In May of 2008, noted technology-genius and Billionaire weapons dealer Anthony Edward Stark, was kindnapped from a weapons demonstration at an undisclosed location in Afghanistan, and held hostage.

At a press conference following his escape, Mr. Stark reflected upon his role in the world and in a surprise announcement swore that he would never sell weapons again.

After years of being a primary accomplice in a system that made the world a more dangerous place, Mr. Stark sought to use his powers to protect people and try to make the world safer. While Stark Industries carried on, the focus of the organization changed. Business continued, but with a different perspective.

All of this was brought about by a traumatic and sobering event in Mr. Stark’s life that triggered a turning point.

Putting aside the obvious anti-Islamic undertones, the glorified pro-military propaganda, and the myth of lone, heterosexual, playboy, white male, super-genius that’s coming to save us…I think we can learn something from Iron Man.

The Mission

Pepper Potts had been working for Tony Stark for years, complicit and supportive of him as he created and sold weapons of mass destruction. When he changed course, she was initially reluctant to help.

Many of us have been present and complicit in the presence of things that (sadly) seemed normal:

  • racist jokes or comments
  • casual misogny and misogynoir
  • homophobia or transphobia

Maybe we were unaware of our role in it or maybe we didn’t want to confront our role in it.

Maybe we didn’t want to make our peers uncomfortable while they were making others uncomfortable.

Maybe, later on, we were even quiet or uninvolved when we saw a particular group losing their rights or going through a struggle that we, personally, would likely have avoided, thus giving us the privilege to ignore. And when we were called in to do the work to fix it, many of us did what Pepper Potts did, we quit.

It’s often only when we’re confronted with the truth that we decide to push through the discomfort of change and step up to do the work that needs to be done.

We no longer have the option to be complicit or to quit. In fact, we never really did.

The Neighborhood

A lot has happened recently, and more bad news seems to hit the front page every day. I see a lot of people falling back into the usual day-to-day.

  • Will we take note only to then go back to false safety and comfort?
  • Will we quietly move past and move on from these flagrant assaults on people’s rights, these egregious calls-to-violence, and these impending acts of discrimination and oppression.
  • Will we give in to apathy and helplessness because it’s just easier than confronting our past, changing our present, and fighting for our future?

Showing up at work and pretending that none of this is going on is a political decision. It is aiding and abetting those who perpetrate these harms. Many of the people doing this fall into one or more of the categories of the in-group. Here’s the thing…the protection racket of being a part of the in-group is only valid in so long as the rules of membership never change — but the rules change and the goal-posts always move.

So instead of putting our heads down, retreating to the safety and comfort of our business as usual, and waiting for this whole thing to blow over, what happens when we come to find out that our business as usual is no longer safe? What happens when there’s nothing left to retreat to; when there’s no neighborhood left to protect?

I guess what I’m wondering is, what will it take for everyone to gain some perspective, focus on what is really important, and take bold, dramatic action? Is the best we have to offer a return to the status quo, a focus on business-as-usual, and a reluctance to be impolite in the face of suffering?

It’s time for all of us to look everywhere for opportunities to speak up, lest we find ourselves in a position where there is no one left to speak up for, and no one left to speak up for us.

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out
—because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out
—because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me
—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller

The Mission

One of the three pillars of Lovable Leadership is “Safe Travels.” It is a call-to-action asking that you no longer remain silent in the face of anything that creates fear or harm for those in your care as a leader.

Right now, we need more leaders, at work and in our neighborhoods. When you accept that call to leadership, you accept the call to create safety.

Once you see what is happening, it’s hard to see anything else, and it’s hard to look away.

“There is the next mission, and nothing else”

So, the time has come to answer the question: what is your next mission?

What action will you take to make the world safer? How will you show up at work, at home, and in our neighborhoods? How are you going to confront the existential threat to everyone who is not a Fascist-leaning Christian White Male?

…or are you planning to hide until this all blows over?

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