Kindness and Conversation are essential to democracy.
Recent events in Washington DC have been difficult to witness. I watched in horror on January 6th as domestic terrorists filled with self-righteous hate stormed the Capitol. As a Jew, the T shirts some wore that approved of the Holocaust were particularly distressing. I feared for everyone in Congress, especially leaders, and all the legislators, especially those who are women or men and women of color.
I have dedicated my work to loving kindness and to the peaceful resolution of conflict. But when violent armed insurrectionists are threatening murder, kidnapping and mayhem, when a mob mentality takes over, peaceful dialogue is not possible in that moment. We need to stop those individuals, arrest them, and hold them and those who incited them accountable in a court of law.
Are kindness and conversation still possible?
But what about the many other people who share a perspective with those folks and are not themselves violent? Is it possible to talk to them and build bridges? Can conflict management and peace making skills and perspectives be helpful here?
A powerful 2018 TED talk called Why I have Coffee with People Who Send Me Hate Mail offers some inspiration and encouragement.
Ozlem Cekic, a member of the Danish Parliament and a Muslim woman of Turkish/Kurdish descent, received 100s of hateful, racist, sometimes threatening emails after her election. At first, she just deleted them. But, then she decided to contact one of the most prolific hate writers and invite him to coffee. I was intrigued and appalled in equal measure.
When I read her account and learned about the insights she gained by reaching out to him and to other people who called her names, I realized that her courageous approach can help all of us.
- Distancing herself from these people’s offensive views, not from the people themselves helped her listen.
- Realizing that everyone thinks that other people are to blame for the hate and for false generalizations. They all believe that others have to stop demonizing.
- Recognizing that members of all political perspectives and parties can hate and demonize. She saw that she herself holds definitive, extreme opinions about others without knowing much about them.
How does she encourage us to change?
She asks us:
- To explore–Who do you demonize?
- To recognize we all have power and influence where we are, even if we feel powerless.
- To remember that conversation is the most difficult thing in democracy and the most important.
She closed her TED talk with a quote from Sergeo Uzan, who lost his son, Dan, in a terror attack on a Jewish synagogue in Copenhagen, 2015. She says, “Sergio rejected revenge and instead said, ‘Evil can only be defeated by kindness between people. Kindness demands courage.’”
I confess I haven’t had much success yet myself with this type of difficult conversation. But Ozlem Cekic has inspired me to try again. I vow to be more kind, curious, and courageous in 2021. I invite you to join me, if you’re willing.