"Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen." Winston Churchill
Back in the day when John Cougar Mellencamp fought the authority, the authority always won. And so it seems for many of us – authority appears to hold infinite power. Our mega companies and bosses, our churches, pastors and priests, and certainly the literal authorities seemingly hold all of the cards. Even in the construct of our communities and families, there is a powerful underlying influence of conformity that keeps many of us in check.
America hates a loser and the cultural norm is to hold contempt for failure. Because of such immense societal pressure, many would rather sit down and stay quiet than face the prospect of a lost battle. After all, when you pick a fight, you don’t fight to lose. And if Mellencamp was right - the authority always wins - then what’s the point of fighting ‘the man’ in the first place? With such logic, many of us choose to avoid conflict and stay on the sidelines of apathy, comfort, and complacency.
The predominance of passivity and apathy may seem like trends that are here to stay, but it hasn’t always been that way. America was founded on the ideals of resistance to authority and standing up for the rights of the oppressed and marginalized. That said, the great irony of the American ideal (success at all costs) is that it also carries with it a dark underbelly of oppression, abuse, and violence. ‘Me first’ can also mean ‘you last.’
This ebb and flow cycle of resistance and avoidance has played itself out throughout the history of our nation. In modern history, the resistance movements of civil rights, women’s rights and LBGT rights have also been paralleled by the movements of corporate consolidation and greed, bigger and increasingly gridlocked government, and inequality through the disparity of wealth.
In the hangover of the tumultuous 1960’s, the notion of conflict avoidance gained continuous momentum. Rocking the boat lost its luster and in its place, comfort and complacency became en vogue. If the 80’s was the “Greed is Good” decade, the presiding themes that seem to hold sway in modern times are that of ego, image, and self-preservation.
Pop culture promotes such a zero-sum equation played out salaciously on reality television and in our constant mind-numbing newsfeeds. The end goal is the top of the pyramid (famous, rich, and beautiful) and the way is paved with playing the game, a carefully manicured self-image, and how many ‘followers’ one can amass. I have a dream has been replaced by what’s in it for me.
Greed and selfishness seem to be top American values, but that isn’t what we’re built on. We’re build on resistance. We’re built on fighting for the rights of the little guy. We’re built on the rising tide that lifts all boats, not just the yachts.
As cookie cutter monopolies have come to define our way of business and inept government has become the norm, more and more folks are stepping out to challenge the status quo. And yet it’s evident that in many ways, in the haze of our comfortable slumber, we’ve forgotten how to stand up and resist. It’s time for a crash course:
Resistance isn’t insulating yourself with those that agree with you.
Resistance isn’t simply putting up a hashtag and feeling like you’ve done your part.
Resistance isn’t shouting and screaming louder…it’s letting others do the shouting and screaming and holding a mirror up to hatred and insanity.
Resistance starts with the most important battle you can wage - challenging your own ego and limiting self-serving beliefs.
Resistance is humility, the willingness to listen, and an unwavering commitment to justice and truth.
Resistance is putting your money where your mouth is and putting your ass on the line.
I tend to agree with John Cougar Mellancamp - it does indeed seem like the authority wins a lot of the time. But the pages of history tell a different story. All important and significant political, scientific, and cultural movements start with ideas counter to the establishment. The authority may win a lot of battles, but truth always wins the war.
Corporate America, our news/social media, and the polarizing political landscape can seem like lonely and terrifying places to reside these days. But as the truly great advancements in history corroborate - there are a lot more of us than there are of them. If enough of us resist the forces of ego, selfishness, and greed, then justice will prevail.