Approximately 123 million Americans did not vote in the presidential election. Many thought that their voices did not matter, and that either outcome would bring no significant changes in their lives. We have collectively forgotten how much power we wield, and this election exposed how disempowered we feel.
I looked for evidence of elapsed dominion in my own past, and in doing so remembered that I once stood up to a group of bullies in fifth grade. It was one of the more courageous things that I have done. Each week, while waiting to enter the Biology room, a round boy in my grade was routinely menaced by a group of other boys. During those idle ten minutes, the bullying seemed to blend into the background amidst the usual commotion of changing classes. We accepted it as a normal part of our young lives. The bullies threatened to throw the boy in the trashcan one day. This was clearly one step too far. I had been standing next to the garbage, warily witnessing the usual mischief, when my tolerance snapped. I stepped in front of the boys, and shouted that they cannot do such a thing; that I would tattle to a teacher; and to leave their target alone. I don’t recall what any of those boys looked like, but I remember a vivid feeling of fear, my flushed face, and my high-pitched, trembling voice. Much to my surprise, the boys retreated.
Children are intuitively connected to their inner source of exuberance, might, and unconditional love. They remind us that we can create any life we imagine. Little boys announce with conviction that one day they will be firemen, not doubting that they will be doing exactly what they set out to do. In fact, we don’t doubt it, either. We are more cautious as adults, worn-out from years of plan Bs and outright failures. Peer pressure, social norms, and the demands of modern life have conditioned us to feel that we are constantly short of being an ideal person and smaller than we truly are. This belief takes away our agency and our power. Things seem only possible within limits, and we think we are powerless to change them. During the long election season, I had timidly expressed my views, and when confronted with fundamental disagreements, I often found myself backing away. I did not feel comfortable to continue navigating such conversations, and changed the subject. I was unsure that my reasoning could alter anyone else’s thinking. It’s time to change my tune.
As a child I found the courage in my heart to stand up for someone more vulnerable than I. Knowing that I had the capacity for this, gives me the confidence that I can reclaim that younger, courageous self that I once was. In these dawning days of a turbulent new year, remember that we all desire more love and security, and resolve to make a difference. Offer kindness and support. Live the grandest and bravest life possible. Read proper newspapers. Seek and speak up for the truth. Stand for equal justice. Volunteer in our immediate communities. Run for office. Participate in the body politic, and make our voices heard.
Mila Atmos is a columnist whose work has been featured by The Huffington Post, Quartz, and Medium.
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