Learn to love
“How many of you love someone with whom you disagree politically?” author and social scientist Arthur C. Brooks asked an overflow crowd in Kennedy Union ballroom.
As hands popped up quickly, he quipped, “I’m going to round that up to 100 percent.”
With political differences dividing and polarizing America, Brooks is emerging as a pragmatic voice of reason and compassion, calling for national healing based on an old-fashioned, Biblical concept — love your enemies.
If a recent study of political attitudes from the nonprofit More in Common is any indication, he’ll find receptive audiences for his message. Nearly everyone — 93 percent of those surveyed —say they are tired of how divided we have become as a country.
Brooks blames the “outrage industrial complex” — corrosive social media posts, divisive politicians, hateful pundits — for creating a “culture of contempt” where Americans view “people who disagree with us not as merely incorrect, but as worthless and defective.” That’s the premise of his latest book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America From the Culture of Contempt.
“People will often say the country is too angry, too uncivil,” he observed in a UD Speaker Series talk on April 1. “Disagreement is the secret to excellence because competition in the world of ideas is what creates the difference between free and unfree societies.
“Civility and tolerance are low standards. Anger says I care about you, but contempt takes anger and mixes in disgust. If you want a permanent enemy, treat someone with contempt. …Nobody in history has ever been insulted into agreement,” said Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington, D.C., conservative think tank, author of 11 books and host of a podcast.
Brooks, who collaborates with the Dalai Lama on writing projects, once asked him, “Your holiness, what do I do when I feel contempt?” He answered, “Practice warm-heartedness. I said, ‘You got something else? That feels weak to me,’” he said to laughter.
He gave the crowd, largely students, three assignments for changing the “culture of contempt” into one of respect for differing opinions:
Refuse to be used by the “outrage industrial complex” that caters only to one ideological side.
Find people who disagree with you, listen sincerely to their truth and respond with warm-heartedness. Calling social media “a contempt machine,” he recommends “before saying anything snarky, say five positive, affirming things first.”
Express gratitude often, and count your blessings. People who keep a list of things they’re grateful for are happier and more optimistic about their lives, he said.
Pointing to the exits, Brooks asked the audience to envision signs over the doors, “You are now entering mission territory.”
More than a religious message, it’s a way to live your life, he contended. “If you have something good and true, something that brings you happiness, you’ve got to share that,” he said.
“When you leave here tonight, remember that we are all entering mission territory.”