From sea to shining sea, The United States of America has a problem. We see it made manifest in school and church shootings, in protests that erupt into violence, and in small ways in confrontations on our social media feeds. America has a hate problem.
In recent years, we Americans have divided ourselves into smaller and smaller groups based upon a variety of factors from race to class to political affiliation. It is creating a growing us vs. them mentality that is pitting brothers against brothers and daughters against mothers. Americans are drawing lines in the sand and painting everyone on the other side of the lines as their enemies.
If our current pattern of behavior continues unabated the result will be only greater and greater acts of violence that could lead to an all-out civil war. There is no doubt that our divisions are pulling us apart from the inside. We need to break the pattern of violence and hate, but how?
The first thing we need to do is to stop making enemies of one another. I believe this starts by refusing to think of each other as enemies. The problem with thinking of people as your enemy is that you start imagining them doing all sorts of horrible things which escalates your internal hatred of them. Prophetic thinkers such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. realized that in order to maintain a nonviolent attitude we must not think of people as our enemies, even when they are in clear opposition to us. We need to separate the people from the negative value or principle we associate with them. For example, people who hold racist views are not my enemy: racism is my enemy.
We must fight the internal struggle to love all people regardless of what those people might think or believe. People can change and we need to give them the freedom to do that by separating them from the thing about them we oppose. We need to realize that we have more in common with everyone than not – even with people who are in opposition to us.
What I mean is this. We human beings really aren’t all that much different. We all want the same things. We want to be respected and loved, we want people in our lives whom we value and love, and we want sustenance, security and shelter. Yes, there are things that divide us, but there are universal wants and needs that we all share in common.
We need to continue to seek out the commonalities with one another and stop dwelling so much upon our differences. We need to have meaningful dialogue with people who are different than us and get past our differences to find our commonalities. The more we seek out the commonalities with one another the more we will empathize with one another and the more that we will care for one another. Through empathy and caring, love can overpower hate, but it takes time and meaningful dialogue.
Sharpen these four tools and keep them in your toolbox. They are respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness.
Show respect to all people – even people whose philosophies you oppose. Remember that you need to give respect in order to get respect. Give it freely and hope for it in return. Show that you are a big enough person to be able to have respect for all – even those who are in opposition to you.
Look for similarities between yourself and others in order to find ways to empathize with them. Know that empathy is possible with everyone. We are all human beings and we share so much in common. Know in your heart that you are more alike than you are different from every single person on the planet.
Reach out to everyone with compassion. Know that all people suffer. It is a simple fact of life. To live is to suffer and therefore we can all identify with and have compassion for the suffering in others. Having compassion for other’s suffering can cause them to reframe how they view you. Perhaps they will find you to be a good person and learn to love you.
Finally, move through the world with an attitude of kindness. We humans tend to undervalue kindness, but kindness can lay a foundation for all sorts of positive interactions. Entering into difficult conversations with a mindset to maintain an attitude of respect and kindness toward the other person can help you overcome a lot of obstacles and keep the conversation cool and comfortable for both parties.
So, there it is. America has a hate problem. But we can overcome hate by refusing to make enemies of one another and approaching each other with an attitude of respect, empathy, compassion, and kindness. Love truly can overpower hate, but it takes vigilance and a great deal of self control. Keep on reaching out into the world with love and you certainly will change hearts and minds.
Founder & CEO, Century of Compassion