Everything we believe is a story.
That red in a traffic light means “stop” while green means “go.” The idea of Western scientific thinking as free of bias. That peanut butter and jelly is the perfect kid’s meal. The American dream. Everything. Whether they’re good stories or bad stories isn’t the point. What matters is that they’re all things we’ve collectively decided or have been taught to us as being true, and we don’t usually question them.
We’ve all been shaped by the stories the world has given us from the day we were born. They’re wallpaper in the house of our minds. They subtly color how we think; they’re the lens we use to make sense of the world.
Right now in America, a number of these fundamental narratives are being called into question: our openness to and acceptance of those not just like us, the idea that democracy reigns, and that we can trust those elected to govern us. I watch, and my heart hurts. I see elected officials ignore the wishes of those they supposedly represent while voting to confirm unqualified presidential Cabinet nominations in the name of greed. I see people on the ground struggling to reconcile what they believed to be true about the country they love with the reality of what’s happening around them. I see determined individuals and groups, rightly concerned for their safety, doing their best to fight back against a regime rushing to usher in totalitarianism. On the other side, I see people worried things will be taken away from them because they’ve been fed a steady diet of stories of lack and separation. Of how the Other will come for them. Stories that tell them how they must retaliate.
Everywhere I look, I see people afraid, and my heart hurts for them.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m angry, too. I’m angry at those who told the false stories of lack and separation. I’m angry at those who bought into them. I’m angry they all insist on ignoring marginalized voices. I’m angry that some promote their own needs without considering the needs or rights of others. I’m angry that, as a result, everyone now has this mess of a collapsing government to deal with.
But as a writer, I also understand the power of stories. As a human being, I understand we are all bound together, for better or for worse.
When I resist, I’m not just resisting for my own sake. I’m not just resisting for the people I know and care about. I’m resisting for everyone, even the people who fear those like me. Even the people who actively choose things that will harm us all. I do so because I know they’re reacting to deeply embedded stories of exclusion. Stories that taught them their fear. Stories that taught them I am lesser than they are. Stories that taught them it’s okay for tax money to fund rich Melania Trump to live outside the White House while they themselves are denied public health care and education, and that this is the government looking out for them. Stories that create a binary of “us” and “them.”
Stories that have no basis in reality—there is no “them,” only “us”—but potent stories nonetheless. Tropes long overdue for retirement.
So let’s change the narrative. #beautifulresistance
When I was in high school, I had the hugest crush on Link, the hero from the fantasy video game The Legend of Zelda. (I’m sure I’m not alone in this.) This crush led me to write my first piece of fan fiction, which I had no idea was fan fiction at the time. I just knew I wanted to be in the land of Hyrule, too, so I came up with a self-insert and put her in charge of a silver Triforce. The original Triforce from the game is made up of three interlocking yet separable golden triangles (power, wisdom, and courage). It’s a sacred relic, one that remakes Hyrule to mirror the wielder’s heart. Powerful stuff. And the goal is for Link to keep it from Ganondorf, who wants to sow chaos and destruction.
I don’t remember what my silver Triforce stood for, but let’s say justice, kindness, and compassion. Just like with my crush on Link, I know I’m not the only one looking for those things today—and for power, wisdom, and courage, too. I’m not the only one looking for a way to harness those qualities and address the societal and social problems we find ourselves facing around the world, whether here in America where I live, or elsewhere.
What we do affects others. Take The Legend of Zelda—if Link wins, everyone will benefit. (Consider how some of the non-player characters in the game trick Link or try to cheat him. But he has to save them from the greater evil, anyway.) If Ganon wins, well. We pretend this isn’t true, pretend problems only matter if they directly affect us. It’s human nature to do this. We believe we’re disparate, detached individuals, and our actions impact only us—a story. We create division: I am not them, and they are not me. Another story. But that’s how those problems persist. That’s how we keep fear and Othering (believing those not just like us are alien) alive. And that’s how we open ourselves up to be exploited by those who want to keep us under their thumb while advancing their own agendas.
The truest journey of any hero or heroine includes transformation, and transformation includes introspection. We have to look honestly at ourselves, walls and illusions down, and admit where our own stories and ideas of who we are as a nation, as individuals, as a planet, have failed us. Because though the story of capitalism teaches us we inhabit a dog-eat-dog world, the opposite is true. Ours is a world of community, where we are integrally connected and dependent upon one another in a spiritual but also in a very practical way (herd immunity, food distribution systems, communication technology, etc.). That’s not a weakness.
It’s a strength; diverse voices mean diverse perspectives, which mean diverse solutions. It means we assemble the silver Triforce from numerous pieces and ideas. From humility and caring and collaboration. The real twist to the tale? There’s no lone hero here. In truth, there never was. It takes all of us to turn the tide, and it always has.
When I care for you, I care for myself. Enlightened self-interest, the best kind.
We often don’t question why we believe the things we do; it’s threatening, even dangerous, to have our worldview challenged like that. What if it falls apart? Who are we then?
Scary, maybe too scary. Easier just not to question and keep believing what others have insisted is true.
But sometimes, that sense of the earth falling away beneath our feet is exactly what we need. It’s the moment in mythology when we go into the dark forest. The desert. The other realm. The moment of choice and hopefully of growth.
In other words, it’s the moment of changing our stories. Of creating new ones to share.
This is why coming-of-age stories are so resonant at any age. This is why I write young adult fiction and why I love to read it. This is what makes literature so subversive; it shows people they have choices. It shows them there is no default way to be a human being, and the traits that currently result in marginalization (being brown or black, being queer, being disabled, being neuroatypical, being anything but Christian, etc.) are every bit as “normal” as those that don’t. It shows them that they have power to guide society into an actually equitable and just future.
I watched the world for years while sitting on the sidelines like an outsider, like a changeling learning mortal ways, and, inspired by people like Terri Windling, Mahatma Gandhi, and my spiritual teachers, I finally understood watching wasn’t enough; I had to speak, too. I had to resist the things I knew inside were wrong. But I also had to make art and offer love and compassion and keep an open heart in a time when those were all the last things I wanted to do. I had to keep reaching out.
To me, that is the essence of beautiful resistance: We focus on inclusion, we act on behalf of social justice and autonomy, we look within and around the globe for art and different experiences and values. We broaden our worldview where closed-hearted totalitarians would have us shrink it to the narrow confines of propaganda and control. We think critically, remembering in our hearts that hate and fear—manipulated by those with a lust for power—have brought the world to its knees time and again, and we speak against them. We reject the societal narrative that teaches how life, liberty, and security on every level are only available to the lucky few while the rest of us must spend our lives scrabbling desperately, pitted in competition against some mysterious enemy.
Instead, we seek out the places where we can heal and repair, and we fight the idea of division and separation with compassion—sometimes with what Buddhists call wrathful compassion—to make things better for everyone. We scatter seeds of hope and awareness across a hostile, possibly infertile landscape and leave them to sprout where they may. We create stories and art that uplift, spread love, and welcome.
We are the candles that light the rest of us against the darkness, one flame at a time.
Will you join the #beautifulresistance? I hope so; there’s room for all, and it’s never too late to open your own heart. What’s transpiring now in America and elsewhere is certainly not new. It’s happened over and over throughout history. But this is our chance to rewrite the narrative and break the pattern.
To President Ban(n)ondorf and sidekick Cheeto Man: Don’t get too comfortable. We’re assembling the Triforce, and then we’re coming to save Hyrule.
© 2017 by Shveta Thakrar