What do you do when someone spouts anger at you, drenches you in hate or shows utter contempt for everything you stand for? The instinctive response is to fight back, to meet fire with fire. But what is the spiritual response to the same situation? Martin Luther King Jr. echoed the Nazarene when he said: "Hate can never drive out hate, only love can do that."
Meeting hate with hate is natural but it leads to an escalation that is impossible to stop. Hate breeds hate breeds hate breeds hate.
Good People Giving Into Instinct
In the past few years, I have seen good people give into the instinct of anger over and over again. It’s a fine line that is easy to cross. Yes, it is true that resisting hateful, bigoted rhetoric is important, but once resistance turns into name-calling, once offense turns into spiteful indignation, once the outrage becomes the focal point rather than a temporary feeling, then the line between a loving and respectful response and an instinctive hateful response has been crossed.
I’ve seen good people, loving people, altruistic people cross this line. Heck, I’ve crossed the line in my mind more than once in the past couple of years—but I’ve refused to act on it publicly.
“They started it,” some may respond. That may be true. But a tit for tat reaction will only escalate tensions. If we want to deescalate the situation, a better response is needed.
Love Is Strength
Spiritual teachers of all ages have tried to tell us that love is stronger than hate, they have appealed to our better angels, tried to engage our capacity for empathy and compassion, and encouraged us to water the seeds of love that reside within each and every human being.
The teachings of altruistic love have always been difficult to sell. There have always been those among us who have seen love as the ultimate weakness. Nevertheless, on this the wisdom traditions all agree. Love is in fact strength. Love is the glue that holds us together. It is the essence of true religion, true spirituality, true faith, and true humanity. Without it, we perish.
Love Is Not About Giving Up
I love my children dearly. Sometimes I have to put my foot down. When I raise my voice to get their attention it is not the opposite of love but rather it is part of my love for them. However, I would cross the line if I called them names or belittled them in the process.
The same goes with my friends. I love my friends and, therefore, I will be honest with them, even if it may hurt their feelings. Again, I don’t hurt their feelings for sport or try to deride them, but sometimes staying silent would go against my love for them.
Love is not merely a pleasant feeling. Love is a force for good that moves through the world without disparaging others and works on the basis of attraction rather than repulsion. As Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel reminded us: “The opposite of love is not hate, it's indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it's indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it's indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it's indifference.”
Resist With Love
The message here is simple. When you resist bigotry and intolerance, don’t become an intolerant bigot. That’s really the essence of what I am reminding us to do—because I need reminding just as much as the next person.
The love I am talking of is not the mushy feel-good Valentines love we hear of in pop lyrics or the walk-all-over-me attitude that some people mistake as love. No. The love I speak of is resilient, like a mother with a sick baby; compassionate, like an aid worker who feeds people without discrimination; truthful, like an addiction counselor who tells the bitter truth so that his patients will get better; firm, like a father who sets a strict schedule so his children will do well at school; respectful, like a teacher at an important ceremony; kind, like a grandmother serving cookies and hot cocoa on a cold winters day; and present, like a friend who listens in order to truly understand.
Love is always a force for goodness, truth and beauty.
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