In recent decades, we’ve seen some wonderful, positive progress in our world in terms of tolerance and inclusion, but we’ve yet to rid ourselves of the terrible ailment of hate. It is still pervasive in society, especially here in America, and it is causing pain and heartache every single day. Hate is not an inherent human trait. It’s not something we’re born with. It’s something we learn. As Nelson Mandela famously said,
No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love. For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably the kind of person who’s pro-love, anti-hate, but rejecting hate in your mind (or even online) is not the same as actually fighting it. This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately. When I see some of these horrible situations on the news, my first thought is, This is terrible. This needs to stop! And then, from the safe and privileged position in which I was lucky enough to be born, I feel the inevitable resignation and shame that comes with my next thoughts: But what can someone like me do? Can someone like me even make a difference?
Online, I see thousands of people condemning acts of hate, but few offering advice or guidance on how to make it stop. Lots of anger and shock (really? how is anyone surprised by anything at this point?) and sympathy swell in my social media feeds, but much of what I read is, in fact, hate-filled, rhetoric that simply turns the hate back on the hateful. And, as much as I understand instinct of outrage, I can’t help but think of the wise words of Martin Luther King, Jr.:
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
It’s easy to hate those who are hateful, who are committing heinous acts, but, in doing so, it’s only hate that wins. I want to do better than simply condemning acts of hate. I want to help change things. But it’s difficult to even know where to begin, to know what’s effective for change. I sometimes see those in the most vulnerable communities, those most impacted by acts of hate, saying not to ask them for advice on what to do. I completely get where they’re coming from — it’s not the job of the oppressed to tell everyone else how to help them — but this leaves those of us who (I’ll be perfectly frank here) could ignore a great deal of this and get along just fine at a loss for what to do.
Here’s the honest truth: I want to help in a real way, but I don’t know how. I want to ask, but I’m fearful of being shamed or blamed or ridiculed because I’ve seen it happen to others. I could certainly handle the minor discomfort of being dismissed, but then I’d be right back where I started: uncertain of what to do. So, like any good millennial, I turned to the internet for answers. Unsurprisingly, I found a lot of what you’d expect: attend a rally, start an anti-hate group, volunteer at a local organization, etc. All of these are great ideas, but what if those options aren’t available to you. What if you’re too anxious to attend a rally? What if you’re physically unable to march? What if you have zero organizations nearby at which you could volunteer? Does that mean you can’t help?
Extroverted activities are wonderful and can lead to positive change, but you don’t have to be marching in DC or volunteering at the ACLU to make a difference. There are a lot of things you can do right where you are, wherever you are. Here are some of the best ways I’ve found to fight hate, regardless of where you are or what your capabilities are:
SPEAK UP — LOUDLY + OFTEN
Even if you’re just one voice in a sea of many, that voice matters. The more people who condemn acts of hatred (even if the only thing you do is retweet someone else’s words or share something on Facebook), the better. You might think that you don’t have a big audience or you’re not in a position to comment on a specific incident or it’s not really your business to get involved, but hate — whether its occurring in your home town or across the world — is wrong, and if you’re a human living on the same planet as all of these other humans, you have a right (and a duty) to speak out against it. (Reminder: you can speak out against hate without being hateful, which is something a lot of people don’t seem to be very good at!) Speak out on social media. Talk to people you know (especially people you disagree with!). If you’re not sure where to start, check out How to Share Your Beliefs (Even with People Who Don’t Agree).
PRACTICE TOLERANCE DAILY
Tolerance isn’t just about accepting people of a different race or religious background. Tolerance can begin in small doses, in tiny little shifts in your mind. Look around you at all of the various people in your life, and do what you can to be more tolerant of them. No, this won’t lead to major sociological changes, but if everyone made an effort to be more tolerant of other people, of the differences and all the little things that can drive you crazy, that tolerance will spread to bigger things. Remember: you weren’t born disliking certain traits or habits, but you’ve grown to dislike them and you most likely reinforce those beliefs by thinking, Ugh, I hate it when [insert name] does [insert annoying activity]. This isn’t to say you have to love everything everyone does, but practice being tolerant of it. (Side note: practicing tolerance does not mean tolerating hateful speech or actions.)
RECALL THE BIG PICTURE
It’s so tempting to stay in your bubble (particularly if you’re born into a nice, safe one), but one of the reasons hate blooms is when we encounter others who don’t hold the same beliefs we do. If you’re really passionate about something (like, say, equality) and someone else challenges that beliefs (like, say, Nazi-flag-waving white supremacists), it’s challenging not to feel enraged or even hateful. But, if we really want to get out of a hate-fueled cycle, we have to step out of ourselves and look for the big picture. We’re all human. We’re all here. Right now, there are so many reasons to feel disconnected, to feel as if there are sides to be chosen, but, hard as it is to recall sometimes: we’re much more alike than we are different. We’re all struggling to make the most of whatever we have, to do what we believe is right. (Another reminder: anger doesn’t have to equal hate.)
STOP HATING YOURSELF
Honestly, it might seem overly simplistic, but I believe if everyone in the world loved him or herself, the world would be a much more peaceful place. I keep reading about the notion that “peace starts with you,” and, while that’s great in theory, it’s really difficult to create outer peace via inner peace if you don’t love who you are. All hate comes from fear, and most of what we fear has to do with some story we’ve told ourselves about certain people or situations. It’s human nature to be fearful and to avoid things that make us afraid, but one of the great things about being a human is self-awareness. We can become aware of what we’re doing and change it. Cultivate self-love is no easy task, but it’s essential for finding both inner and outer peace. Dig deep into the things you dislike about yourself, the things you’re afraid of, and challenge them. Fear, as you might have heard before, is a liar. Don’t let it guide how you see yourself — or the world around you.
My political M.O. used to be: “politics is a patriarchal, dishonest system and I want zero part in that!” Ah, that old ignorance-is-bliss concept seems so foolish to me now. Political engagement, regardless of where you stand on various issues or people in power, is important. It’s one of the greatest ways to affect change. You might be one person, but you can make a difference with your political actions. Reach out to your representatives, to those on the local and state and federal levels, who have access to making major changes. Tell them what matters to you. Tell them how you feel about hate and ask that they stand for the things that will bring more unity, connectedness, and love into our communities. And, of course, when it’s time: vote, vote, vote for those people who shut down hate at every chance they get.
Of course, this is just a small list of things you can do to make a difference. If you have children, you can teach them to value equality and inclusiveness. If you work in an organization with political influence, you can speak to those at the top and urge them to reject hateful acts or policies. If you have the time and ability, you can volunteer or even take a job at an anti-hate organization. If you’re loaded with extra cash, you can show your support financially. If you’re a march-goer, you can attend rallies and marches in your town. There are countless ways you can make the world a less hateful place, but, as cliche as it is to say, it does start with you. It starts with how you think, how you speak, how you act. You might feel, like I often do, that you’re helpless, but you’re not. Every single one of us has more power than we realize. And it’s completely up to you how you use that power. Choose love and keep choosing it. Again and again and again.