Lately, I have been reflecting on what I have in common with extremists. It turns out that the list is longer than I thought.
I share their passion for change, an ability to withstand discomfort and a lack of tolerance for passivity and denial. Extremists are people of action. I am a person of action. I empathize with their demand to be heard and seen.
The Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Map shows that hate groups have increased from 599 in the year 2000 to 940 in 2019. My own state, Oregon, boasts 15 groups and Portland finds itself surrounded by and infused with hate, in situ and imported.
“What can be done?” many of us are asking. It’s a good question.
The writer Viktor Frankl observed in the concentration camps he survived that some of his fellow prisoners were influenced by the brutality they experienced and, when given power, harmed others. He writes, “only slowly could these men be guided back to the commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them.”
And so it is with domestic terror and hate groups — the fear they create gives them great power over us. This is the point of their terror.
But in this time of great darkness, there must also be an opposing force of light. That force must come from us.
Here is how we start: Look inward. What are the ways we “otherize” our opposing side? This is where the battle must be fought, in all of us, for our empathy, our kindness, our love, our patience, our complexity as humans. But mostly for our action. It is inaction that puts us into such great peril.
As a doctor, I accept that the first principle of healing is to do no harm. But what if great harm has already been done to so many? This guilt over our collective inaction cannot define what we do today.
My wish for the new year is this: let us love with the same intensity that others hate. As Alicia Garza, one of the founders of the Movement for Black Lives and originators of the phrase “Black Lives Matter” writes in her new book, “The Purpose of Power”: “To be the kind of movement that we need to get the things that we deserve, we can’t be afraid to establish a base that is larger than the people we feel comfortable with.”
This is what can be done. Take your own 10,000-foot view. What will you do in the days ahead to safeguard the peaceful transition of power in our democracy? What will you do to bring much needed change to a wounded neighborhood? The solutions must be local and in this way we will heal the collective whole.
Let’s all start inside ourselves by choosing love over hate. Today and every day. We may have more dark days ahead, but I will not let my light be put out. I will not allow fear to drive my decision making. But we must also stop the violence by all sides, by all activists and by police, for there to be no harm.
Please join me in this New Year’s wish for love over hate, action over inaction, democracy over tyranny. In this increasingly complex world, some answers come surprisingly profound and simple.
This column was edited by the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.
This post was originally published on Radio Free.