The Snowflake and the Fist

canstockphoto8520880Since I live in Minnesota, I find the term “snowflake” to be an innately irritating and overused bit. They all look the same at the end of my shovel. It’s generally used against liberals or basically anyone who disagrees with the person using it. It’s used as a way to shut down opinions, to end the conversation – a way to show what a tough you are. Liberals do the same thing with the “check your privilege” childishness. It ends conversations. It is aggressive and condescending.

Language matters and how we learn to talk to one another can be the difference between peace and violence.

I often struggle with this. Sounding tough is armor – a protection against getting hurt or having to examine one’s own words and actions.

My home life as a child was unpredictable and could, at times, be dangerous. When in pain or afraid or angry, I was mocked for being too sensitive and consequently spent many of my years practicing toughness. I put some meat on that bone by joining the Army, training in martial arts,  and becoming physically stronger. I was determined that no one should ever hurt or threaten me again.

canstockphoto3491219Over the years, especially being a parent, I’ve had to reverse engineer my vulnerability. I’ve had to learn to take harshness out of my tone, become more cognizant when teasing might cross the line to meanness, learn to nurture and give without regard to how it makes me appear. I’ve had my moments, though. I liked the idea that I could sing silly songs with my girl and still be able to take down an attacker if needed.

These days, I am approaching life with a little more subtlety. The current environment of political dysfunction and the dangerous things being done in the name of “toughness” have made me think about what strength means.

Imagine what the conversation would be if instead of saying “Lock her up”, people had shouted “we’re afraid”. Or instead of calling President Trump cutesy insult names, we had simply said “we’re afraid”. Would the conversation change? Would the tone of the whole campaign season have changed?

Instead, we’re bordering on an authoritarian regime. When people are done being afraid of Muslims, who is next? The rhetoric is already setting up the press, scientists, intellectuals, actors to be targets. We’ve seen this game before. A propagandist with the President’s ear now sits on the National Security Council, billionaires are preparing to dismantle citizen protections in order to fill their coffers, we’re being told lies are truth and anyone who says otherwise is an enemy. Meanwhile, people who have power are kowtowing and those who don’t, are risking more and more to protest.

So perhaps someone being snidely referred to as a “snowflake” should be the least of our concerns. But it is how we dehumanize others who disagree with us and this is one of the tenets of authoritarianism. It’s how to silence the opposition.  This isn’t President Trump and his confederacy of ne’er do wells. This is what we do to each other. This is the ground floor of the Tower of Babel, where we refuse to listen to each other and stop speaking the same language. Chaos and separation and disintegration ensues.

Several months ago, we put a sign in our yard. We choose love. It was a plastic sign, given out for free by a neighbor a few blocks over. I realized yesterday how it is getting harder and harder to make that choice.

I am afraid. I am afraid of the hatred and the actions being taken based on that hatred. I’m afraid that my daughter won’t have the same choices and opportunities that I have had. I’m afraid that our air and water will be poisoned by pollution and chemicals and that we’ll destroy this planet, one species after another.

I am afraid of all the guns and the violence surrounding them. I am afraid of the wars and the death they will bring. I am afraid of the religious zealots, the ones who live in this country who want to inject their archaic belief systems into our laws. I’m afraid of what we will do to each other in the name of our beliefs. I’m afraid that we’ll sit too long on our hands and then they will come for us.

canstockphoto2264577In the face of all those fears, choosing love can be quite difficult. It sounds like this inert, fuzzy thing on the face of it. Part of me wants to mock it, name call, make up some farcical meme. My lesser self still has space in my brain. It is so much easier to be a jerk in the face of fear than it is to wrangle with oneself and choose kindness or compassion or curiosity or love. And I wrestle with it everyday.

Even now, my mind is objecting. But, but, but… if I choose love, won’t that mean I’m complicit? Don’t people who use force and violence only respect force and violence? There are some people who will remain in their armor, no matter what you do. But there are others who will soften and engage and stop their own words and actions of violence.

