It is so very difficult. When I witness anger and hatred boiling out of a mass of humanity, as that which flooded my life on January 6, part of me wants to turn away and remain in denial. Another part sets out, with the rest of me as an unwitting accomplice, to hate those who hate. In those moments I am reminded of words from The Prayer of St Francis: “Where there is hatred, let me sow love.” Neither turning away, nor allowing hatred to take me hostage, helps heal the wounds that underpin the anger that erupts in the world.
Let me be clear, I am terrified by what the far-right intends for the future of the United States, and globally. There are millions who want a racist world order I find reprehensible. But in this moment, I am desperately trying to separate the movement from individuals that inhabit it.
Anger and hatred are often consequent emotions. If I have learned anything from 18 years answering calls on a suicide hotline, it is this: what shows up as anger and hate, usually emerge out of profound sorrow, deep hurt, or debilitating fear. Sometimes all three. Christian Picciolini, a former neo-Nazi punk rock musician, and founder of the Free Radicals Project, now works tirelessly to prevent extremism and help people disengage from hate movements. In his raw, emotionally-charged book, Breaking Hate: Confronting the New Culture of Extremism, Picciolini reveals his secret to helping people escape…he listens. He listens without judgement for what he calls the “potholes” in their lives—abuse, bullying, desertion, loss, grief, and more—that leave them feeling lost, alone, marginalized, and worthless. Arguments, logic, and rationality are, in his experience, not helpful. Those devices, to which we so quickly turn, leave the person in his midst feeling unheard, lost, and lonely. They can even trigger a frightened, vulnerable individual and send them back to the safety of the extremist community that first took them in. Understanding and empathy are the only keys that unlock doorways.
In a post on social media, I recommended four books, including Breaking Hate, that have helped. They do not, even for an instant, enable me to accept the hateful language, but they have offered a glimpse into the emanation of far-right vitriol. When I suggested these volumes, one respondent replied, “Understanding it is pointless. The only thing to do is to stop tolerating it and begin prosecuting, stopping, and jailing every last traitor.” If we are talking appropriate consequences for a mob trashing the rule of law, I agree. However, if, instead, I focus on the millions of individual broken souls that inhabit that dark and dangerous landscape, I must demur. In an interview, Jitarth Jadeja, who spent two years as a dedicated follower of QAnon, but now understands the horrific lies and fabrications, was asked how to help others discover the truth. “It has to start with empathy and understanding,” he said.
Shortly after January 6, a friend asked, “What about ISIS? They want to kill me. Am I supposed to offer them empathy and understanding?” Call me naïve, but, even there, in a one-on-one, human conversation with a person who sees differently than I, what might I discover about the treacherous mountains and terrifying chasms millions must endure? Those lessons are only available if I first try to understand rather than insisting on being understood.
The Prayer of St. Francis continues: “Where there is doubt, let me sow faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.” If I begin in this moment, is there even a remote chance of healing a miniscule portion of the profound sorrow, deep hurt, and debilitating fear that is in my midst every day, but to which I am often blind?
It is so very difficult, but, in the end, it is the most enlightening and joyful of journeys.
4 thoughts on “Where There Is Hatred…”
House Speaker Pelosi read the prayer of St. Francis when the House reconvened after the riots. I personally love that prayer but it was difficult for me to listen to after watching hours of bedlam caused by ‘patriots’. Justice is what I wanted at that late hour.
And now….yeah, I am pretty much in that ‘Let’s round them up and prosecute them’ mood. Before January 6th, I had not watched a newscast in over four years. On that afternoon into the next morning I was sitting in front of a television watching for 12 hours.
I hate the traitors and insurrectionists and I doubt that will ever change. I guess I don’t want to open up conversations with people that I have known to have held opposing viewpoints, not if we are going to talk politics. I don’t want to know where they stand on things now. I just want to move on with life and share a story, or a walk, or a joke, or a meal with that person.
You are totally right my friend and I will try to read that book. But I am going to wait to see how the next few months unfold. Peace and love.
Nice, Roger, and the test of all this craziness. I notice it’s so easy to type people as it makes it easier to simplify responses.
But if the main response is empathy and listening, that goes away. Forget about the many arguments about to what extent the Jan 6 activity was white racist in nature, anarchistic, class-based, etc. If you listen you sperate the person from the mass and what we assume the ideology is.
The only thing I can paint the entire group with, including those who did not enter the Capitol, is that they were, and are, angry. And as you point out, beneath that is something else, since anger is a reaction. It must be respected though, as a valid emotion.
Thanks again, Roger. Nice to see an adult discussion and reaction.
Monday was Mlk day. King said “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
Good job, Roger. 18 years of talking with people who want to check out has to be helpful in arriving at this stance. They are broken souls who, amazingly to me, find comfort in Trump’s words and deeds. Wow! I wonder how troubled their childhoods must have been. And, how terrified they are.
At the dog park, one angry woman named Patricia has succeeded in ostracizing the Trump supporters: they sit by themselves in another part of the park because of her vitriol. I find it hard to muster empathy for her, that mean woman.
Every day, when Chloe and I leave for home, I go by the outcast three people sitting on a bench. I stop and ask how they’re doing and wish them a good evening. They do the same to me.
The whole parade can’t help but make me sad.