You don't have to look very far on social media to see expressions of hate. And don't try to rationalize it - Democrats and progressives express hate towards conservatives just as much as Republicans do towards them. In my previous blog, I wrote about how "toxic partisanship" is a real danger to our society and democracy. The truth is (and cognitive science research shows this to be the case), if we are capable of expressing such hate, derision, and loathing consciously, it is being expressed constantly through our unconscious - through body language, emotion, and expression - without us even being aware of it.
Make no mistake, the world won't get any better by increasing the amount of hate expressed towards people. Nor will our politics change by projecting hate, fear, and loathing towards large groups of people - while at the same time projecting our own assured "rightness" and feelings of superiority over those who don't see the world the same way we do. Cognitive science shows us that people respond to being treated as stupid and reviled, by becoming even more entrenched in their established beliefs. Cognitively speaking then, hate literally reinforces and strengthens hate! So what to do...? Martin Luther King Jr. had it right.
In a speech delivered on November 17, 1957 at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, titled "Loving Your Enemies", King provided us with the best strategy to forward social and political change. Here are the most poignant excerpts from that speech:
"...it is love that will save our world and our civilization, love even for enemies."
"That is why I say, begin with yourself. There might be something within you that arouses the tragic hate response in the other individual."
"...within the best of us, there is some evil, and within the worst of us, there is some good. When we come to see this, we take a different attitude toward individuals. The person who hates you most has some good in him; even the nation that hates you most has some good in it; even the race that hates you most has some good in it."
"If I hit you and you hit me and I hit you back and you hit me back and go on, you see, that goes on ad infinitum. It just never ends. Somewhere somebody must have a little sense, and that’s the strong person. The strong person is the person who can cut off the chain of hate, the chain of evil. And that is the tragedy of hate, that it doesn’t cut it off. It only intensifies the existence of hate and evil in the universe."
"Somewhere somebody must have some sense. Men must see that force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe. And you do that by love."
"So this morning, as I look into your eyes, and into the eyes of all of my brothers in Alabama and all over America and over the world, I say to you, “I love you. I would rather die than hate you.” And I’m foolish enough to believe that through the power of this love somewhere, men of the most recalcitrant bent will be transformed."
The only way for us to transform our politics and society is to start with the kind of radical empathy that Martin Luther King Jr. practiced. Let's start by stopping the de-humanization of those we disagree with, and starting to really listen to WHY they are living in fear, pain and hopelessness.