And choosing love doesn’t mean being passive. It means that love drives our words and choices. It means that fear has to take a backseat. I am afraid that as I rise to this occasion in our history, I may inadvertently cause harm to myself or my family. But I love my family enough to know that passivity and cowardice is not the example I wish to set. Civic engagement is critical now. Speaking up is critical now. I’d rather be an alarmist and wrong, then passive and right.

canstockphoto25488454In the end, you may not change a single mind. You may not even be able to affect the course of events. But you will be someone with strength of character. You will be someone you can live with. I’ve ordered a carved wooden sign for a more permanent place in our yard. We choose love. Every single day we have to do the heavy lifting in re-choosing love as our guiding principle. That’s what being tough really means.

 

40 Comments on “The Snowflake and the Fist

  1. I’ve never quite gotten the reasoning behind calling someone a “snowflake.” With so many other words available it seems a rather uninspired choice. But whatever.

    I, too, have wondered about how the election might have gone if the Democrats had used the propaganda tactics that The Donald did. That is, he defined Hillary as crooked, and it stuck. But the Dems never did a similar easy-to-remember moniker for him.

    To wit, I’ve taken to calling him Dodgy Donald. A small way to resist. An accurate description. 😉

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    • Right now there is a lot of finger-pointing regarding the Democrats’ loss, but regardless of how one feels, the losing campaign conducted itself with relative civility and dignity. I am glad of that.

      I am trying to work on my inclination to namecall, because I’ve certainly been guilty of that. I realized that when I hear other people doing it, it doesn’t contribute to the discourse. Humor is a much-needed salve right now, so I get why people do it. I don’t seem to have much of a sense of humor right now.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. And it’s about the strength in vulnerability (the love), and the wisdom and compassion I think that goes with it, with seeing beyond yourself and your petty control trips. Our history here is shaping up to be a very deep and rich one.

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    • We humans aren’t great at the long game or seeing beyond our own little universes. The phrase “the common good” is rolling around in my head a lot these days. I keep thinking about my little world and what in it is NOT part of the common good and what is at the expense of others.

      I just started re-reading 1984 last night (it’s the thing to do now!). I’d forgotten so much about it, but when he starts to write in his journal beyond the view of the telescreen, I felt the clarion call of writing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Nice…the 1984…eager to hear what resonates with you on the second read. The scenes of them meeting in the woods should, too.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Imagine what the conversation would be if instead of saying “Lock her up”, people had shouted “we’re afraid”.

    There is a larger point here. The call for locking Hillary up was not out of fear of her presidency, it was disgust at watching the Clintons skate on so many issues over the years.

    Hillary was a terrible, terrible candidate, who the majority of Americans perceived as untrustworthy.

    I will not argue about whether that was justified – because that is not important. What is important is that we hold ourselves and our loyalties to the same standard that we hold others. It is also that we uphold standards.

    Today, half the country does not give a damn about what Donald Trump does. They are so tired of the outrage-on, outrage-off, outrage-on, outrage-off machine that they have lost their capacity for outrage.

    They view outrage as nothing more than partisan political posturing – which all too often, it is.

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    • I’m exhausted by campaign season politics, so I’m not going revisit all that. If there was a larger point to be made, it’s that slogans are generally dumbed down for mob participation. “String him up” and “she’s a witch” were popular ones in the past as well.
      I think we’re seeing a lot of civic engagement. Outrage has become a loaded term because of social media. Civil protests, contacting representatives, editorials – this is part and parcel of good citizenship. It is exhausting and tiresome both to be involved in and to witness.
      What alternative is there, when you disagree with your government, when you feel that your country is being harmed? Whether you agree or not with the issues, there are a limited number of options for the average American to be heard.

      Liked by 2 people

        • That’s absolutely true. I wrote this because I had a light bulb moment. I realized that I tend to discount people’s opinions when they use tired talking points or namecalling, because it signals a lack of critical thinking and it would mean a tiresome conversation.
          Knowing that, I could see where I’d gone down that road myself on occasion. I’m working on it. I rarely hold others to the expectations to which I hold myself, but leading by example is a mantra I’d like to embody.

