“Love is a light that never dwelleth in a heart possessed by fear.” – Bahá’u’lláh
I’ve been thinking lately about what I want to teach my children about fear and hate. I thought we had it covered when we studied the Holocaust and the Civil Rights Movement, but those lessons seem somewhat inadequate now. It’s one thing to learn about how fear and hate operate in society with the benefit of hindsight and the whole picture; it’s another to watch it play out in real time without knowing how it will end.
So here’s what I’ve been thinking.
Right now we’re seeing fear and hate take hold of America. As far as I can tell, a certain percentage of the population feels that they have lost something they thought they once had—money, opportunity, security, power. And because of that, they feel angry and afraid. While it’s tempting to judge whether those feelings are legitimate, it doesn’t really matter. The fact is these people are angry and afraid.
So they do what angry, scared people often do. They look for someone to blame. And whatever voice shouts about their anger and pain the loudest, whoever assures them that they are right to be angry, whoever promises that the solution to their problems is so simple, that’s who they follow.
“Hey, things are really a mess, aren’t they? You know what happened? It’s those guys over there. THEY’RE the problem. THEY’RE the ones who are draining our economy. THEY’RE the ones who are making us unsafe. We can’t allow THEM to keep ruining things for US. THEY aren’t like US. THEIR beliefs aren’t compatible with OUR way of life. We’ll build a wall to keep THEM out. We’ll keep THEM from entering OUR country at all costs. We’ll take THEM out. That will keep US safe. WE will be great again.”
It’s a classic tactic, US vs. THEM. The people don’t see that as hate, of course. They only see their own anger reflected back at them, righteous and justified. And like kindling to a flame, their anger fuels the hate that they can’t see. They stoke the fire and revel in its warmth as it gives their fear a use, their anger a purpose. “This is not hate,” they’re told. “This is truth. See how brightly it shines? See how warm it feels? How can you argue with truth?” So they raise their sticks of anger and fear and toss them into the fire. They can’t see what else it’s destroying; they’re too intoxicated by it to care.
But many of us—most of us, I’d venture to guess—clearly see the hate for what it is and watch in horror as the angry, scared people keep feeding the inferno. “What is wrong with you?” we ask. “Do you not see what you’re doing?” But they don’t see it. In fact, they’ve come to rely on it. They trust it to keep them warm. They think it keeps them safe. Our questions just make them angrier, so they pick up more sticks to fuel the fire further.
What those of us who are baffled by the hate don’t realize is that we are not that different than those people feeding the fire. We, too, carry our own sticks of fear and anger. We may be more justified in our anger and fear than those dancing around the fire, but that doesn’t matter. Anger and fear always make good kindling.
Of course, most of us have evolved to be fairly civilized with our sticks. Some of us have learned to carry them down by our sides. Some of us use them build things up instead of to burn things down. Some put them together to drum out rhythms of heartfelt creativity. Some have learned through experience to keep those sticks far away from the fire. But most of us still carry them in some way.
But now we see the hate building, threatening our nation, and it scares us. We look at the fire and recall how much it has hurt the people we love, the country we love, and the world we love, so we get angry. How can those people be so blind? we ask.
So we raise our own sticks in protest and for all the right reasons. We try to spell out words of sense and logic with them. We wave our sticks at the fire builders, desperately trying to get their attention, to heed our words of warning. But it doesn’t work. The fire keeps burning, the hate grows bigger, and we grow more afraid and more angry.
So we do what angry, scared people often do. We start throwing our fear and anger at the fire builders—again, for all the right reasons. It’s the only thing we can think to do to stop them from feeding that damn fire.
But of course, that doesn’t help. Some of our sticks hit the people around the fire, which just makes them more angry and afraid. The sticks that land on the ground get picked up and thrown in, making the fire bigger still. Now we’ve made it worse, though we didn’t mean to. We forgot that anger and fear are too easily set aflame. We forgot that’s what built the fire in the first place.
Some of our sticks land straight in the fire itself, and though we’re ashamed to admit it, it feels good. It’s freeing, liberating to have that anger and pain leave our hands and melt away in the heat. Hate doesn’t care who feeds it, as long as it gets fed. And just like that, as our sticks get consumed by the fire, we become what we are trying to fight.
The fact that we feel our fear and anger is on the side of justice and theirs is on the side of injustice doesn’t matter. When the fire of hate is lit, fear and anger inevitably fuel it, no matter what side you’re on. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” Too many of us are letting our fear and anger turn to hate, when those are exactly the things we are trying to stop. Fighting fire with fire only makes the fire bigger. We know this is true. We’ve seen it play out time and time again. We see it happening now.
As far as I can see, we only have one choice. Those of us who believe in the power of love and justice have to put down our sticks. We have to stop fueling the fire with our own fear. We have to stop being afraid of what’s happening in our country and stop letting our anger over it drive us towards the fire with kindling in our hands.
The opposite of irrational fear and hate is not rational fear and hate. The opposite of irrational fear and hate is hopeful courage and radical love.
If we truly want to effect change, we have to make our hopeful courage and radical love bigger than their fear and hate. If we truly believe that love conquers hate—if we truly believe that Love Wins—then that’s the way we need to behave. The only way for love to win is for us to deliberately, conscientiously make it our strongest weapon.
So no more meeting fear and hate with more of the same. No more allowing our fear and anger to justify using the kinds of vitriol and hateful rhetoric that we are opposing. We know what is right. We know what is just. We must speak the truth with confidence, with dignity, with hope, and with absolute love.
It’s so hard. SO hard. Some days it might feel impossible. But if we don’t consciously approach fear and hate with radical, courageous love, we have no hope of battling it at all.
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P. S. If this all sounds too hippity-do-da for your taste, here are some concrete examples of love and courage conquering radical hate, prejudice, and ignorance. It’s really not far-fetched.
Former KKK Leader describes how one black man defeated the KKK
American Muslims Trump Hate with Love, Raising $173,000 for San Bernadino Victims in 6 days
Mormon Church Sets Aside Room for Muslims to Pray
Christians and Muslims guard one another while they pray
Pakistani Muslims form Human Chain to Protect Christians During Mass
And here’s a bunch of quotes from world religions about loving your enemies.
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P.P.S. While I’m sure many will be tempted to turn discussion about this post into a political quagmire, please know that I do not believe this is about politics. Our political system is a mess and has contributed to where we are now, no doubt. But what we’re seeing is something far beyond politics, so I don’t believe for a minute that talking about politics will fix it. This is about proving love is more powerful than hate on a personal and societal level. It’s about how we approach our fellow humans, including those we may see as our direct opponent or even our enemy. Making it about politicians and parties just divides us further along arbitrary lines and takes the onus off of us as individuals. We’ve got too much work to do to get mired in all of that.
“Do not despair! Work steadily. Sincerity and love will conquer hate.” – ‘Abdu’l-Bahá