How to Survive in a Hate-Filled World

Sunday, December 10, 2017

It seems that everywhere we look these days, from personal lives to social media to the White House, there are hateful attacks on people for the craziest of reasons: appearance, race, religion, gender preference; telling the truth of someone's character, speaking up for injustice, explaining a different experience or point of view. All of the vitriol can be overwhelming. How do we survive the onslaught?

I've been thinking about this a lot over the past year or so, both in meditation and in non-meditating moments. How does anyone not only survive, but thrive in the midst of all the anger and hurt? My answer might seem trite at first glance, but I will explain further.

Survival and thriving come from an intention to see everyone and everything through the lens of love.

Let's start with what this does NOT mean. Seeing everyone and everything in love does not mean that we let people get away with bad behavior. Bad behavior needs to be called out, not with more hate, but with compassion and a sense of justice. Seeing everyone and everything in love does not mean that we let others take advantage of us. We can offer forgiveness, seek justice, and still maintain boundaries. Seeing others in love does not mean that we avoid interacting with them. It means first making sure we have dealt with ourselves lovingly, making sure we are in tune with our intentions and truest selves, and then having hard yet respectful conversations--and knowing when the conversation needs to be over. Seeing everyone and everything in love does not mean that we who try to see through the lens of love are perfect. It means we're trying, which means we'll fail, which means we need to be willing to offer ourselves grace and forgiveness along the way.

So what DOES it mean? Seeing everyone and everything through the lens of love means that we filter every interaction, action, and word through love and compassion. We may not go quite so far to offer the benefit of a doubt; for some things, there is absolutely no doubt as to what has been said or done! But we do attempt to understand the heart cry of the person who says or does something that is or appears to be hateful. Gabrielle Bernstein says it well in her book The Universe Has Your Back.

The Course [in Miracles] says, 'Every communication is either an extension of love or a call for love.' When you attack with judgment, you're really just looking for love. The search for love is your true intent behind the attack because deep down all you want is to protect yourself from not feeling loved. It's also the intent of the person you believe has attacked you. Both of you are simply looking for love. At its core, attack is a call for help.

Think about that: "at its core, attack is a cry for help." Hateful remarks on social media, spiteful speeches, bullying, reacting in fear and anger, a (wrongful) attack of character--these are all cries for help. It's the cry of a wounded heart who doesn't know anymore how to be loved, rather like an abused or cornered animal. 

Now, I understand that this might be a stretch for some of you, that life experiences and circumstances seem to imply that there are "good" and "bad" people, and that the best you can do is either fight back tooth and nail, or avoid them altogether. Today I invite you to a possible third way of living: a way of forgiveness, grace, and love. This requires starting with yourself, gently. 

Look at yourself, not necessarily in a mirror, but if it helps, go for it. Look at your heart, what you desire deep down. Do you desire to be loved? I think all of us, to one degree or another, can agree that we want to be loved. When we don't feel loved, what do we do? Do we go on the defensive? Do we retreat? Do we tell ourselves a story that we need to be protected, no matter what? How does that story play out for you? Don't let your imagination run into emotion here, just watch. Acknowledge your patterns of behavior. 

If you tend to retreat, ask yourself why. Is it because you feel like you don't deserve love from someone? Or that it's too much to ask? Does it mean having a vulnerable conversation you'd rather avoid? Why? 

If you tend to be defensive and attack, ask yourself why. Is it because you want love and can't figure out how to get it? Is it easier to pretend you don't need love? Or that love should look only the way you want it to? Do you tend to live with the notion that you only get what you fight for, even if the fighting never quite gives you what you wanted? Why? 

Whatever your reasons, whatever your habits, whatever the story you believe, try not to judge it. Instead, look at it through a lens of love, and acknowledge the deeper reason for your behaviors. Then forgive yourself for living from a place of fear and anger. Commit to living from a place of love, even if it's a slow process with lots of mess-ups and restarts along the way. 

You might wonder if you really need to go through all this. After all, this is about how to survive in a world filled with others' hate, right? Well, sure. And we are each part of the problem. We start with ourselves. We can't change anyone else, but we can change ourselves. When we change our habits and our perspectives, we are able to see others as we see ourselves. We have the same problem: we all want love. We all have similar responses to that desire. The more we understand ourselves and our own habits and responses, and the more we choose to intentionally operate from love instead of fear, the more compassion we will have for others going through the same thing and the more we will be able to interact through the lens of love. 

Living and interacting through the lens of love gives us freedom and peace. We don't have to get caught up in how so-and-so could possibly think, say, or do such-and-such. We don't have to replay the words or actions over and over, torturing ourselves. We set ourselves free from all of that so we can make life choices that intentionally work for the greater good. We not only survive, but thrive, and that kind of energy is contagious and world-changing.

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