How to Be Brave In the Age of Impeachment

Finding courage amidst the violent pointlessness of our politics

Michael Mapes
8 min readNov 17, 2016
Epitaph on a Tyrant, W. H. Auden

Originally written in 2016 just 9 days after the election — it seems as (though differently) relevant today.

I return to this piece regularly as a source of strength and courage, rather than comfort — which seems to ask that I swallow, accept and cope — where courage offers me something else: the option to practice conviction, at whatever level I am able, against impossible cynicisms and overwhelming icky violences — somehow this wards off the worst of the tears and despair until I (we) can do (manage) more.

Yesterday, the first tears escaped my eyes.

I didn’t know I had any tears for this election underneath the wind-being-knocked-out-of-me-pain. I did.

I had a lot of them, and I couldn’t hold them back when I saw friend from Venezuela on Skype. Seeing Jose’s face reminded me this election doesn’t just feel like a failure for many in the United States, it is a failure of moral leadership as far-reaching as the map itself.

Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.

David Mitchell

Jose wants to leave his country, and I desperately want to help him so he can be an actor, a model, or fail spectacularly at both of those things and do something completely different. Win or lose I want him to have the opportunities he wants for himself and his future.

A goal that was nearly impossible before, now seems so insurmountable it makes me heave and nearly vomit thinking about it. Seeing this child who is so beautiful. So strong. Who doesn’t deserve to live in a world created by the fears and failures of the generations who came before is unbearable.

Jose is brave in a way that makes my cowardice all the more apparent. I’m surprised at my own own triviality. My moral selfishnesses shocks me. Venezuela faces unprecedented inflation in a way that would be parody if it wasn’t so awful. It is a dangerous country. Even more so for those who dare to protest or stand against the autocratic leadership and ask for some democratic freedoms.

Add to this a government that has infiltrated through corruption, crime, and bribery every layer of government including the court. In Venezuela’s most recent election the President — a corrupt human rights violator — Maduro won by 1.5% point, and the results do not inspire confidence.

In the face of these circumstances, the fact that Maduro espouses hate speech against all manner of people especially queer people seems small. That’s the most heartbreaking thing of all that the word “faggot” — a word used to damage the souls of so many through its vicious diminishment of ones masculinity — is the “small” problem to deal with.

Jose protests his government putting his life on the line each time he chooses to do so. He described to me the crippling feeling of defeat when Maduro won the last election, the sadness is apparent in his eyes.

He is brave and strong and righteous…and he keeps going.

There is no sign that Jose will be able to make any difference at all. Maduro has a military, a government, a secret police, a court system, and despotic forces around the globe supporting him. I doubt we’ll see President Trump or the American people whose stunning anti-immigrant racism has become clear in the last few days do anything for Jose or try and oust Maduro.

Jose might not be able to keep going to college if things don’t change. It makes bickering over whether Hillary or Bernie’s college plan would have been better seem narcissistic and small. He cannot use his phone when we walks down the street for fear it will be stolen, and he does not walk outside at night for fear of being beaten or killed. Venezuela has an extraordinarily high murder rate.

I don’t want to keep going.

I’m worn out, defeated, and tired.

It feels like too much to take on. It is too much to take on.

Victory isn’t assured.

If we’ve learned nothing it should be that the progress of generations can be undone by the forces of hate rapidly and decisively. Because hate never lets its guard down — it waits in hiding like a cobra for the exact right moment to strike. David Mitchell puts it better than me, “Torturous advances won over generations can be lost by a single stroke of a myopic president’s pen or a vainglorious general’s sword.”

Jose keeps going.

He believes in fighting.

He stands up.

He smiles, laughs, and loves.

He faces things I am not strong enough to handle.

He doesn’t give up.

He said to me “Michael you are brave and strong and smart and you must keep going.” I love him for that. I don’t have the heart to tell him I am not brave or strong and as for smart — what difference does that make? If I was so smart wouldn’t I know a way forward, a path out of the wilderness.

I don’t have the heart to tell him I am not brave or strong and as for smart — what difference does that make? If I was so smart wouldn’t I know a way forward, a path out of the wilderness.

