John Lewis was a love radical; a love revolutionary. His rejection of hate and bitterness is exemplary. John Lewis forgave and loved people who actually tried to kill him; people who had treated him as inhuman. And even though he was a person to whom compassion seemed to come naturally – who as a child loved the chickens on his family’s subsistence farm so much he calls his stand against their killing his first act of civil disobedience – even he preached that it takes practice; that, like nonviolence, it is not natural not to react in opposition to the person beating you, demeaning you, attempting to oppress your entire race. But it is worth it, because hate is too heavy a burden to bear. I believe this deeply, but more importantly I am committed to it. For the following reasons:
- As a Pseudo-Buddhist I attempt to avoid hate because it is an act of aversion, and aversion and clinging are the source of all our suffering.
- As a fan of theoretical physics, I attempt to avoid hate because I know we are nothing but the products of our environment and did not choose to be the violent or parochial creatures we have become. It’s as rational as hating the knife that cuts you: it’s doing what it was designed to do.
- As a Pseu-Bu and a science fan, I believe we are all interconnected. Not just spiritually, but literally. If I hurt another human, I hurt myself. If I generate anger or frustration in someone I interact with, they are liable to take that to work, to the store, to their kids, generating more pain. Those recipients then turn around and plant more seeds of unhappiness in anything they touch, likely to circle back to me when I least expect it. External aggression towards any living thing is literally self-destructive, as much as poisoning my own water is self-destructive.
- As an anti-racist, I try to avoid hate because it is counterproductive. Neuroscience and psychology and politics and our own experience all teach us that we do not respond positively to aggression, or facts that challenge our beliefs, or righteousness. If I want to change someone’s mind, I have to connect with them, to acknowledge their truth so that they might be open to hearing mine. I’m a terrible liar, so I can’t pretend to care. If I want to help someone free themselves from the myths they hold onto out of ignorance or fear, I have to believe in their full humanity as much as I want them to internalize everyone else’s. If I want to win the long game – a Beloved Community, a society of equity and variety and joy – I have to set aside my self-righteousness and identity to bring in as many teammates as I possibly can.
I fail, again and again. And I try to accept that this is work, a lifetime of work. Sometimes the people I find it hardest to love are not the unenlightened racists, but some of my fellow White liberals.
Because they have so much hate.
The irony is endless, I know. My anger at them is no better than their anger at anyone they look down on from their shaky rung on the ladder of Wokeness. And if I want to reach out to them, I have to find the same compassion I dig for when someone says, “Well, my Irish immigrant grandparents had it just as bad as Black people.”
But I find my own self-righteousness butting up against my cohort when I think, “If your BIPOC friends and coworkers and acquaintances were as quick to dismiss you as you are to dismiss other ignorant Whites, you wouldn’t have any BIPOC people in your life.” Because there is one more reason I have chosen the path of love.
Most of what I find hateful in other people is their hatred. What I find most unsympathetic is their lack of compassion. I most want to reject them when they reject others. And my logical brain just can’t hang with that hypocrisy. It forces me to examine my own bullshit. And it always stinks.
And I do actually find myself saying to myself, “If John Lewis can love the people who literally tried to destroy him, I can be patient with a neighbor who says she’s colorblind.” As much as I admire Mr. Lewis and Dr. King for their bottomless wells of compassion, I don’t expect all Black people to do the same. However, I do feel it’s my responsibility as a well-intentioned, educated White Ally to carry the burden of tolerance, at the very least, and love, if I can get there.
John Lewis said that when the White Southerners were at their most loathsome, Martin told him “just Love the Hell out of them.” I take that literally. Hatred and fear are hell on earth, and I can’t fight fire with fire. If I can love the people I’m instinctively inclined to fight – not romantically, not emotionally, but with clarity and strength and radical compassion – I might be able to cool the hellish flames that consume them, as well as my own tormentors.