Who’s in Your Lifeboat?

Recently I was talking with a conservative acquaintance of mine, and noticed a bumper sticker in Greek on his car. It took me an embarrassingly long amount of time to place the phrase (especially as a big fan of the Hardcore History podcast, but eventually I worked it out: molon labe, or “Come and take them!”.

It’s the response of King Leonidas (of the 300 Spartans fame) to Emperor Xerxes when the latter requested the Greeks lay down their arms. The phrase has been adopted by those enthusiastic about the defense of the 2nd amendment, the right to bear arms.

It took me a bit to realize: those people are scared too. After an election cycle when I thought that the Republicans basically got everything they wanted – there was still a fear that someone was coming for their guns, and a fierce-yet-covert cry of defiance in that great American tradition: the bumper sticker. “They” still thought they were the underdogs, even with all three branches of government in the control of people who had putatively said they would defend the 2nd amendment.

That’s when it hit me:

We’re All Scared

Many of my friends have talked about how they feel they now are in “the Resistance”, trying to keep the civil liberties and progressive accomplishments of the past few decades from being completely rolled back by the coming kleptokakocracy.

Easy enough to say – but what does that actually look like? How do we manage it?

There are a lot of suggestions, including one really excellent one called “Indivisible”:

The authors of this guide are former congressional staffers who witnessed the rise of the Tea Party. We saw these activists take on a popular president with a mandate for change and a supermajority in Congress…Their ideas were wrong, cruel, and tinged with racism — and they won.

We believe that protecting our values and neighbors will require mounting a similar resistance to the Trump agenda — but a resistance built on the values of inclusion, tolerance, and fairness.

That, however, is on the organizational level. There also is the simple need for us to be vigilant in their everyday life, watching for moments not only when we can stand up against bigotry and hate but also when we can promote tolerance. It means remembering that we are all in this together, though. As the ever-brilliant @FeministaJones put it,


We’ve got an organized resistance plan; we also are aware that we are going to have to be willing to step up and not tolerate the mistreatment of our fellow humans. Those are both pretty tempestuous places to be. While we’re “all in it together” (even, or maybe especially, those people who elected Trump with the belief he would help them), I think it’s important that we create our own support systems. That this is a time to circle the wagons – no, that’s a really lousy metaphor (especially as it relates to colonialism and genocide). It’s time to create our lifeboats.

Desperate Times Looking’ to Get Desperater

Let’s be clear: lifeboats are not places you want to be. If you are in a lifeboat, something has gone seriously wrong. No survivor of a shipwreck ever sat in the lifeboat and said Hey, this is pretty cool, we should stay here!

No, a lifeboat is only useful in two ways: one, it has the bare minimum to keep you alive (for a while), and two, it is better than not being in the lifeboat. And the people in a lifeboat share those two characteristics: they all are threatened by whatever is outside of the lifeboat, and they’re all trying to stay alive.

Now, before the analogy runs aground (wait, that would be a good thing – dammit, I’m failing the metaphor game today) let’s not get into the “limited resources” game here. We’re not having to suspiciously eye each other, wondering if someone is taking more than their share, because what sustains us in this particular lifeboat metaphor is empathy. It’s kindness. It’s compassion. And all of those are, if finite, at least renewable resources.

Here’s the challenge: we aren’t in the lifeboat yet. No, right now we’re still standing in line as the deck is tilting, and we’re looking around to see who is getting into the lifeboat with us. Now is the time when we have the choice; when we can look for the people who we want to care for, or who can help care for us. Now’s the time when we can see the person with the skills that might save us, or at least make the time in the lifeboat more bearable. Now is the time to reach out to them, to make the connections and strengthen them.

Because trust me: you’ll end up in the lifeboat with someone, no matter what. And you should do your best to get along with them, and care for them, even if they are consumed by fears that you don’t understand. They probably won’t understand your fears, either, and that means you both have a great opportunity to work on communication! Shipwrecks as a tool for personal growth aren’t much fun, though.

So I ask you again to take a moment and consider: Who’s in your lifeboat?

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