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I am inspired by what the people and CEOs of large companies are doing and it is an important lesson for all of us, regardless of where we live. At the end of the day, whether it’s politics or just getting through your own life you can’t count on anyone else to take care of you — you have to stand up and protect yourself. And I am convinced if everyone keeps this up, good will triumph over evil — there will be no choice. If Donald Trump has reminded us of anything, it’s how we can’t take anything for granted and that “democracy” is more than a word; and that we must fight with everything we have to preserve it.

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    • I think, too, you have to be willing to stand up and protect others. I’m less concerned about the ideology of democracy than I am about the idea of human rights and not allowing bigotry and religious dogma to become this country’s marching orders.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree. Language is important. I want to hear from both sides believe it or not, but when I see the words that are condescending or that are meant to poke fun, your message is lost on me right away. Snowflake is a good one, and I’m quite frankly tired of seeing people call Trump names as well. I mean I get it, but Cheetoh this or that makes me think your heart is overriding your brain and that’s no way to to have a conversation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It seems to me that parody and satire is wasted at a time when people use phrases like alternative facts. Same goes with the cutesy name calling, which I’ve come to loathe as unoriginal and cliche – it does get in the way of conversation.

      It’s time for us to play the proverbial straight man while having conversations that are loaded. And being able to make ourselves genuinely vulnerable – “this is what worries me…”, “this is how it affects me or my family”. All the partisan hissing and spitting is not useful for any of us anymore. There are real problems to solve.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. Nice – very nice – post. I’m reading and funneling a lot of what G Orwell had to say about language and how it’s used to distort, obfuscate or even “make murder seem respectable”…. you are dead on to note that language / words are so often crafted into weapons and used without a lot of people even realizing it. I think a lot of people are generally on the same page with wanting to live and let live — so we often assume that when someone else says “peace” or “love” or “fairness” that they mean the same things that we would mean…..I think (and I may be wrong) that it’s not common for the average person to stop and realize that there’s an entire cadre of people who KNOW that their definition to those words (and many others) mean something entirely different (or at least very specific to their goals)…..following you now — thanks for speaking up……Winston

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words and the follow. I recently read a post by George Lakoff regarding the word “regulations”. It really has made me pay attention more closely to how language is manipulated. We now have to ask ourselves the same questions with words as we do with data. Who is promoting it? What purpose does it serve?
      I get your point exactly about the same words having different meanings to people and how easily assumptions get made about that. I actually thought a great deal about our yard sign and what that meant. Currently, as it looks similar to a campaign sign, it just looks like we’re violating a city ordinance! In that respect, it seems more like a political statement and slightly aggressive. I’m hoping that it looks like what it means to me now, which is simply a reminder coming and going from my house about the choices I make, but I’m sure it can be interpreted a thousand different ways.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve been circling around Orwell and “All Art is Propaganda” — they just don’t make them like that anymore. He was politically left but more than willing to openly criticize his party and peers….seems like that’s just not allowed very much anymore by …. well anyone. I think I’m going to take one more pass at Mr Orwell’s essays and then start posting some “what if’s” about where things COULD go from here…I’m also looking for inspiration on some lighter material to break it up…..it’ll either be music or something along those lines….I’ve posted a lot of dense material that needed to “get out” …. but I’m going to have to find a way to step back and say some other things for my own sanity’s sake — and yet, not worry about possibly diluting the things I want to say about history and politics….

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        • I definitely hear you regarding the posts that one needs to get out. I’ve been on a humorless writing streak for weeks and wish I could write lighter fare, as I have in the past. Everybody needs a breather, but it is hard to see one’s way clear of the onslaught of news coming out of Washington.

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        • Was it Roy Rogers that had the wit and humor infused into his viewpoints? I believe I am recalling his name correctly – he was able to take a serious subject and inject a little humor — make a point, but defuse the conversation at the same time….Mark Twain was really good at that too …. I’m going to go back and look at each and see if I can learn something — see that?? That direction / thought would NOT have happened if we hadn’t have chatted — keep on keepin’ on, Michelle — talk to you again around the bend somewhere….

