How Meeting a Former White Supremacist Changed the Way I Understood Hate
Human beings are glorious. Think about all the random happenstance in the history of the universe that had to come together just right for humans to even exist. My friend, the motivational speaker Mel Robbins, points out that the odds of each of us being born with our particular DNA structure to our particular parents is one in 400 trillion. That’s the mathematics of your uniqueness.
It’s a miracle. And we all have that miracle in common. But recently I’ve realized that we spend a sad amount of our energy—and have spent a sad amount of human history—fighting about our differences. And we’re still mired in it today.
Last year I traveled the world researching my new book, The Opposite of Hate. I set out to write about hate because I wanted to understand my own mind, my own tendencies to divide the world between “us” versus “them.” I did it when I was a kid, bullying other kids on the playground, and I was still doing it in a way when, as a liberal activist, I would demonize and demean conservatives. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t really know how to stop myself.
One of the most interesting things I did during my travels was meet a former white supremacist from Milwaukee named Arno. Learning about his childhood, I kept waiting to hear about how his parents had led him astray, looking for a way to blame them for the path their son had taken. But eventually I realized I could have been Arno’s parent, and in fact I could have been Arno—normal and kind and well-meaning enough but growing up in a country steeped in racism. “The solution to implicit bias is human connection,” Arno said to me. Hate is a problem we all have to help solve.
I don’t think love is the opposite of hate, but I do think we tend to hate others when we don’t love ourselves enough or in the right way—meaning loving our uniqueness, the good and the bad, without confusing our specialness with superiority. Loving ourselves in the singular sense and because of our connection to the whole. Learning about hate made me love my partner, my daughter, and my friends more—but it also made me love humanity more and want to amplify that kind of love.
I worry about how to spread the message of that love not only to the entire world but to my own child. Recently we were in Mexico on vacation, and in the town square of San Miguel de Allende I bought Willa, my 9-year-old, a giant bouncing balloon toy that we played with for about an hour. When it was time to go back to our Airbnb, I told her we couldn’t pack the balloon and that we should give it to one of the many children who were sitting on the curb around the zocalo. We walked up to one child who was maybe a year or so younger than Willa and gave her the balloon. Her face lit up with a giant smile.
On our walk home Willa turned to me and exclaimed, “That was really fun!”
“Yeah,” I replied. “That balloon was way cool and fun to play with.”
“No,” Willa corrected me. “I meant that giving the balloon to that girl was really fun. I could tell it made her happy. It feels good to do nice things for other people.”
What I’ve realized is that the absence of hate doesn’t necessarily mean the presence of love. Not hating someone or some group of people, even a whole race or nation, doesn’t automatically mean you love them. But affirmatively and actively connecting with others and experiencing our common humanity creates opportunities for that bigger love, expansive and expanding humanity-wide love, that emphasizes our connections and safeguards against hate.
This month, when my book is published, I’m throwing two glamorous karaoke parties in New York and Los Angeles because we get closer to the opposite of hate when we experience joy and generosity and connection. For my part I’ll be singing “I Feel Love.” Because now I feel love all around me, in more forms and ways than I ever thought possible.
The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity is out April 10th.
For more stories like this, pick up the April issue of InStyle, available on newsstands and for digital download Mar. 16.