“Thus the war of words was over and the naked test by steel weapons so long foretold, was at last to begin. It had happened before in other countries among other peoples bewildered by economic necessity, by mob oratory of politicians and editors, by the ignorance of the educated classes, by the greed of the propertied classes, by the elemental instincts touching race and religion, by the capacity of so many men, women and children for hating and fearing what they do not understand while believing they do understand completely and perfectly what no one understands except tentatively and hazardously.”
This quote is not about the current situation in the United States, though it describes us perfectly:
- the ignorance of the educated
- the greed of the propertied
- the elemental instincts touching race and religion
- our capacity for hating and fearing what we do not understand while believing we do understand completely and perfectly what no one understands except tentatively and hazardously
No, this was not written to describe us now, in 2016, but of the generation that spawned the horrid Civil War of the nineteenth century. It was written by Carl Sandburg, one of the greatest American poets of the twentieth century, in his biography of Abraham Lincoln, “Storm Over The Land.”
I am as culpable as many if not more than most when it comes to voicing, and often vociferously, grievances to what I perceive to be assaults on justice. Like most of you, I hold no truck with the privileged and empowered that use their resources to diminish and marginalize others. Nor do I think we should tolerate it. But to quote another great voice, “Let me say, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, that all revolutionaries are guided by great feelings of love.” (Che). The love must extend across all lines or it darkens.
Debate, difference, disagreement, and principled agitation for change must be done with love for those against whom we struggle or we will sow violence whether or not that is our intent. We are dangerously close to falling off that ledge now, and it may be that the forces that have been loosed upon us will come to violence on their own, even without help. But I still believe, and Martin Luther King and many others have taught it with blood, that loving our enemies allows for their redemption and ours even as it also makes way for justice.
We must actively love our enemies and those with whom we feel anger and rage. We must love them as a verb loves its sentence: with our actions. I am not even sure what that means yet for us in this bitter environment, but at the very least it means recognizing when anger is turning to rage and disagreement to resentment and then doing for others, as we would have them do for us. That is the great antidote. Acting, even if it is just acting, toward ‘the other’ the way we want them to act towards us.