Warning: naughty language ahead!
“Peace has to be created, in order to be maintained. It will never be achieved by passivity and quietism.” ~ Dorothy Thompson
I’m writing this letter to both of you:
The man dressed in the grey suit and the one in the brown jacket, indifferently sipping on your cappuccinos in a coffee shop on the corner of Bush and Polk Street in San Francisco on the morning of November 2nd.
I woke up in a terrific mood, dressed myself in purple from head to toe, and made my way to the coffee shop you were sitting in, enjoying a morning treat.
As I entered and walked toward the counter, a man was frantically yelling at the young woman making his coffee.
Everything about her signaled how terrified she was. Frozen in silence, she was focusing on avoiding his eyes and finishing his drink as quickly as possible, hoping for the moment to soon be over. But the man kept going. “What is wrong with you? Why aren’t you responding to me? Have I been rude to you? I’m just asking you questions! Why are you ignoring me!? I know the boss of this place. I’ll fucking complain to him about your attitude, bitch.”
At that moment, I felt the sleepy flame within me grow into a raging fire, and my inner warrior took control of my body. I stepped toward the man, looked him directly in the eyes, and said calmly but loudly: “Leave her alone. Take your coffee and get out of the store.”
“Who the fuck do you think you are? You look like a fucking troll, bitch. You better watch your mouth.”
“Don’t tell me what to do with my mouth. Don’t call me ‘bitch’ either. You are being aggressive right now, and I won’t stand here just taking your shit. You should leave before I call the cops,” I said while standing my ground and hoping he went away—because the truth was, I didn’t have a working phone on me.
He stormed to the shop door, his face red and trembling with rage, a mad and absent look in his eyes while he continued to threaten me: “You don’t know who I am. You should have shut your damn mouth! I’m gonna fucking rape your ass cause that’s what bitches like you fucking deserve.” And with those gracious words, he walked out, yelling some more bullshit.
Trying to keep my cool—but in reality feeling quite shaken—I walked back to the counter and asked the girl if she was okay. I offered to call the police to make sure she stayed safe, but she didn’t want me to. She admitted that he regularly visited the coffee shop, and according to her, the best way to get rid of him was to ignore his behavior until he had had enough and just left by himself. I stayed there for a bit to make sure he did not show up again, trying to ground myself and make sense of it all.
As I replayed the scene in my head, it hit me.
That entire time, you were both there.
You saw it. How could you not have? It was pretty loud. And what did you do? Nothing! You didn’t even care to ask how we felt after the aggression. You just witnessed it, like it was happening through the screens of your phones. And by the time I had collected myself, you were already gone and I was left dying to confront you about your lack of action.
You must have a mom, a lover, maybe even a daughter? What if she had been there that morning? Would you still have kept mute? What message do you think she would carry with her afterward? How would that shape her beliefs about how women should be treated?
When you chose to tolerate this injustice in passivity, you were actually saying: I am okay with this.
This is why I’m writing this—I am truly shocked and horrified by your lack of support. I don’t understand why you chose passivity in a time that required action.
And both of you today were just a small representation of a much larger problem in our society that really rubs me the wrong way: most of us are leading passive lives due to a constant and growing feeling of disconnect from each other.
Passivity is a choice, and one that has a huge impact on the root cause of all suffering—from inequality to aggression, racism, violence, sexual abuse, double standards, homophobia, and environmental issues.
All of the above come from a place of uninvolvement and a feeling of division. We are afraid of stepping in when we experience or observe injustice, scared to make it worse or get involved in the conflict. We avoid so as to keep things comfortable instead of making them right.
But at night, when confronted with our reflection in the mirror, do we intrinsically feel proud of our inertia? Have we acted in alignment with our values and beliefs?
Whatever we tolerate, we create space for it to exist. By not caring, by choosing to close our eyes and silence our voices, we quietly accept and agree with what is.
All the breakthroughs, progress, and positive changes that have happened throughout mankind’s history—and which we all benefit from today—are the result of a bunch of brave people who were not afraid to rise up and fight because they felt deeply connected to each other’s true suffering and shared human experience.
They knew that to choose another is to choose thyself.
They were courageous enough to listen to what the fire within was saying. Because of their own fire, they were not afraid. They knew that in nature, fire is a force of destruction necessary for better regrowth. The forest needs the fire to burn down all the debris and diseased bush so as to create space for the sunshine to nourish the ground and help the trees to grow stronger and taller.
So I am asking you, cappucino men, how do your reflections feel tonight? Do you still feel the blaze or is your fire suffocating?
We all need to recognize and acknowledge its power. We are all in this together. It’s not you and me, it’s always us. Let’s nurture the flames so that they burn the remnants of our passivity. We know what we stand for! If we witness something that goes against our values, something that awakens that heat in our heart, please let’s not water it down and walk away. For allowing it to consume us will lead toward needed change and a more peaceful world. Use your voice with conviction. Show up for others—because it is while we are connected that we feel most alive.
Tonight, I will feel proud and at peace with the face reflected back to me—for today, I stood tall and strong beside my own kind, like one of the remaining trees of the burned forest.
Author: Emilie Button
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Waylon Lewis