The first thing that struck me about Cassie McCool after she punched her way into my consciousness was her capacity to love. The second was her attitude of defiance. You might find these two attributes incongruous, but I don’t. Webster defines the word ‘defiance’ as the ‘disposition to resist’, the ‘willingness to fight’. If you ask me, such will rises out of great passion.

The word ‘defiance’ comes from the Old French word ‘desfier’ (to challenge, deny, provoke, renounce (a belief)). Go back to the Latin and you have ‘dis’ (away) and ‘fidelus’ (faith). To break faith, or lose it.

Some synonyms are disobey, mock, rebel.

Some antonyms…comply, conform, follow, obey.

Which words heat your blood?

We are taught to comply from an early age. We’re told to mind our parents, obey our teachers (priests, leaders, etc). We’re encouraged through the media to wear the latest fashions, watch certain TV shows and digest certain realities about the world. The result? Well, look around.

Priests, mullahs, rabbis and guru are as human and fallible as the rest of us. Teachers are paid to teach from a syllabus, not from their hearts (although if you’re lucky you stumble across the exceptions). And too many so-called leaders are self-interested at the least, maniacally insane at the worst. Even parents, and I speak as one myself, ought not be blindly obeyed. Authority should be questioned, second-guessed, and when wrong-headed, defied.

Have you ever spent any time around sheep? Nice creatures, but not the stuff of legend. They clump together when frightened, abandon all sense when hungry and, if fed regularly, will never try to escape.

Sound familiar? As long as we have FIOS, full fridges and climate control, our cells, our Apps and our Tweets, we feel contented. We trundle like sheep into our pens at night while borders dissolve, resources are monopolized and entire cultures are destroyed.

We’ve been lulled to sleep. Mollified and domesticated. Baaahhh. Where is our dignity? We hook ourselves up to an IV drip of bad news and reality shows, so frightened of ‘damaging’ our kids by speaking plainly to them that we text rather than talk to them. Women buy into porn because the Botoxed creatures they see on TV dress and act like hookers. We glorify anorexic models and ape-like New Jersey housewives. Toss in a few shrieking political harpies and you have a snapshot of today’s woman. Men don’t fare much better. TV fathers have no balls, real fathers want to be pals with their kids and many who hold office have sold out to the almighty buck.

Bad manners and self-interest have been around forever. So has Tyranny. But so has the refusal to bow down. Defiance starts in tiny pockets and grows into revolutions. It starts in living rooms and bedrooms and around kitchen tables. It starts in a person’s heart when he sees a horror and decides that he will not stay quiet, even if it means losing things.

Defiance means not remaining ignorant or complacent. It means saying the world is round when you know you’re going to catch hell for it, or sitting where you want to on the bus. Defiance means believing what’s in your heart rather than what’s in a book. It means loving who you love and feeling what you feel without apology. It means saying no or saying yes, depending. It means bucking the trend and talking to your kids with the TV off and all phones stowed in the overhead compartments.

Defiance is a spiritual practice. It demands that we rise up to our full height and be willing to suffer, not neurotically but existentially, with an eye toward self-knowledge and compassion. Check out Scott Peck on this subject. Read ‘The Road Less Traveled’ and ‘People of the Lie’. Then read them both again.

Study defiance. Collect heroes. Here are a few of mine; Bilbo Baggins, Gandhi, Robin Hood, Marion Anderson, William Wallace, Geronimo, Frodo Baggins, Bob Dylan, Rosa Parks, Galileo, Laura Nyro, Thomas More, Dobby the House Elf, Ralph Nader, John Lennon, Boudicca, Hildegard of Bingen, Teddy Kennedy, Mary Magdalene, Jerry Brown…and Cassie McCool.

Cassie defies her father and stands up to a dragon. She jumps up and down and tells anyone who will listen that the Emperor isn’t wearing any clothes. Cassie gives me hope. And she reminds me that it doesn’t matter whether your heroes are real or from a book. It only matters that they inspire you to follow, not the crowd or the rules or the latest trend, but your own bright heart.

The chorus of Pete Morton’s beautiful song ‘Disobedience’ says …

Gandhi taught us disobedience

So let’s not let him down.

Bring on the coming good,

Never shedding blood.

It’s our world now.

So, if it’s our world, what do we do with it? What do we stand for…and not stand for? Is there any fight left in us? I think these are good questions to ask ourselves, our children and certainly our so-called leaders.

To ask a question is to unearth yet another question. Answers ring with finality and make us lazy. Questions keep us out of the lounge chair and out of our comfort zone. Questions open doors and reveal pathways through uncharted ground.

My friend NoeLani says that Defiance is action, not words. It’s taking your money out of the Bank whose policies you don’t like and putting it somewhere else. It’s driving less, walking more. It’s refusing to live in fear. It’s getting off the grid or getting your vegetables, eggs, milk and meat from local farmers. It’s planting your own garden. It’s spending your money as if it were a vote, because it is.

Defiance is taking responsibility for your own health inside out and bottom to top. It’s laughing more and crying more. It’s not looking away when something atrocious comes across your screen, not shielding your heart from horrors. Chief Joseph said that when you destroy one strand of the web, it’s only a matter of time before it all falls down.

Tick tock. 

It’s an act of defiance to take back your power. To not cop to the party line. To stop making excuses for the way things are and begin making changes. It’s an act of defiance to believe in magic when the people in charge tell you there’s no such thing.

You are made of light. You are radiant and endless. Armed with that knowledge, go out your door and put your feet on the road. Have an adventure. Be a traveler. Defy inertia. Open your eyes.

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