Becoming a Beacon of Love
Updated: Jul 11, 2020
"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
Martin Luther King, Jr.
If you have not already done so, please go here and then here to read my last two blog posts in the Hate Pathway series. The first explains how it begins as a natural process and describes the various stages of progression. The second provides important tips for managing hate within our own hearts and minds (remember, hate is a universal experience, so you're not exempt).
By now you might be thinking, "Wait, what? I read two of your articles and you still haven’t told me how to change someone's mind when they're wrong (/hateful/ racist/ sexist)?! Peace, I'm out of here!"
If that’s you, just hold your proverbial horses, we're getting to that.
In this post, we’ll look at ways you can deal with others wherever they are on the Hate Pathway.
When dealing with hatred in the hearts and minds of others, whether they be family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, or strangers, the first and most important thing to note is that we cannot control the attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors of others.
Although we, as a society, can work collectively to create a culture that frowns upon bad behavior and promotes certain ideas as positive, we are never fully responsible for the thoughts and actions of someone else. We can make laws that allow punishment for certain deeds, but often these laws provide little, if any, deterrent, and thus are not preventative in nature. Even if behaviors are deterred because of cultural ideas and illegality, we are still not responsible for the driving force behind them - the deep seeded ideologies, beliefs, and thoughts that live within a particular person or persons - and therefore cannot force someone(s) to change his or her mind.
Race and racism have been hot topics lately, so let us use that as an example, starting with a brief history lesson (you can skip this part if you're already familiar, but it was really helpful to me to brush up on this information):
The appalling practice of slavery has been a part of our shared history since the dawn of civilization, with records dating back to as early as the 18th century BC in the Code of Hammurabi. Slavery in the United States can be traced to the 17th century, when millions of people were abducted from Africa, brought to America, and forced to work as servants, primarily on crops such as cotton or tobacco and, later on, certain household duties.
The atrocities faced by enslaved people (past and current, in the US or abroad) are horrifying to say the least. Even those with only an ounce of empathy can feel sorrow for the poor souls under its cruel rule. (I recently read Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl which I highly recommend, and, for me, it brought to life the intensity of slaves' suffering with a firsthand account of what it was like to be a slave in America in the early to mid-1800s.)
Starting around 1860, anti-slavery leaders in the US began to work towards liberation for American slaves. Lincoln was elected president in 1861 and the Civil War began shortly thereafter, with the Confederacy seceding from the Union in an effort to establish independence. Partly to end the disgusting practice and partly in an attempt to weaken the Confederacy and strengthen the Union, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued on New Year's Day in 1863. It basically said that unless the Confederate States rejoined the Union, all slaves in the Confederacy would be freed. In 1865, the 13th Amendment was finally adopted into the Constitution, thus abolishing slavery. By 1870, the 15th Amendment was put into place, allowing black men to vote (note the use of the word men here; women were not granted voting rights until the 19th Amendment was passed 50 years later, in 1920).
Unfortunately, the adoption of these civil rights amendments to the Constitution did not mean the end of all oppression for former slaves or their descendants. Black Americans have had to fight for equality throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, including an end to segregation and fair employment practices, to name just a few.
Today, although we recognize laws that make it illegal to discriminate against someone based on their skin color, racism still exists in the hearts, minds, and often times behavior of our fellow human beings, including here in America. It is an example of hatred with which many are, unfortunately, quite familiar.
You might be thinking, “Sure, we worked really hard to change these laws and promote civil rights for black Americans.” Yes, over time there has been a significant shift in the collective mindset of Americans and their attitude towards slavery and the rights of all people, including people of color, over the past 150+ years. If that were not that case, we would not have achieved the majority votes required to enact the changes to our previously unjust laws.
That is, there was a shift in the culture of America, away from oppression and towards freedom and equal rights for all men (and, eventually, women, though we’re still working on this for other marginalized groups, like LGBTQ+ individuals, for example).
So how do these cultural changes actually occur? It appears there is a tipping point in our culture at which our collective mindset reaches a majority status. Early adopters promote the ideas and create momentum. We call this being on the “right side of history” - advancing progressive thought and taking action for real advancement. This process of change starts with outreach and education often kicked off by an event that highlights some existing injustice. It looks something like this:
That’s cool and all, but how does this relate to the Hate Pathway? Well, let us look at the various interventions for each stage, starting with the most frightening of all - once an individual has reached the level of hatred wherein they are actively and publicly expressing their sentiments.
