“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
For a dozen years, I lived and drove in Boston. The city’s twisting streets, heavy traffic at all hours and impatient, angry drivers are all notorious—and with good reason.
One afternoon, I was driving from Boston into Cambridge with my friend, Joni. We were going to a new gourmet store to buy something extraordinary (cheese, probably) and I wasn’t sure where I was going.
As I hesitated at an intersection, the car behind me honked hard and insistent. I flushed, embarrassed and upset. I continued on and another car nudged out of a parking space hoping to merge into the flow of traffic. I honked nastily to keep her back.
Joni laughed and looked at me, “What are you doing, silly?” she said. “You just honked at her because somebody else honked at you.”
It seems obvious, doesn’t it? If there is a dark place that we want to be lighter, we bring light to it, not more darkness. And yet when there is hate or anger or fear, so often what we bring is more hate, anger and fear.
We see this everywhere: in politics, between countries, between siblings, in marriages, and inside ourselves. One side is angry or hateful and the other side pushes back with more of the same. It’s an ancient response from our threat/defense system and ultimately, it doesn’t serve us.
Anyone who hurts is hurting. Over and over, I’m struck by the truth of this. Tara Brach, psychologist and Buddhist teacher, uses the image of coming upon a snarling, snapping, growling dog. Our first reaction is to pull away, thinking this is a wild and dangerous creature. Look closer and we see the dog’s leg caught in a trap. Suddenly, our response changes entirely to one of compassion, care, and a desire to relieve the poor creature’s suffering.
The next time someone honks at you in traffic, or speaks to you harshly, or even opens fire in a movie theater, think of the dog in the trap. This perspective doesn’t make the hurtful, hateful actions right, but it gives us an understanding that is far more skillful than hating them back.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King’s life and work were acts of love—even in the face of bitter hatred and government-sanctioned discrimination. In both his words and in his actions, over and over, he and his courageous supporters chose love over hate.
If you have it in you to lead a movement, if you have the courage and the vision to step forward and show us the way, please, by all means, do it. But don’t think for one second that leading a national non-violent protest is the only way to change the world. Each of us has enormous power to change everything with acts of love.
How many times have you thought something positive about someone but didn’t say it? Your words have the power to turn a moment from one of fear and apprehension to one of love and belonging. Your actions, too, can serve to connect and support rather than separate. Resist the reactivity: don’t honk your horn. A smile, a kind look, or a touch on the shoulder, can make a positive difference that reverberates out further than you can imagine.
We never know the burden that others are carrying, but rest assured that they are carrying something. Choose words and acts of love to ease it. And while you’re at it, speak kindly and act kindly to your very own self. You deserve your love as much as anyone.
“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Author: Susan McCulley
Editor: Travis May