Those who disagree politically often demean, blame, and criticize those who differ from them and the result is the climate of divisiveness we see in this country today. Each political party believes they are the “good guys” while those in other party are the “bad guys” who must be defeated. Members of both parties believe this is a logical and desirable way to proceed and act accordingly. However, to do this is to accept and act on the “us versus them” understanding of how the world works.
This approach has absolutely no hope of succeeding because it is based on an invalid premise. This premise is that there are good people (us) and bad people (them). If the “good” people fight against and defeat the “bad” people, then everything will be just fine. So how well is this working out? Are we a loving and peaceful country?
The history of our country and the world confirms that trying to attack and defeat those we perceive as “bad” has never worked. Yes, there may be times when the “good” guys succeed in defeating the “bad”guys and things may seem better for a time until, once again, there are more “bad” guys we must attack and defeat. They perceive things in the same way, of course, and set about defeating us. What ensues is mutual blaming, criticizing, demonizing, and attacking that only results in more suffering for everyone involved.
Despite the failure of us-versus-them thinking to solve our difficulties, this does not stop people from thinking it will work. It is so tempting to blame someone else for one’s difficulties in life. A convincing case can always be made that “they” are responsible for our suffering. “They” may be people with the wrong political and/or religious beliefs, the wrong skin color, the wrong national origin or who have other unacceptable characteristics or behaviors that differentiate them from us. The delusion is that once we defeat those we blame for our problems and suffering, everything will be just fine.
While it may be tempting to blame, criticize, and attack those who are different from us, all this is likely to do is provoke similar reactions from them and reinforce their beliefs. After all, would you change your religious or political beliefs because someone criticized and rejected them as misguided, bad, or wrong? Probably not. It is unlikely anyone would change their political or religious beliefs in response to being disrespected, demeaned, or rejected because of them. Closed-hearted words and actions only tend to evoke closed-hearted responses.
If you think about how people actually change their religious or political beliefs, usually it is because someone or something has affected them emotionally and touched their hearts. Perhaps this has happened to you. So if the healing of this country is to happen, we must touch the hearts of others by being respectful, understanding, compassionate, and kind with those who seem to be “different” from us. When enough of us act in this way, hearts will be touched and a loving revolution will ensue transforming our country into one of peace and love.
How will this happen you may ask? The loving transformation of this country will happen when enough of us follow the spiritual teachings of the great religions by becoming ever more kind, understanding, caring, compassionate, and loving until together we reach a “critical mass” that creates a revolution of love. So let us join in spirit the renowned spiritual souls who have touched our hearts and begin the revolution of love.
Who are the spiritual teachers that will guide this revolution of love? I come from a Christian background so I will begin with some of Jesus’s relevant teachings of how we can proceed. Jesus makes perfectly clear that love is the way:
“This is my commandment, That you love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 15:12).
“But I say to you that hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your coat as well. Give to everyone who begs from you; and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, so do to them.” (Luke 6:27-31).
The Torah commands us to love the “stranger” as oneself: “You too must befriend (love) the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19).
“When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them. The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens; you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt; I the Eternal am your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34).
Jesus and the Torah make it very clear that acting in love, compassion, kindness, and caring is the way to heal this nation and this world. For this to happen, we must become the peace, generosity, love, and compassion that we wish to see in the world.
Perhaps you think it is far too difficult to even approach becoming the love and compassion that is Jesus and is described in the Torah. Or you may have doubts about how we could possibly convince anyone to follow the teaching of the Torah and Jesus when opposing and defeating the “bad guys”seems like the obvious way to go. Maybe you believe we must “fight fire with fire.” Only if you want a conflagration. Attacking and hoping to defeat the “bad guys” may give you some ego satisfaction, but your heart will weep.
Closing our hearts by criticizing, demeaning, and attacking “them” only makes us a mirror of them. Maybe you think, “Wait a minute. They really are bad people. After all, look what they have done.” Of course “they” say the same thing about us. Whom are we judging anyway? Ourselves, as Jesus makes plain: “Judge not, and you shall not be judged: condemn not, and you shall not be condemned; forgive, and you shall be forgiven…” (Luke 6:37). And, of course, “they” are actually judging themselves when they judge us. The guiding light of our loving revolution is to “forgive, and you shall be forgiven.”
So how do we become the loving compassion we want to see in the world? Understandably, this may feel daunting and even impossible. It can help to understand what happens to us when we treat others in uncaring ways. Pay attention to how you actually feel when you act in unloving ways toward “them,” such as criticizing, condemning and attacking them. Does excoriating them makes you feel loving and peaceful? Probably not. Contrast this with how you feel when you open your heart of compassionate understanding to someone and give them the gift of caring and kind-hearted acceptance just as they are with no judgment, criticism, or rejection. Feel the difference in your heart.
Perhaps you doubt that becoming the love and compassion you want to see in the world would cause the world to become more loving and compassionate. You may think we need to live in the “real world.” Airy ideas like loving your enemies are crazy and “they” would be overjoyed at how easy it would be for them to defeat us. It does not matter how easy it is to demonstrate that the us-versus-them approach does not work. It still seems better than “them” winning and taking over. If we succumb to this impulse, we close our hearts to “them” and treat them in unloving and uncaring ways, thereby continuing the root cause of suffering in this world for both us and them. This us-versus- them response not only causes us to suffer but also will have absolutely no effect on “them.” Becoming the love and compassion we want to see in the world is the only way that everyone “wins” and our country and the world become healed in love. How can we go wrong when “…God is love.” (1 John 8).
