I recall a moment as a pre-teen where I first understood the concept of nuclear war and that a nuclear disaster could be in my imminent future. While this is chronologically past the Cold War, my constant exposure to news at my house must have flipped a switch in reference to Chernobyl. I remember my parents saying “it is nothing for you to worry about, nothing will happen.” Little comfort to a pre-teen who was suddenly understanding nationhood, political violence, classism and xenophobia at a more complex level. I would often go to my private thinking spot; a wooded ravine outside our suburb to mull over this new information and the implications it might have on my life. I recall thoughts such as “why are adults so selfish?” and “why are they so mean to the environment?” and “what will happen to me and my family?” I recall feeling very alone in these anxieties and perplexed that we could all just go on with Business as Usual despite these global threats.
While this story comes and visits me on occasion, it returned full force as I sat down to write our February blog. I must confess that my late submission this month is in part due to an ethical dilemma regarding wanting to write about love and care in politically fraught times. As our regular blog writer, I could have dove into the month of paper hearts, chosen heart felt poetry or even discussed fundamental skills for our intimate relationships. I could have chosen to elucidate with humour on the many other days that come in February, such as Ground Hog’s Day, Dog Biscuit Appreciation Day or Do a Grouch a Favour Day. Both options, however, seemed too easy given the painful conversations I have been having with many family members, students, clients, friends, and colleagues about the uncertainty, pain, and violence the world is requesting we attend to.
Because let’s face it folks, something has changed. Some are tempted to argue, “old wine in new bottles” as a means to reveal that the xenophobia, exclusionary policy practices, environmental crisis, and civil unrest are just part of the ebb and flow of human history. But new bottles do not assuage old fears or lived experience with legal/moral policies that stripped people of basic rights and protection. The many conversations I have been having share a common root of fear: fear for what might happen next, fear for not knowing how to attend, fear for personal safety, fear that this might get worse very quickly or a generalized fear that leaks into areas of life previously considered safe. bell hooks (2002) tells us that “Dominator culture has tried to keep us all afraid, to make us choose safety instead of risk, sameness instead of diversity. Moving through that fear, finding out what connects us, revelling in our differences; this is the process that brings us closer, that gives us a world of shared values, of meaningful community.”
When we feel powerful emotions of fear, shame or guilt, the action urge is to isolate and retreat. There have been moments when I have turned off the radio when the message was too painful to imagine. As Martin Luther King Jr. famously stated: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere” and a sensitive imagination can make these aforementioned media clips into full dystopic movies in my head. But if isolation and retreat are a default response, then apathy quickly takes root. So how do we attend to love in a time of hate when we might feel fear for action and shame for inaction?
hooks tells us that “Love is a combination of care, commitment, knowledge, responsibility, respect and trust.” Her declaration brings to mind the image of a spider web that can only be as strong as all its parts What would it mean to separate these threads in an intention manner if we are to practice love in a time of hate? For you, the reader, how do you tease apart care and commitment or knowledge and responsibly or respect and trust? How do these pieces speak to your actions today? Which parts feel strong and robust and which require more care and attention?
Of course, to practice love is rarely a solitary act. Joanna Macy and Chris Johnstone (2012) wrote a compelling book around building communities to counter the environmental changes we are all embroiled in and I would argue their lessons cut across all social movements. When you have the thought “I am only one person” how might you imagine yourself as one person amongst many? The authors suggest 4 levels of community:
- Groups we feel at home in
- The wider community around us
- The global community of humanity
- The Earth community of life (p.127)
The authors go on to say:
“At each level, we can apply the implementations of insight and compassion to dismantle the thinking that fragments our world and sets us against one another. The process of building community is self-reinforcing since not only does it contribute to the healing of the world, but it also enhances the quality of our lives” (p.127).
In order to do so, revisiting the concept of hospitality would be important; we must feel welcomed into communities of care and love to feel supported to make change. And these communities must overlap, as new ideas whether from books, blogs, tweets, Facebook, personal conversations, enhance our capacity to be better together, not fearful of one another. I believe I witnessed this on the March for Women only a few weeks ago in Victoria, B.C. and in standing in solidarity for those murdered in Quebec City. For many years, I was under the impression that xenophobia meant to be phobic of strangers, the “other.” It was not until reviewing Lapham’s Quarterly (2017) did I fully understand the Greek concept of xenia, “by which an agreement of guest-friendship binds two men in a permanent and nonnegotiable relationship of hospitality” (p.129). The story presented was written in 438 BC by Euripides, but behooves to ask ourselves, in the name of love in a time of hate, who do we extend xenia to? Are we prepared to extend a permanent hospitality to our various levels of community and how do we do this with love? How do we meet people in the eye with an open heart and compassionate invitation?
At Island Family Counselling, we recognize that recent changes in the political landscape and the anxieties it may provoke. As a collective committed to social justice change, we would be happy to meet with you to discuss this.
Sincerely and with much love, Cole and the Island Family Counselling Family
Euipides. (Winter 2017). Pherae. Lapham’s Quarterly, x(1), 126-129.
hooks, b. (2002). Teaching community: A pedagogy of hope. NY: Routledge.
hooks, b. (2002). Communion: The female search for love. NY: HarperCollins.
Macy, J., & Johnstone, C. (2012). Active hope: How to face the mess we’re in without going crazy. Novato, CA: New World Library.