Tuesday, April 10, 2018

"Psychological Warfare"


A suit of armour used to be an obvious thing: a full-body shield of metal, used by knights in the face of battle. The wars of the past featured soldiers on horseback, raging against a physical enemy, and when spears and swords are the weapons to hand, you’d better have a way to protect yourself.

But the battlefield has changed.

In our modern times, we stand on a different line of scrimmage that requires a new type of armour. For the most part, the weapons that exist in our community are more ethereal, almost invisible, though just as dangerous and sharp. We fight against words and ideas. We fight against moods and attitudes. Our defences are, likewise, difficult to identify. While most of our armour has to be worn in the mind to protect the spirit, there are certain physical things that can bolster our inner strength and remind us of the powerful protection that cannot easily be seen. They can boost our confidence when we are threatened. They can help us to summon our courage.

Although he was quite young, Waleed was a veteran of this brand of war. He had suffered attacks that were just as frightening as any Medieval siege. Verbal grenades had left him with emotional scars, but that didn’t cause him to cower. For every wound he sustained, he had deflected a hundred blows, thanks to the strength of his internal armor.

On hard days (which was not every day, but which did come up from time to time), Waleed had a secret weapon, a piece of external armour that he could wear. It was an old, pink-and-purple polka-dot short-sleeved t-shirt that he kept at the back of his closet.

The shirt had once belonged to Kyran, Waleed’s older brother. Kyran had never shied away from anything; he was always up for a challenge, always seemed ready to take on the world. Kyran had also been a great encourager of others, whatever they were trying to do. When Waleed needed a confidence boost, he would pull out that old polka-dot shirt and find it a little easier to face the day ahead.

The last time he’d worn it, Waleed had been auditioning for a play at his school. He had worked hard on his public-speaking skills, but it was a nerve-wracking thing to climb up on stage and perform, especially before you’ve actually memorized any lines. He’d worn Kyran’s t-shirt under his hoodie, so nobody else even saw it -- but he knew it was there, and it helped him to fight off the whispers of self-criticism that swirled around in his head when he was quiet.

“I can do this,” he told himself. It’s important to be firm when you're talking to yourself. You have to speak hope and truth with boldness, because fear is often quite sure of itself, and doubt can be awfully convincing. “I can do this,” repeated Waleed. He got the role, and he wore polka-dots under his costume on the opening night, too, but found that he didn’t need his armour after that first performance. Kyran’s shirt had done its job.

This week, Waleed pulled it out again. He’d been feeling a little low lately, after getting back a test that didn’t go very well. His teacher had been sympathetic, but Waleed was still disappointed, and the little voice in his head had started to whisper discouraging things.

“I thought you were so smart,” hissed his subconscious mind.

“I am smart,” said Waleed. This conversation wasn’t new, but it was always difficult.

“You can’t do anything right,” taunted the voice.

“I can learn from my mistakes. It’s okay to fail, as long as I try,” Waleed told himself firmly. The boldness of this thought silenced his internal critic for a while, but this was a daily battle, and Waleed’s confidence was in need of an extra little boost.

There was another test coming up on Friday. Waleed wore his brother’s polka-dot shirt for the review on Wednesday, for the practice quiz on Thursday and for Friday’s actual test. It wasn’t a good-luck charm or a talisman, exactly -- he didn’t think wearing it would make him do better on the test or anything -- but when he wore it, he remembered his brother’s encouragement, and the strength of his brother’s character, and that reminded Waleed of his own strength, courage and character. Armour doesn’t win a battle, it just protects the fighter. To win, you still have to fight.

Waleed fought his doubts and fears all the way through the test. Those nagging thoughts were like distracting dragons, but he kept focussed on his quest and when he was finished, he felt pretty good. The rest of the day went pretty well, too. That night, Waleed was able to smile at his reflection in the mirror, even after he’d taken off his short-sleeved shield. The voices were silent, for the moment. The shirt had done its job.

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