What's Love Got to Do With It?

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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 Drumpf, 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 Drumpf 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."

Niobe Way is Professor of Applied Psychology at New York University's Steinhardt School and the Founder of the Project for the Advancement of Our Common Humanity (PACH). PACH is a sponsor of the Love Rally taking place in Washington Square Park in New York City on February 14th from 1-3pm.*

*Due to weather concerns the Love Rally is being rescheduled to a date in April 2016.

About the Author

Niobe Way

Niobe Way

Niobe Way, Ed. D., is Professor of Applied Psychology in the Department of Applied Psychology at New York University. She is also the co-Director of the Center for Research on Culture, Development, and Education at NYU and the past President for the Society for Research on Adolescence. She received her doctorate from Harvard University in Human Development and Psychology and was an NIMH postdoctoral fellow in the psychology department at Yale University. Way’s research focuses on the intersections of culture, context, and human development, with a particular focus on the social and emotional development of adolescents. Way’s sole authored books include: Everyday Courage: The Lives and Stories of Urban Teenagers (NYU Press, 1998); and Deep Secrets: Boys’ Friendships and the Crisis of Connection (Harvard University Press, 2011). Her co-edited or co-authored books include: Urban Girls: Resisting Stereotypes, Creating Identities (NYU press, 1996); Adolescent Boys: Exploring Diverse Cultures of Boyhood (NYU Press, 2004). and Growing up Fast: Transitions to Adulthood among Inner City Adolescent Mothers (Erlbaum Press, 2001). The latter co-authored book (with Bonnie Leadbeater) received the Best Book Award from the Society of Research on Adolescence (2002). Way also writes blogs for numerous media outlets including the Huffington Post. Her research has been funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, The National Science Foundation, The William T. Grant Foundation, The Spencer Foundation, and by numerous other smaller foundations. Way is a nationally recognized leader in the field of adolescent development and in the use of mixed methods; she has been studying the social and emotional development of girls and boys for over two decades.