FEEL­ING THE LOVE

Af­ter spend­ing a year re­search­ing hate, po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor SALLY KOHN is ready to try a lit­tle ten­der­ness

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To erad­i­cate hate, po­lit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor Sally Kohn cham­pi­ons hu­man con­nec­tion

Hu­man be­ings are glo­ri­ous. Think about all the ran­dom hap­pen­stance in the his­tory of the uni­verse that had to come to­gether just right for hu­mans to even ex­ist. My friend, the mo­ti­va­tional speaker Mel Rob­bins, points out that the odds of each of us be­ing born with our par­tic­u­lar DNA struc­ture to our par­tic­u­lar par­ents is one in 400 tril­lion. That’s the math­e­mat­ics of your unique­ness.

It’s a mir­a­cle. And we all have that mir­a­cle in com­mon. But re­cently I’ve re­al­ized that we spend a sad amount of our en­ergy—and have spent a sad amount of hu­man his­tory—fight­ing about our dif­fer­ences. And we’re still mired in it to­day.

Last year I trav­eled the world re­search­ing my new book, The Op­po­site of Hate. I set out to write about hate be­cause I wanted to un­der­stand my own mind, my own ten­den­cies to di­vide the world be­tween “us” ver­sus “them.” I did it when I was a kid, bul­ly­ing other kids on the play­ground, and I was still do­ing it in a way when, as a lib­eral ac­tivist, I would de­mo­nize and de­mean con­ser­va­tives. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t re­ally know how to stop my­self.

One of the most in­ter­est­ing things I did dur­ing my trav­els was meet a for­mer white su­prem­a­cist from Mil­wau­kee named Arno. Learn­ing about his child­hood, I kept wait­ing to hear about how his par­ents had led him astray, look­ing for a way to blame them for the path their son had taken. But even­tu­ally I re­al­ized I could have been Arno’s par­ent, and in fact I could have been Arno—nor­mal and kind and well-mean­ing enough but grow­ing up in a coun­try steeped in racism. “The so­lu­tion to im­plicit bias is hu­man con­nec­tion,” Arno said to me. Hate is a prob­lem we all have to help solve.

I don’t think love is the op­po­site of hate, but I do think we tend to hate oth­ers when we don’t love our­selves enough or in the right way—mean­ing lov­ing our unique­ness, the good and the bad, with­out con­fus­ing our spe­cial­ness with su­pe­ri­or­ity. Lov­ing our­selves in the sin­gu­lar sense and be­cause of our con­nec­tion to the whole. Learn­ing about hate made me love my part­ner, my daugh­ter, and my friends more—but it also made me love hu­man­ity more and want to am­plify that kind of love.

I worry about how to spread the mes­sage of that love not only to the en­tire world but to my own child. Re­cently we were in Mex­ico on va­ca­tion, and in the town square of San Miguel de Al­lende I bought Willa, my 9-year-old, a gi­ant bounc­ing bal­loon toy that we played with for about an hour. When it was time to go back to our Airbnb, I told her we couldn’t pack the bal­loon and that we should give it to one of the many chil­dren who were sit­ting on the curb around the zocalo. We walked up to one child who was maybe a year or so younger than Willa and gave her the bal­loon. Her face lit up with a gi­ant smile.

On our walk home Willa turned to me and ex­claimed, “That was re­ally fun!”

“Yeah,” I replied. “That bal­loon was way cool and fun to play with.”

“No,” Willa cor­rected me. “I meant that giv­ing the bal­loon to that girl was re­ally fun. I could tell it made her happy. It feels good to do nice things for other peo­ple.”

What I’ve re­al­ized is that the ab­sence of hate doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily mean the pres­ence of love. Not hat­ing some­one or some group of peo­ple, even a whole race or na­tion, doesn’t au­to­mat­i­cally mean you love them. But af­fir­ma­tively and ac­tively con­nect­ing with oth­ers and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing our com­mon hu­man­ity cre­ates op­por­tu­ni­ties for that big­ger love, ex­pan­sive and ex­pand­ing hu­man­ity-wide love, that em­pha­sizes our con­nec­tions and safe­guards against hate.

This month, when my book is pub­lished, I’m throw­ing two glam­orous karaoke par­ties in New York and Los An­ge­les be­cause we get closer to the op­po­site of hate when we ex­pe­ri­ence joy and gen­eros­ity and con­nec­tion. For my part I’ll be singing “I Feel Love.” Be­cause now I feel love all around me, in more forms and ways than I ever thought pos­si­ble. n

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