First off, we can (and should) address Stage 4 (bad behavior) with social reform. This includes but is not limited to fighting for equal rights, participating in peaceful protests, demanding legal action, and physically stopping injustice from occurring when we witness it and are able to intervene. This has been an effective strategy in the advancement of all humanity, in particular for those who are oppressed, since the beginning of civilization.
We create campaigns, gather support, and demand action. It is labor-intensive and sometimes terribly slow, but it works more often than not.
While this work is crucial for the advancement humankind, it is not enough. Why?
Because it only addresses Stage 4 in the Hate Pathway.
We can make a million laws to govern the treatment of people and promote equality and fairness, but hatred, fear, and misunderstanding can and will continue to live on in our hearts and minds unless specifically addressed there. This is what we continue to see now when we talk about racism; although it is technically illegal to treat people differently based on their race, there remain folks who are racist both publicly and privately, sometimes using positions of power to act unjustly towards black and other people of color.
Making acts of racism illegal does not actually change hearts or show people that they are a victim of the natural progression on the Hate Pathway.
Obviously making laws is an important and necessary step, but it is not enough. What else can we do?
The first thing we must do is admit that we cannot control the thoughts of other people (important note: we also cannot control their behavior, though, as already discussed, we can make social rules and public policies that incriminate them for their actions. This is NOT prevention, however.)
Next, we must focus on what we can control: that is, our own thoughts, fears, and behaviors. We can use mindfulness as a tool to investigate ourselves, acknowledge our gaps in knowledge and understanding, educate ourselves, work to dispel fear and hate within ourselves. This is the yoga path to enlightenment (and if you haven’t already read my post about handling your own hatred, check it out here).
Okay, so we agree that you cannot forcefully change someone's mind or (reliably) their behavior. Nevertheless, you can still help them at each stage of the Hate Pathway before they get all the way to bad behavior (Stage 4). Let’s take a look at the other stages, starting back at the beginning of the path…
Stage 1 – Lack of Understanding
If you encounter someone in Stage 1, you have the best chance of being a positive influence. There are many folks who can (and do) acknowledge their ignorance and seek to understand. I personally had to do so recently when I realized that part of my privilege as a white person is that I am not forced to reconcile the issues of racism on a daily basis in the same way that people of color must.
In other words, at Stage 1, we are more likely to be open and looking for answers. If we can acknowledge that there is a gap in our understanding, we can work to close it. And we can even help others do so.
If we can approach a Stage 1-er with kindness, empathy, and compassion, they are very likely to be receptive of our message. It is important not to criticize them for being misinformed or ignorant, but rather to encourage their curiosity, participate in meaningful conversations, and create an environment of mutual understanding. Listen first, seek to understand, and then speak from our own unique experience. In appropriately representing our particular faction or opinion, we can help reduce or eliminate any fear (Stage 2) they may be experiencing.
Let us look back at our example of racism. There is so much we lack in understanding here, starting with the history of oppression of people of color. Take me, for example: I am a millennial, so I was not alive during the Civil Rights movement, Jim Crow laws, or legalized slavery. Many of us who are alive today did not personally witness these major historical events, meaning we have to make a point to educate ourselves.
We also must work to understand the current experiences of people who differ from us in terms of their culture, life experiences, and upbringing – and that includes various experiences based solely on race. If we do not, we risk continuing to fear that which we do not understand. That would mean we’ve graduated to…
Stage 2 – Fear
If we encounter someone in Stage 2, one of the worst things we can do is create an unsafe environment for them - this, as we have seen, fuels fear and leads to hatred.
Lots of people live in a state of perpetual fear, and angry posts and videos, yelling, and other forms of public shaming are counter-productive in dealing with those who are afraid. These negative actions just add fuel to the fear fire and create an environment that breeds hate.
If, instead, we create a safe space for folks in Stage 2 to open up about their fears, concerns, and underlying lack of understanding, we can work to understand the misinformation that is driving them to be afraid. With patience, we can effectively coach them back down the Hate Pathway with kindness, compassion, and careful education and sharing of knowledge.
Going back to our example of racism, can you think of examples of why someone might fear black or other people of color? To be clear, I’m not asking for valid, legitimate reasons, just explanations as to why someone might feel fear, however unfounded.
Perhaps the difference in culture is threatening (see: them vs. us on the Hate Pathway) and they fear that their own set of values might erode over time as more diversity is introduced, accepted, and even celebrated in America.
