For HuffPost’s #LoveTakesAction series, we’re telling stories of how people are standing up to hate and supporting those most threatened. What will you stand up for? Tell us with #LoveTakesAction.
Let’s be absolutely clear.
There are only two foundational forces at play in human development: love and fear.
Our choice of which one to live by has the ability to create either harmony and a deep sense of service and community, or hatred and the narrow wish to protect what we believe is ours alone.
Fear is loud and bombastic but is empty of true meaning. It creates a dead space that has the power to ultimately generate only self-loathing and guilt, which serves to fuel the wish to project further pain on those around us.
In contrast, the true voice of love is softer and quieter but has an inner strength and fierceness that can tear down walls.
These two forces can be illustrated by the lives of two U.S. presidents: Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump.
At the age of 92, Carter remains dedicated to peace-building and the elimination of neglected tropical diseases, which negatively affect the lives of a billion of the very poorest people on earth. He won the Nobel Peace prize in part for this work.
His extraordinary feat in facilitating the Camp David peace agreement between Israel and Egypt in 1972 also serves to show how love works in action.
He did not achieve the historic deal by trying to bully Egyptian President Anwar Sadat or Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, but took the time ― nearly two weeks, in fact ― to sit and listen deeply to each one and to understand their fears and respect their individual truths.
It is hard not to contrast this with Trump, who parades his bullying as a badge of honor and believes America can be strong only by withdrawing its compassion and sense of generosity from the rest of the world.
So what can we do to marshal our resources to confront the seeds of xenophobia, bigotry, misogyny and nationalism that Trump has been watering?
The first lesson is not to succumb to fear ourselves, as this would serve only to create more anger and close our hearts to those who may not share our sense of social, environmental and economic justice.
Our only hope of salvation at a time when darkness is seeping back into the land is to band together and fortify what binds us and gives life meaning: love.
We are not talking here about the sugar-coated love that the corporate world promotes to fuel its obsession with increasing profits through greater consumption.
What we are talking about is the love that we feel in our guts and gives us the courage to stand up and be counted when we know that the foundations of what we hold most dear are being threatened.
First we need to love and respect ourselves, regardless of the messaging society may have given us. As the Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn puts it so simply: “Be beautiful, be yourself.”
This is not self-indulgence. It honors a very simple insight ― that we cannot give to others what we do not embody ourselves. There are too many people trying to change the world before seeking to change themselves.
We also need to unite. This is essential because we cannot achieve meaningful change in this complex and ever-changing world unless we do so in community. And that means reaching out a hand to those we may traditionally have seen as the enemy.
We are increasingly seeing that in the environmental and development worlds, as non-governmental organizations put their mistrust of businesses and institutions to one side to work in partnership to find common solutions.
It is easy to get caught up in the heat of this moment in history, but it serves us well to stand back and calmly watch how Trump’s presidency feeds into the greater forces at work in the world.
Humanity is at a critical crossroads because we are facing powerfully destructive forces ― from climate change and growing social injustice to the mass extinction of species and the collapse of ecosystems ― that will affect the ability of our civilization to maintain its progress.
We can either retreat into our protectionist shells, which will surely speed up the crisis, or we can relearn the ancient insight that everything is connected and that one group or species cannot truly prosper over the long term if others are being made to suffer.
So this is a time of great peril and great opportunity. To be able to prosper, we need to recognize that we have to fight for the values we hold most dear or risk losing them. Our only true weapon is love; it has always been so.
Know a story from your community of people fighting hate and supporting groups who need it? Send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.