You may well ask, “Loving our enemies may be desirable, but how in the world are we going to do that? They are the sort of people we want nothing to do with, much less love. So what do we do, just stand by and watch and do nothing while they continue their unjust, unkind and hurtful actions?” No, of course not. Loving your enemies means following Jesus’s commandment “…That you love one another, as I have loved you” and the Torah’s teaching that: “You too must befriend (love) the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” So loving your enemies and the “stranger” does not mean doing nothing when unloving acts are being committed but rather acting in compassionate, caring, and nonviolent ways to prevent or stop these actions. It means never speaking or acting with a closed heart and refraining from all us-versus-them thinking and action. Loving one another means to never disrespect anyone by trying to convince them they are wrong and you are right. It means never doing anything that closes your heart to anyone including yourself. Loving one another is not trying to change those with whom we disagree but accepting them just as they are and treating them with kindness, respect, empathy, caring, and compassionate understanding. You don’t have to go anywhere to do this. You can start right here, right now.
Loving the “stranger” and one another as Jesus loved us can be difficult, as I can attest. When I saw people treating others badly and persistently lying, I did not feel loving toward them. I had thought I was a loving person but my reaction of closing my heart in judgment of those who were deceptive, dishonest, and inhumane indicated my love had its limits.
Jesus has something to say about judging others: “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5)
Since I had closed my heart in judgment, I needed to remove the “log” from my own eye before I could “see clearly” and be of genuine service to those I had judged. To do this, I needed to discover how I was closing my heart in judgment and remove its cause. In this regard, I know from past experience that if I have been treating myself unlovingly, I am much more likely to react to those I see treating others unkindly by closing my heart to them in judgment. So the first thing I do when my heart closes to another is to determine if I have been closing my heart to myself in some way. Usually it will be obvious once I look. When I discover how I have been closing my heart to myself, I follow a procedure I describe in detail in Purifying the Heart1to enable my heart of compassion to open to myself. Once I have followed this process, my heart may no longer close to those doing the kinds of things to which I had previously closed my heart in judgment. If it still closes, I have more work to do to by becoming more caring, kind, loving and compassionate with myself. When I have sufficiently healed the ways I have been closing my heart to myself, my heart will no longer close to those I formerly judged and rejected. I may even feel compassion. I have learned that I can only be understanding, loving and compassionate with others to the extent that I am with myself.
If you are tempted to close your heart to someone by rejecting them, remember Jesus’s words to those condemning a woman caught in the act of adultery: “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7). If we cease to throw stones and focus instead on healing our own unloving ways, we will become the loving and compassionate ones who have learned to “love our enemies.” The more we open our hearts to ourselves, the more we can be open-hearted with others and touch their hearts. In this way we can become the love and compassion we want to see in the world and embark on the amazing adventure of healing this country and its people.
Responding with love to the unloving actions of people is not unprecedented. Martin Luther King embodied light and love in his quest for justice: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”2 Mahatma Gandhi, spoke of Satyagraha, which translates roughly as “Truth-force.” He also called it “love-force or soul-force.”3 Gandhi declared, “Power is of two kinds. One is obtained by the fear of punishment and the other by acts of love. Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment.”4 The Buddha agrees: “Hatred does not cease through hatred at any time. Hatred ceases through love. This is an unalterable law.”5
To be a healing presence with those who are treating others unkindly or cruelly, we must be understanding, compassionate and loving with all. Being love is “a thousand times more effective and permanent” than the heart-closing us-versus-them approach. Every time we do an act of loving kindness, hearts will be touched and our loving revolution gains momentum. This is what loving your enemies is all about.
If you fear that being loving will make you feel vulnerable, remember, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” (I John 4:18). Every time we treat others in a kind, compassionate way, we put love before fear. So let us follow the great spiritual teachers and be as perfect in love as we can be. Learning to love our enemies will not only transform them but us as well until we come to the realization that there is no them, there is only us.
The more we learn to open our hearts to all, the more we heal our country and our world. And if enough of us become the love and compassion we want to see in the world, we will see it in the world. If you think this is unrealistic, remember the words of Rabbi Michael Lerner of Tikkun: “Don’t be realistic! We never know what is possible until we put forth and promote that which is desirable and needed.”6 If you wish to join with others in loving one another and the “stranger,” I know of no better way than by joining the Network of Spiritual Progressives.7
Choosing love over fear is a giant leap of faith but what else are we here for? To gain more money, power, influence, and property? Of course not. We are here to become the love and compassion we wish to see in the world and create a revolution of love that will transform this nation and this world. The loving revolution starts right here, right now with you!
1. John Goldthwait, Purifying the Heart (Sri Sathya Sai Books & Publications Trust, 2002).
2. Martin Luther King, Strength to Love, 1963.
3. Gandhi, M.K. Statement to Disorders Inquiry Committee January 5, 1920 (The Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi vol. 19, p. 206).
4. Gandhi, M. K. 1925, 08 January, Young India, page 15.
5. Verse 5 of the Dhammapada.
Dr. John Goldthwait is a former Unitarian minister who became a clinical psychologist. He was in private practice when two extraordinary experiences changed his life.