When I look at this smile the world feels so cruel. How can we not see that we are all the same? How can we not see that we all want the same thing? How can we condemn some people with these brave smiles and warrior hearts to lives of suffering because we are afraid? It is our common humanity that unites us, and on Tuesday, it feels like we made a choice to ignore that humanity in exchange for something old, past, and yet familiar.

So I might not be brave or strong or smart or even courageous, but I do know one thing:

If Jose can keep fighting…so can I.

If Jose can keep smiling…so can I.

If Jose can risk all that he is for days that just might be better for future generations…so can I.

If Jose tells I am brave…I can be braver than I was yesterday, stronger than I believe possible, and I can open my heart when all it wants to do is sob.

Now is the time for prayer, for mourning, and for feeling the pain of an unimaginable kick in the gut all of us were hoping we wouldn’t have to feel.

Most importantly of all — now is the time for gathering evidence, for learning, and for incorporating as much information as we can. I know it’s tempting to blame, play Monday morning quarterback, and practice political punditry — but if it were that easy this result would have been avoided.

I know it’s tempting to blame, play Monday morning quarterback, and practice political punditry — but if it were that easy this result would have been avoided.

It is not a political solution we need — it is a redefinition of the political of what it means to be political and to engage in politics. A re-imagination involving each of us listening and sharing with every single person in this world what happens when we forget to see those who we perceive to be not like us.

Pain, violence, and needless sacrifice bears suffering of unimaginable consequence when we forget our neighbors, think only of ourselves, and when self-interest becomes more important than compassion.

Hillary said politics must become the art of making the impossible, possible. I love her for that. Because without people like her many of the leadership positions many of us have the courage to seek would be impossible. I hope she’ll forgive me a small evolution of her powerful sentiment.

Politics must become not the art of the possible, probable, or impossible, because we have arrived at a moment where the impossible has been rendered possible, but not yet available. The forces of hate, which we naively believed were kept forever at bay, have stormed the harbor and taken the castle. Of course there’s another side to impossible, and that’s the side that we often think of as unimaginable. The impossibility that doublespeak and rejectionism could invade every level of our government creating conditions with historically chilling parallels.

The impossible is here — possible and I fear even worse impossibilities are more probable than they have been in a very long while — and these impossible things are looking to expand their authority even further into the realm of the thinkable, the possible.

Politics itself and what it means to be political, must become inseparable from what it means to open our hearts. The act of reaching out our hands and the choice to embrace one another must become the politics of the casual, the everyday. Not so that violent hatred becomes impossible; rather, so it becomes banish-able through shared connection if ever it sneaks — as it will — into the domain of the real.

Politics must become something possible, but not yet frequent enough, brave, courageous, and grounded in Truth. Badiou speaks of fidelity to an event, the power of revolutionary acts of art or science, politics or love, to create a chasm from which liberation flows. Maybe we need a “Fidelity to our Neighbor” as daily event woven from the threads of bravery, courage, and Truth. The kind of which is overflowing in real people all the time if we’re really looking.

Politics must become the act and expression of love. If it does not losing our world to destruction will hardly matter. It will seem as small a price to pay as Maduro’s linguistic hatred because we will have lost something greater. The very essence of our humanity, our soul.

The practice of love.
The practice of courage.
The practice of bravery.
The practice of human connection.

That is what must form the foundation for a rethinking of human interaction, which we too often forget is the actual, and the ultimate, site of politics.

From there, it is unclear if we will win or we will lose, there are too many unknowns for victory to be assured. If we are unwilling to make the practice of love the practice of political engagement I wonder if winning or losing matters much at all? How long can we put off beginning this shift before we look into the mirror and see peering back at us something unrecognizable as human.

Today, I vow to find a way out of the wilderness. Maybe even to victory.

I do not know what it looks like.

I do not know if it is possible. I do not know if it will be worth it.

I do not know how many more kicks in the stomach we must endure.

I do not know if I am strong or brave or smart enough.

I do know where it starts: because even through my tears I know one thing to be true: if Jose can keep going then…I can too

Jose keeps going.
So I will keep going.
Let us be brave.

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Michael Mapes

Accelerating the success of CEOs & startups; FREE Breakthrough Session & innovate your business to get more clients http://www.coachwithmichaelmapes.com