• Rebecca Branle

maybe we're wrong about strong

Updated: Sep 24, 2020


Maybe strong isn't stoic. Maybe it isn't the chin up, chest forward, all-business kind of business we've been conditioned to believe.


Maybe strength belongs to the empaths. Maybe we're the keepers of wisdom. Maybe the answers we whisper to ourselves are the ones we need to shout.


Maybe, just maybe, the leaders should be us.

We're seven weeks into the COVID-19 shutdown. Seven weeks and society's fractures are growing. The anger is building. The ignorance is blinding. Seven weeks and I'm realizing the beliefs I've always had, the ones they call radical, are right.


When we're born, we're taught to accept certain injustices, certain tortures. We're told parables about good versus evil. We're taught to fear the stranger. We're assigned ambitions to acquire things, but we're never encouraged to acquire peace. We're shown images equating strength with an absence of emotion, and we're fed fairytales about farm life. From birth, we're read brightly colored books about happy little cow families grazing in the grass, the grass most cows never see, the families they never get to be, and we leave out the slaughter. Farm to table is just a false euphoric farm then table, and nothing in between. So it's no wonder we're here. It's no wonder the earth is sick, our culture is sick, and our bodies are sick.


Like everyone else, I grew up on those stories, with that black and white set of rules, and like a good little girl, I believed them. We were good; the other was evil. The poor were lazy, immigrants criminal, the animals? It was cute that I cared, but I was encouraged to just eat them, and stop thinking. Thinking about it was bad. Thinking about a lot of things that didn't make sense to me was bad. But, the thing is, I had this soft, mushy heart and none of it felt okay. Maybe that's why I was so agitated when I was young, because a life of accepting those lies meant living with a heart in constant conflict. And even though I knew the truth, I refused to look at it, to live it. I looked straight ahead and ignored the stories of our society's invisible sufferers, until I became one myself.


My husband hit me. Once, then twice, hard, then harder. There I was, a victim of domestic violence. And yet I wasn't what I was told a victim of this sort would be. I wasn't a weak and mindless girl. I was a young woman who had the audacity to believe in love and trust and that I'd never have to fear for my life inside my home. I also never thought I'd ask for help and have friends and family politely decline. But they did. They shrugged me off. Dismissed me.


No one asked questions. I was messy. The situation was messy. Believing me meant suffering the embarrassment of a divorced daughter or losing fun nights out with "everybody's favorite guy," that crazy fun husband of mine. They didn't want to know my story any more than they wanted to know the story of the immigrants tending to their front lawns, or the filets on their plates. To see me, to see us, and seek out our stories, would force them away from the comfort of their privilege. Never looking is easier than looking, seeing, and then callously looking away.


In my own invisibility, I finally woke up. I saw the others. I saw the mother from Honduras, shielding her children in her arms and fleeing violence, and I knew I would do the same. I saw the black teen killed by the cops. I saw them try to rewrite his story, say the child should have done this, or could have done that. I saw and I cried. I knew my white privilege protected my children from the same fate, my children who would have reacted in the same way, as children, and my blood boiled. While driving, I saw animals being hauled to slaughter, their eyes peering through the holes in the trailer. I felt the pull not to look, the way my friends tried not to look at me, but I looked, and I understood. And I stopped consuming flesh.


I saw the young wife who, like me, fled abuse but, unlike me, had no fancy education, no fancy job, and no fancy family to prop her up, and I knew her poverty had nothing to do with laziness. She was me. I saw the waiter working day and night and still falling into medical debt because he couldn't afford insurance. Eventually, I saw the small business owner, me, who couldn't afford to offer insurance to my employees. We worked so hard. We provided a noble service, and we deserved healthcare.


I saw them all then. And I see them all today. And I see how this virus is disproportionately hurting them. And now, more than ever, I know my truth, and their truth, is the truth.


And yet the privileged, they march with signs that say, "Sacrifice the weak." They wave the confederate flag and call it a proud display of heritage.They spit screams in the face of the police, armed to the gills, and yet they never have to fear the fate of a black child playing with a toy gun. No one shoots them as they force their way into their state's capital building and say spending two more weeks inside is a punishment worse than the death of my mother, or your mother, or their mother.


They buy more guns and make more noise. They make no sense, but they say they're strong. They say the empaths are weak. Because we feel. Because we don't shout. Because our quiet intelligence makes them feel small.


And maybe they are small. And maybe they are weak. And, surely, their leader is weak.


So here's what I know. What we, the empaths, know.


We know a healthcare system reliant upon jobs can't work when a pandemic cancels those jobs. Or when cancer ends the ability to work. Or when small business owners can't afford to buy in, for themselves or their staff. It can't work. It's never worked. We've been whispering for them to wake up. Maybe we need to shout. They're shouting. They're shouting that "competition keeps costs down!" but they forget the CEOs banking millions in bonuses while finding loopholes to turn down coverage. They forget the dirty insulin price gouging, the dirty lobbying, the dirty greed, and the dirty death they have on their hands. Maybe we need to shout louder.


We know the working class poor aren't poor because they're lazy. Dear God, they're not lazy. They carry our country on their backs. They dig our foundations and pull vegetables from our soil and stock our shelves and pave our streets and break their backs carrying our weight. The minimum wage hasn't been raised in years and they aren't guaranteed sick days and they can't call out...and they keep working. And they get sick. And they die because they are essential. We've been talking about this for years, but maybe we need to yell.


We know that most pandemics begin when humans insert themselves into the lives of animals. Wet markets. Factory farms. Backyard butchers. The Spanish Flu of 1918 came from birds. In 1997 and 2015, bird flus struck again. In 2009 it was the Swine Flu. And there was Mad Cow Disease and there's always Salmonella. Our sick need to eat flesh is making us sick. And not just from pandemics. Scientist after scientist links meat consumption to an increase risk for cancer and heart disease. And it's making the earth sick, too. Animal agriculture is the second-largest contributor to the world's human-made greenhouse gases and a leading cause of water and air pollution, deforestation, and biodiversity loss. And it's cruel. In all its forms: organic, small farm, large farm...all of it ends in graphic, horrifying murder. We've been kindly nudging you to wake up about this for a while now. Maybe it's time for us to scream.


We know these things because we see the stories behind the politics. We see the human, the living, behind the statistics. We see the us instead of the other.


We, the empaths, the snowflakes, the libtards, the bleeding hearts, WE see the path forward.


They find comfort in demeaning the other, in the existence of an other who they label as less than them. They like the taste of flesh and that "like" is reason enough to surge forward in an industry that isn't just killing animals, it's killing us all. They say they're Christians and yet they prop up a leader who grabs pussies, and grabs bribes, and grabs the reputation of our nation and destroys it, and they say he's on Jesus's side. But do they even know Jesus? They don't hear us, and they don't take the time to hear our stories, or the science, the truth. But we hear their stories, and even when they don't, we know that our answers are their answers. In saving us, we save them, and, to us, that's right. Because love is our answer. And for that, they call us weak.


Yes. We're wrong about strong. Strength can be feeling and hearing and caring, and crying. Strength can be sharing stories instead of insults. Strength can be loving our neighbor, enough to want them to have healthcare, enough to welcome them as refugees. Strength can be loving our planet, enough to save her lungs. Strength is understanding that we can't breathe money, and the stock market isn't our ventilator. Strength is choosing we over me. Strength is wearing a mask, taking it seriously, staying home, staying informed, staying kind.


We're wrong about strong.


It's time for narcissism to step aside and let a mind that's tied to a heart take the lead.








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