This fear is particularly unfortunate since only diversity in ideas, innovation, and culture can allow growth for humans. We need these different views, different ways of life, and various experiences to create the most rich and meaningful human experience.
Maybe these individuals have heard that black people are more likely to commit violent crimes, thereby attempting to justify broad and inaccurate statements about the mindset of an entire group of people. What we need here is more understanding - to track the fear down to where there is a misunderstanding. Here is a quick go at it (though admittedly I'm not an expert on issues related to race, I am working hard to learn, understand, and grow):
It has been suggested that, since black Americans are often disproportionally affected by poverty, their socioeconomic status could explain the apparent disparity in crime rates between various ethnic groups. There is evidence to suggest that controlling for socioeconomic status in these studies reduces or even eliminates the apparent severity of the disparity. That is, white Americans who live in poverty also commit a greater proportion of violent crimes compared to those within higher income brackets. This is simply a trend of human nature, unrelated to race whatsoever - need breeds desperation, and desperation can lead to violence. It has nothing to do with race, this is simply a product of the natural human condition.
The answers to these questions are not simple, but we do not get anywhere by avoiding discussing them, by making topics of race and injustice taboo or off-limits.
We cannot find the underlying drivers of the disturbing trends in police brutality, systemic racism, and black crime rates without taking the time to create a safe space for the discussion and sharing of accurate information. That means we must stop screaming at each other, acknowledge that the overwhelming vast majority of people want to be good and right, and work to understand each other without resorting to anger, hateful speech, and violence. Speaking of which…
Stage 3 – Hate
Encountering someone at Stage 3 is pretty rare, but not because they do not exist. We may not even realize that a particular someone harbors hatred because they keep their hate bottled up inside, which is a dangerous place for it to fester and grow. This can and often does lead to Stage 4: the actual bad behaviors which make their hatred publicly known.
With someone in Stage 3, we might catch glimpses of this hatred in passing comments - casual racist or sexist remarks, quiet discrimination, etc. This person may have spent a long time on the Hate Pathway, developing warped views over many years or even decades (or perhaps even longer if we include their cultural background), so we should not expect a quick transformation if we endeavor to intervene.
In fact, I caution anyone who attempts to remedy hatred at this level; remember that we must first protect our own heart and mind (our personal emotional, spiritual, and mental health).
If we must forge ahead, or feel that we need to because the person in question is a close relative or friend, beware that arguments are pointless until we understand their viewpoint. A commitment must be made to spending time with them and hearing their thoughts (which can be extremely troubling for people; it's difficult to be around a hateful person!).
If we start with the assumption that their hatred is based in fear and misunderstanding, we can find the compassion necessary to endure hateful speech and other behaviors long enough to understand their history (remember, they are a product of their environment, just like we are a product of ours).
We must also earn their trust, since it's difficult to admit fear and lack of knowledge to someone you don't trust. Only then can we begin to offer education resources to bridge the information gap and begin to reduce the fear that underlies their hatred.
This must be a part of an open dialogue, offered with kindness and compassion; anger will only further ingrain their growing hatred.
Back to our example: if you’ve ever dealt with someone who is racist, you know firsthand how troubling it is. For me personally, it is hard to hear one fellow human being put down by another for anything at all, much less something so completely outside of their control as the color of their skin. I come from a place of loving kindness for all life on earth, so it hurts my heart to witness the pain my brothers and sisters sometimes inflict upon each other.
We can be assured, however, that harboring that level of hatred is no picnic for the hater. They might be addicted to the “high” they get from spouting off an angry tirade, but it’s not a healthy addiction.
We can use this fact to create compassion for the racist (or otherwise hateful) individual. This compassion is a requirement for doing any work with them, helping to guide them, with care and kindness, back down the Hate Pathway.
Instead of arguments, which only serve to feed fear and hatred, offering compassion and seeking to understand are the antidotes to hatred.
Acknowledging this, I commit to advancing the ideas of compassion for all, including and especially those with whom I disagree, those who are marginalized or victimized, and those who walk the Hate Pathway. I work towards deep understanding, which will promote kindness and love for all humankind.
My role remains to offer a safe space for education, understanding, kindness, and compassion. I hope you will all join me.
"A little bit of love is the cure for hate.
It's easy to give up but it's never too late.
A single step in the right direction,
Person to person making a connection.
We can change the world that's become so violent
With a random act of senseless kindness."
A Random Act of Senseless Kindness, South 65 (1998)
Serious note: If you missed my fun GIFs in this post, don't worry, they'll be back in future posts.