Terror has struck repeatedly over the past few years. Lives have been lost. Sadly, attacks by the few can create divisions among the many, expanding existing chasms between ‘us’ and ‘them’ and creating new ones. Hate can spread like a virus. We must work diligently against that trend.
Here are four things that individuals, places of worship, society and the press can do to minimize hatred’s influence on society.
1. Individuals: Get to Know the ‘Other’
Fear and mistrust are usually at the center of widening divides. Getting to know the ‘other’ (whoever that may be in our lives) is a fundamental bridge-building approach. The founder of the Compassionate Listening Project wisely said:
“An enemy is someone whose story we don’t know yet.”
When we reach out to people—either personally or through organized efforts—it is important to focus on what we have in common. Instead of discussing things that we disagree on or focusing on how we believe in different things, we should attempt to engage in small talk about topics such as the human life cycle, the weather, basic needs, hopes and dreams, obstacles and pains; in short, life in general.
The more we can see ourselves, our shared humanity, in each other, the more likely we are to decrease hate and build trust.
2. Places of Worship: Open Your Doors
In the same spirit, places of worship and spiritual centers can open their doors and invite groups they don’t know to build trust through shared humanity.
Bringing groups together is a gentle art. Leaders need to meet beforehand to create acceptable terms and guidelines, especially if emotions are running high. Nevertheless, I have also seen beautiful outcomes when organizations have opened their doors without any preconditions, where vulnerability, humility and generosity lead the way.
I’ve found that it is best to approach something like this with moderate expectations. A subtle lowering of anxiety can often have more long-term influence than instant camaraderie. Creating trust is a marathon, not a sprint.
3. Society: Heal Angry Young Men
The elephant in the room is evident when we dig a little deeper. Most acts of hate and terror have been committed by angry young men who have been poisoned by skewed ideology or have serious mental health issues. Societies all around the globe must find ways to heal young men, give them constructive purpose, make them feel worthy, and teach them compassion and empathy. The technological revolution will bring massive unemployment, and the problem will keep getting worse until we find a sustainable social solution and fully commit to it.
4. The Press: Cover the Harmony
The press quickly spread the news of tragedies and horror and assign blame to religious motivations, if there are any, wittingly or unwittingly fanning the flames, missing the larger picture.
The truth is that violence is the exception.
Thousands of people are engaged in constructive interfaith and compassionate efforts that rarely get coverage. When they do, stories are run as fluff pieces in human-interest sections, portrayed as rare, as an exception to the rule.
The proportions between violent acts and acts of kindness, goodness, and harmony performed by religious and spiritual people have been turned upside down in the media. For every act of violence in the world, there are thousands of acts of benevolence and generosity.
The press can play a huge role in altering the narrative, and they don’t have to look far for encouraging stories.
Passive Hope vs. Active Hope
Hopeful people are often viewed as passive observers, waiting for things to change without effort. They say things like, “I hope things will change,” “I hope we can all get along,” and “I hope the violence will end soon.”
If we are to turn the tide and change the narrative, we must turn to active hope. We must work towards a more hopeful outcome. We must all do something. What I have described above is a good starting point.
Author and Mindfulness Teacher
Amazon Author Profile
- Monk of All Faiths: Inspired by The Prophet (fiction)
- Spiritual in My Own Way (memoir)
- Co-Human Harmony: Using Our Shared Humanity to Bridge Divides (nonfiction)
- Experifaith: At the Heart of Every Religion (nonfiction)
- Premature Holiness: Five Weeks at the Ashram (novel)
- The Meditating Psychiatrist Who Tried to Kill Himself (novel)
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