Since 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.
Over 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.
In 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.
In 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.