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with what you are saying and at the same time enjoy the comic relief. Watching SNL, Seth Meyers and Bill Maher is a welcome lift after reading The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal, and watching CNN. Like you, I’m very fearful and would like to see more discussion and less Tweets and name calling. When I see Trump indifferent to protests and public opinion, I feel there is not much we can do to stop the horrific momentum launched by this administration. When I watch political comedy, I am reminded that I am not alone in my perception of how ludicrous these presidential actions are and that we’re all in this together.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have always loved political comedy, but have, at least temporarily, lost my taste for it. I laughed along with old favorites right up until the moment that person was elected president and I haven’t really laughed since. Hopefully, I’ll regain my sense of humor, but not quite yet.

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      • First of all – I really loved your post and am glad to have stumbled across it! And I believe you’re spot on, that the root cause of this entire mess is fear.

        Regarding your MIA sense of humor: I can relate somewhat, in that for many days after the election most of my laughs were of the “Stuck in a foxhole with shells exploding everywhere how screwed up is this HAR har!” kind.
        But I really hope you’ll find it again, because I believe it helps. Even if it’s only helping to keep yourself sane when everything feels like it’s going to hell in a flaming basket.

        If you like to read: There’s an author named Ephraim Kishon. A Holocaust survivor (“They made a mistake, they left one satirist alive!”) his books became bestsellers in Israel – and Germany (life writes the best jokes…).
        His comment? “Making the Nazis’ grandchildren laugh is the best revenge I could have gotten on them.”

        You might also like to try Terry Pratchett’s “Monstrous Regiment”. “Jingo” and “Small Gods” are also excellent, as well as just about any of his books featuring Granny Weatherwax. All too often in those books there are “this is exactly what’s happening now!” moments for me.

        Or maybe those two guys were just very keen observers of human nature.

        Other than Orwell’s nightmarish vision though, they both approached the gigantic mess that is humanity with compassion and humor.

        PS: Choosing Love right there next to you!

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        • Thanks for your kind words and encouragement – and for the book referrals. One of my favorite writers when it comes to politics and war is Kurt Vonnegut – but I’m almost afraid to pick one his books up right now, because my guess is that things that were intended as absurdist then will read as reality now. I’m getting my sense of humor back, fortunately. Sleep and a little self-care help mightily!

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  8. Roy Rogers and Mark Twain — two other good examples of intelligent folks who could make their point – but use wit and humor….going to take a closer look at those guys (Paul Harvey too?)

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thank you Michelle. We are afraid. So are the Trumpettes but they hide it behind the tough armor and the armament. But yes, at the bottom of it all is fear. Since 911 fear is endemic in our country. It feels like a corporal mental illness that drives the society deeper into drawing battle lines. I will try to choose love too. I do find solace in the one or two conservative friends I can discuss politics with rationally and respectfully. I wish there was a whole lot more of that going on. We don’t change each others minds, but we do find our common ground and that is a start.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I used to be more of a conservative myself, but once the social issues took center stage and all their fiscal platforms proved unworkable for anyone but the uber-wealthy, there was nothing left for me.
      It’s great that you have the opportunity to have those conversations. Most people seem incapable of bringing down the hostile rhetoric a notch. I think just being able to talk and to realize we all have the same wishes and desires (for the most part) that are indelibly human. It’s the getting there that used to be the point of division. Now we’re peasants doing the wealthy and powerful’s bidding – squabbling and being distracted while they are pickpocketing our very rights and earnings.

      Liked by 2 people

  10. I’m reading “Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” right now. No, I’m not claiming Trump and his supporters are Nazis. But there are many scary parallels…the blatant bigotry, excessive nationalism, strong-arm/tough-guy tactics, propaganda being delivered as truth. In my 58 years I’ve never seen Washington this beastly ugly. I don’t find signs declaring “Love” as being weak at all, but those of us who are justly afraid of right-wing extremism need to do much more. I’m no historian, but I wish more Americans had a better understanding of history, so they could easier see the writing on the wall…BEFORE there’s an election. The good news: at least we have periodic elections so we can correct our mistakes.

