And then there was Charlottesville.
In my workshops, in my talks, and in my daily discussions, I ask one question that serves to challenge the limits of our listening and our compassion.
"What’s the least someone could do to make you stop listening to them?"
For example, if someone offends you, is that the least they could do to make you stop listening? If they look different, or come from a different political ideal, or make a lot of money, is that the least they could do?
When is it ok to stop seeking understanding?
In our everyday relationships this question serves me as I work to be a better person, to increase the circumference of my compassion, and to keep listening when I’d rather not.
But what about Charlottesville?
Is it ok to stop listening to people who are members of the KKK or the Nazi Party? Is it ok to stop listening to hate?
Of course it is.
It’s always ok to not listen. You choose your limits. And it’s ok. And maybe, if we stop listening, they'll stop speaking.
... I wish it was that simple.
Let’s face it, we’re not great at tempering our responses to hate. We get angry, we get righteous, and we quickly become the very thing we hate. We call them names, we support others who call them names, and we want them gone. People cheer when we attack them, and smile when we make them bleed. We dehumanize those who dehumanize.
In short, we call them "them".
Suddenly, it's ok to stop listening to "them."
This is where hate begins.
This is hard to talk about, but in times of overwhelming hate, our humanity and our capacity for love is most tested. It sometimes seems like responding to hate with better articulated hate is celebrated, it’s right, it’s justified, and it’s “about time”.
And I get it.
We’re angry. We’re upset. We’ve seen enough. People crossed lines. It feels right to call them names, to lash back, to verbally punish them. They deserve it, they asked for it, and we must respond.
This leaves me asking a few questions: Is it ok to dehumanize the hateful? Is it ok to stop loving the hateful? Is it ok to shame them?
I think I believe this: if our objective is peace, we cannot hate the hateful.
People smarter than me have spoken about this for centuries.
The Buddha phrased it like this:
“In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.”
Jesus reminds us:
“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Luke 26: 27-36
The Taoists say it like this:
I treat those who are good with goodness,
And I also treat those who are not good with goodness.
Thus goodness is attained.
Tao Te Ching 49
The Qur’an said it this way:
“The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better…”Qur’an 41. 31-34
There are, of course, many more examples from all the ancient traditions.
This is not an original concept, only a forgotten one.
And we've been forgetting for as long as they've been reminding.
Before you accuse me of supporting the KKK or sympathizing with Nazis, let me humbly clarify something. I am not talking about legal justice for hate that manifests into unlawful action. Justice and love are not mutually exclusive. I’m not talking about the organization of our society, our laws, or our government. I’m not suggesting that we allow violence, or agree with hate speech, or “do nothing”. I’m only suggesting what others before me have suggested.
To love in spite of hate. To listen in spite of fear. To see what others are ignoring.
And, before you quote scripture that counters what I’ve drawn from, consider for a second that maybe the ancients meant what they said when they said it. Maybe this is the only true way to stop the cycle of violence that has plagued humanity since the beginning. Maybe if each of us earnestly tried to “turn the other cheek”, to listen when we disagree, to love our enemies, we may find our way through the spiral of hate that seems so seductive.
To be clear, love does not prevent us from responding, or standing up against, or condemning hateful words. Love is not the source of complacency, apathy is. Love asks us to examine HOW we respond, HOW we stand up against, HOW we condemn.
Can we seek understanding in the face of ignorance? Can we ask questions? Can we listen?
Or are we using shame, guilt, and labels to combat those using shame, guilt, and labels?
If so, maybe there’s another way.
It’s hard to admit when my ideals clash against my reality. When I see the images from Virginia (or Syria, or Fergerson, or Fallujah…), I don’t often respond from my ideal.
But, I guess if we want humanity to become something it’s never become, we’re going to have to do something we’ve never done. Something we’re not good at, something messy, something difficult.
Like it or not, the responsibility to change the world lies with those not yet blinded by it.
We must listen to the ones we don’t want to listen to. We must love the ones we don't want to love. They are hurting, and we need to hear their hurt if we want to end their hate.
This is not a new idea, it’s just a hard one.
But we’ve got to try.