Over the past few months, or perhaps few years, our lives have been acutely and increasingly exposed to repugnant discourse, displays of hatred, and escalating violence. These ongoing demonstrations of negativity fuel divisiveness, fear, and all the outcomes that such emotions can bring.
An incessant swirl of questions haunts me. When did it become OK for an individual aspiring to lead a country to rely on insults to make a point? How is it possible to think highly of a person who uses lie after lie after lie as a predominant method to sway people? How could a group of 14-year-olds decide to kill a classmate, and what went through their minds when that happened? How can it be dangerous to go shopping at a Walmart? Unfortunately, the list goes on.
Spinning on these questions leaves me emotionally exhausted. It is both tempting and seemingly simple to respond to hatred with more hatred and to look for someone to blame. And some names come to us quickly when we wish to assign blame, but let’s be honest, the behaviors of these people are symptoms, not the disease.
The disease is both simple and complicated. It is multilayered, yet fundamentally it is the result of having forgotten that being human is first and foremost about being connected and finding love. Not only romantic love, but also a place where we belong, filled with unconditional acceptance and kindness. Your place might be quite different than mine, and that’s absolutely fine as long as the ability for my place to exist is not conditional on destroying yours. You may feel that I’m oversimplifying this, but am I?
I would love to tell you that I have a 3-easy-steps solution but dealing with this type of emotional exhaustion ultimately requires societal recalibration, so it won’t be that simple or fast. As much as cleaning up the messes we created will not be a one-person gig, it must start with each person, individually.
One thing I know for sure is that I don’t want to willingly be part of the problem—I aspire to be part of the solution. I also know that while I cannot change others, I have control over my own behaviors.
My starting point consists of making the following commitments about my own interactions, professional and social.
I promise to:
- Be courteous, kind, and start all exchanges with the assumption that we are all doing our best.
- Aim to understand you, even if it scares me.
- Listen to what you are saying with the intent to comprehend you.
- Ask clarifying questions if I need to.
- Make sure I understand where you are coming from before disagreeing with you.
- Explain why I disagree with you so that you understand my point of view. I’ll answer your questions.
- Accept that sometimes we need to agree to disagree, and we can do so respectfully.
- Avoid turning disagreement into hatred — I wish we could ban that word from all languages.
- Speak up when I see people being mistreated or when I see things that seem wrong, even if all I can do is say out loud, “This seems wrong to me.”
May this create ripples of kindness and love, for all.