In her brilliant TED Talk, Rabbi Sharon Brous of LA tells the story of a burning house, with a passer-by asking how is it that such a beautiful house could burn? For many, with the advent of the new administration, it feels like a beautiful national house is smoldering and about to burn. The question for many average citizens is: What can we do to fight the fire, save the house, and stop the fire from spreading? The answer is a bucket brigade.
Similar to the brigade seen in the movie Witness, or in many old scenes from Wild West movies, even without a modern fire truck or fire department, townsfolk and neighbors never sit idly by and watch a structure burn. They each grab buckets and start a water line to stop the fire however they can. Their individual efforts are small in comparison to a raging fire, but as a team they frequently succeed to get the fire out, or at least stop it from jumping to neighboring buildings.
Rather than get overwhelmed by the challenges and tasks ahead, rather than get depressed or silent, gather some buckets and start to fill them so you are ready should you ever need to jump into action. If lucky, you won’t have to use them, but if a fire starts to smolder or burn, you should have your buckets prepared.
Bucket One: Prepare to Bear Witness. Learn to use the video function on your phone. Start by taking videos of family, food, and gifts just as practice, but be comfortable with the video function of your phone. Many public harassers were stopped or at least brought to justice because a passer-by took time to film the harassment. Bearing witness is an important function for many reasons not the least of which is shining light on evil, bringing truth to light, and helping to foster justice with evidence.
Bucket Two: Strengthen Your Posture. Bullies look to prey on the weak. Harassers look to prey on the vulnerable. Regardless of your stance (short, tall, large, small), if you just stand shoulder to shoulder with someone being barraged or attacked, it fosters strength for the other person and invites more shoulders. Practice standing tall, and speaking up when you hear bad language, falsehoods or unnecessary incivilities in supermarkets, malls, or on the street. In on instance, I faced down a man in my nail salon railing how liberals were worse than murderers. All I did was raise my hand and identify as a proud liberal who doesn’t create noise pollution in public places and he shut up. Each encounter strengthens my resolve for the next one and fill my bucket with more courage.
Bucket Three: Find a Fact. No one ever wants to get in an argument or confront someone. Yet, we are all in occasional conversations where facts are few, positions are strong, and falsehoods are ever more present. Take just one cause you care about – climate change, supreme court nominations, the electoral college — and find a fact that you can remember, memorize, and use to counter falsehoods. I was recently in a conversation with a neighbor who swore President Obama had no right as a lame duck president to nominate a Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. He emphatically stated it was based in the Constitution. I informed him was wrong, but did not have my facts memorized and could not support my argument. Never again. Here are my newly memorized facts:
My Facts: 1/3 of all presidents nominated a Supreme Court justice in an election year. Six lame duck presidents appointed justices before their successors took office. That includes a founding father, John Adams, and Andrew Jackson (just because I likely won’t remember the other four in a pinch). I will try to remember that 14 presidents to date have appointed 21 justices in election years. My source is The Washington Post, but there are others.
Bucket Four: Practice Yes. Mostly women are coached to get better at saying ‘no.’ However, it’s actually harder for many of us to say ‘yes,’ as it requires us to be more out there, open, aggressive, and seen. Women in business are still struggling with standing tall in conference and meeting when we’re often, as it is, closer to 5 feet than 6. For bucket bolstering consider reading Yes Man, by Danny Wallace, The Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes with or without the companion The Year of Yes Journal, or The Answer to How is Yes by Peter Block. If you’re time pressured, just rent the 2008 movie Yes Man starring Jim Carrey. Then, if you’re invited to rally, march, political meeting, or lecture, you will be in a better mindset and better prepared to say “yes.”
Rabbi Brous states in her talk, “I can’t do everything, but I surely can do something.” A bucket, no matter how small, is something. Make a resolution to have at least one bucket and maybe more ready at your door, so when you are called, or feel compelled to swing into action, you’re pre-hinged and your bucket is full and ready.