view different from my own, because if this election clarified anything it’s that people are suffering. If they feel ignored by everyone except the snake-oil salesman, they will succumb to his promise of easy solutions. I can’t credibly claim to be open-minded if I only extend my open-mindedness to those who don’t challenge my thinking.

(Note: I’m not talking about trying to reason with people whose POVs aren’t guided by fact or rational thinking. That’s an exercise in futility and those people show pretty quickly how they think. But to write off everyone whose views oppose my own with broad, overly simplified brushstrokes is intellectually lazy on my part. It’s also doubling down on the what got us here, and I don’t want to be here for any longer than necessary.)

Instead, I’m asking myself: How do you want to show up in this situation? Are you going to operate from your base self, or do the hard work of acting and speaking from your highest self? My goal is always to maintain my dignity, stick to principles that guide basic human decency, and try to operate from my highest self. I do a respectable job but don’t always get there. Like I said, it’s a goal. One that makes me think of this:

“What a wise person says is the least of that which he gives. What gets communicated is the small gestures in the whole totality of their being. That is to say, the small gestures of kindness, of graciousness, of honesty, of hard truth-telling. Never forget the message is the person.” Dave Jolly (via David Brooks)

There are few things more beautiful than witnessing acts of outrageous courage and dignified defiance. There are iconic examples like this:

But most people are quiet warriors and their acts of defiance tend to be small, resolute and subversive.

Take inspiration from the quiet warriors in this story from the TED Radio Hour’s “To Endure” episode. It’s told by Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International, which supports the social and economic empowerment of marginalized women living in countries affected by conflict and war.

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Salbi tells of a Bosnian woman who lived in Sarajevo during the war. Every morning before going out to do essential errands and run the gauntlet of sniper fire, she applied lip stick. This surprised Salbi, so the woman explained that applying lipstick before leaving her apartment for what was always potentially the last time was a small act of defiance, but its symbolism was significant. It was a clear sign of her refusal to abandon her own humanity and acquiesce to the snipers’ notion she was nothing more than an inconsequential part of the monolith of the “reviled other”.

That kind of resistance is laced with hope and agency. It requires endurance and the courageous willingness to believe that, even in the bleakest of circumstances, there can be beauty, dignity, and the possibility to rise again. It’s the steadfast refusal to “go gentle into that good night”.

It gives me hope, which I need because I suspect the next four years will be full of moments requiring large and small acts of resistance to keep our country from falling apart. I say that with an earnest sense of concern and all due seriousness given who’s at the helm and who he’s invited into positions of power around him.

In the meantime, Patterson Hood’s words won’t stop ringing in my ears. I’m going to “take [a] stand for noble causes ’til [I] just can’t stand no more.”

Join me.

About Chris DeVinney

Me in a nutshell: nerd, parent, writer, political junkie, spouse, curious cat, music lover, massive fan of traveling, bit of a smart ass. I write about whatever interests me.
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