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    • I read that book many years ago, but also as my degree is in Soviet and East European Studies, I have some familiarity with authoritarianism in general, especially when mediocre and petty humans gain power.
      Don’t mistake my conversation about a sign and love as the end of my actions or civic engagement. For me, it’s a reminder of origin and where I work from. It’s a long haul reminder when the language and actions get ugly around me.
      I am not optimistic regarding corrective elections. Too much has been done to undermine voters’ rights and fairness, and more damage is on the way. Still, optimistic or not, we have to operate with the idea that the system can still work or this country is done.

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      • Exactly, and I’m sorry if I sounded like I concluded that your sign was the end of your “activism.” Just reading your stuff, I know how committed you are. I was speaking generally, as a lot of folks do limit their involvement to merely posting a feel-good thing on FB. Although the Electoral College system, Voting Rights Act assault, and gerrymandering worry me, I’m probably a little more optimistic than you about elections. Hillary was an unpopular candidate, but she still won the popular vote by a large margin. Unlike 1930s Germany, we still have a lot of checks and balances here. If things do get bad enough, the amnesiacs will be forced to set aside their Candy Crush, reality TV, and FB silliness for awhile. Trump and his cronies may provide the wake-up call this country needs. Hang in there!

        Liked by 1 person

  11. “Imagine what the conversation would be if instead of saying “Lock her up”, people had shouted “we’re afraid”. Or instead of calling President Trump cutesy insult names, we had simply said “we’re afraid”.” Brilliant. Positively brilliant !

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    • Sometimes the plot line of a show or movie is that someone is required to be honest all the time and then hilarity ensues. Imagine what this political campaign would have been like if everyone had been forced to be authentic and honest. Either a massive group hug or nuclear war would have occurred. But most human emotions, no matter how we mask them, are the same. I believe there is more pain and sadness and fear than there is anger, hostility and greed. We just have to be willing to see it.

      Liked by 2 people

  12. Love is a weapon that can break through the most impenetrable barriers. I saw a social worker bring the toughest character to tears in minutes simply by challenging them with their own heartfelt love and acceptance of them as people. A fictional example of this might be Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting saying to Matt Damon’s character, “it’s not your fault.” That kind of love is powerful.

    But of course, that kind of love is not going to trump Trump. We know it’s going to take much more firepower than that. His very bones are corrupt, and he is insulated, and he’s taken power. And no one with the necessary influence is standing up to him. He’s the boss enemy at the end of a video game, the hardest to kill by far.

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    • And this is where the crossroads are for most of us. What power do we have? What difference can we make? There are limitations on what we can do about the short game – intense civic engagement. But beyond that, we’re talking violence and revolution.
      In the long game, we have to learn to heal each other, talk to each other, stop taking sides and battening down the hatches. I’ve been really asking myself about how we do that. How do we pull ourselves back from the edge of self-destruction? How do we move forward from all this divisiveness?
      On a personal level, I am experiencing anxiety and depression daily. It made me think a lot about what I can do and what control I do have. What are going to be my choices in the this time of upheaval?

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  13. I have only just caught up with your blog, which I started following last year. After several months of health issues, I found myself catatonic trying to come to terms with everything that is going on in our country. I found it impossible to write for a long five months. Thankfully I have found my voice again, but there are so many days when it seems useless to even try to express anything. I appreciate your writing, and was especially heartened by your commitment to listening and the importance of love as the source of strength as we struggle to do what needs to be done.

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    • Unfortunately, I’m not consistent. I have days when love is definitely not winning, but I recognize that it should be the goal. I’m trying harder these days not to let politics infiltrate my head 24/7. This week I might even do a news fast, just to feel grounded again. Hope you are hanging in there and glad you found your voice again.

      Like

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