What’s Love Got to Do With It?

As he stands there with a wide smile and open arms at the Toronto airport in December welcoming the first refugee families from Syria off the plane where he will not only offer them housing, clothing, and food but also health insurance and citizenship, I think to myself “now there is someone who leads with love.” Justin Trudeau, the prime minister of Canada, has shown us, as has Angela Merkel with her acceptance of millions of refugees, that there is another way to respond to violence and war. While Americans are busy thinking about how to build walls to keep out Muslims and Central Americans and defending their ability to own assault weapons, Canadians and Germans are busy figuring out how to effectively integrate Muslim refugees into their countries and fighting violence not with guns but with proactive strategies to combat violence at its root. They are busy thinking about how to build stronger and more inclusive communities and we are busy protecting our individual rights to bear arms and fighting over whose exclusionary agendas are going to win the presidency. Why are the Canadians and even the Germans in 2015 nicer than we are?

The answers most likely lie with America’s obsession with the self and individual rights to the exclusion of the community and human rights and to the stereotypes we perpetuate of each other. We tell our children not to listen to others and focus on themselves. We tell them, according to a Harvard University Research Study of parents across the United States, that academic achievement is more important than caring for one another. We define maturity and manhood as being self-sufficient and independent rather than being able to have and maintain healthy relationships. We flood the internet and our daily interactions with dehumanizing stereotypes about gender, race, religion, sexuality, and social class that disconnect us from each other and lead to more hate and violence. 

Yet it’s hard to focus on caring and our common humanity when we see police officers kill innocent people, when we know about or experience sexual assault at college, when we hear about young men killing scores of people in schools and college campuses, or when ISIS is beheading Muslims and Christians alike. So, instead, we focus on hating. We hate the men who commit the violent crimes. We hate police officers. We hate the people who live in the countries with wars or the people with no jobs. We hate Donald Trump, the government, and/or Hillary Clinton. We blame these people for our alienation and our dissatisfaction. While some of the people we hate may be truly blameworthy, that’s missing the point. The larger strategy of responding to hate with more hate and violence with more violence is simply not working.

So what’s the alternative? What would Justin Trudeau do? (WWJTD?) What if we responded to the hate and violence by building stronger families, schools, and communities? What if we responded to the next school shooting with town hall meetings to discuss how we can build more connected schools and communities that reach across differences rather than simply “tolerate” (or not) difference? What if we responded to the next terrorist attack by taking in, as Trudeau did, thousands of refugees and provide them with health insurance, housing, clothing, and food? What if we responded to the next sexual assault on campus by bringing together men and women on college campuses to have open and honest conversations about why such assaults are happening? What if we responded to the next shooting of a black man by a white officer with figuring out how to better support, financially and otherwise, community policing that entails officers and community members working together to protect their communities. In other words, what if we responded to the next act of hate with love. It is commonly heard in the news, and President Obama indicated as well, that Trump helps ISIS recruit. Trudeau and Merkel, however, hurt their recruitment efforts.

Martin Luther King said in 1965 in a speech at Oberlin College (where I grew up): “What we are facing today is the fact that through our scientific and technological genius we’ve made of this world a neighborhood. And now through our moral and ethical commitment we must make of it a brotherhood. We must all learn to live together as brothers - or we will all perish together as fools. This is the great issue facing us today. No individual can live alone; no nation can live alone. We are tied together.”

What if we took his words seriously, made a “moral and ethical commitment” to our common humanity, and focused our efforts on building a stronger brotherhood, sisterhood, and a more just and humane world? Violence, suicide, and income inequality would surely diminish. The United States must figure out how to lead with love, as our Canadian neighbors are doing, if we don’t want to “perish together as fools.”

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