Lately, I’ve been thinking about hate a lot. Fun, right? Unfortunately, hate (bigotry, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, homophobia, transphobia, etc.) has seen an uptick in the past two years, specifically directed toward Muslims and Jews. This is horrifying. As a caring and politically-minded person, my first thought is: How do we stop this? What can we do to reduce hate in the world, and as fast as possible? We know to some extent how hate and hate groups form, but how do you address hate once it’s there? As it turns out, there are handbooks fighting hate.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, for instance, provides a 10-principle plan. Principles include taking action and banding together against hate groups, supporting victims, speaking out, and gathering as a community, among other things. All this sounds great, but I'm only one person. You're only one person. But what can we do, as individuals, right now?
I challenge you to a social experiment. Chances are, you know someone who voted for Tr*mp or H*llary. Chances are, you highly disagree with them. You know you’re right, and they’re wrong, and you’d very much like to never talk to them again, let alone sit in the same room. What you’re experiencing sounds a lot like hate. Can you guess what's next? Here's a clue: You're not going to like it. You're probably going to stop reading. Please, keep reading.
My challenge for you is simple: Sit down with this person, talk to them, and listen to them. Sounds pretty simple, right? Because it is simple. It's one of the simplest things you could possibly do. Yet, in this political climate, we've made it one of the most difficult things to do. This isn’t to say go snag a dude with a swastika tattoo and insist he get coffee with you. It’s not to say you should put yourself in any situation where you’d feel unsafe. I am calling for you to leave your echo chamber, stop ranting on Facebook, and talk to someone you dislike, or even almost hate, like a human being.
This isn't just some random girl's opinion on how to miraculously fix the world (I promise, I'm not that idealistic). I stole this idea. Mindful, intentional contact with someone you have serious conflict with is called intergroup contact theory, and psychologists believe it may be one of the best ways of combating conflict and hate in our world. Politicians and peacemakers intentionally used intergroup contact theory after Apartheid. And UNESCO swears by it. Intergroup contact theory is used around the world, in the hopes that exposure to other people, genuine conversation, and connection will lead to a drop in hatred and division.
Remember the Westboro Baptist Church? Those crazy, hateful people whose Bible verse of the week is “Therefore I abhorred them” (Leviticus 20:23)? Megan Phelps-Roper, a woman who was raised by the church, left after a series of conversations with complete strangers on Twitter. These people talked to and listened to someone who hated them, and someone they were tempted to hate, and that extremely easy yet extremely difficult task changed her life.
Combating hatred in our world is not as simple as sitting down for a talk, and some people aren't safe to talk to or capable of change. Yet Phelps-Roper knows better than anyone else how to have a meaningful conversation with someone you disagree with or even hate. She advises you to avoid assuming bad intent, as most people believe they are doing the right thing. Ask questions and treat the other person as a human being. Learn why they believe what they believe, so you can create an argument they'll listen to and connect with. And, this is the hardest tip, stay calm. The moment you sink into rudeness and righteousness, you knock down all opportunities for connection with that person.
If you're still reading and think this is a good idea, I applaud you. It's not going to be easy, but this is one thing that you can do to try to make the world a better place when it's feeling more fractured than ever. Think you've got what it takes to make the world a little less hateful? Prove it.