In the past few days we have seen more and more tragedy perpetuated with gun violence; more and more hate executed by young white men. There is an epidemic of white perpetuated violence all around us. What are we to do? Some of us are lobbying for gun sense policies, calling on our representatives, donating time and money, and marching in protest. Some of us are teaching about the pyramid of hate and how small acts of bias and prejudice lead to violence, including homicide and even genocide. The pyramid of hate was created by the Anti-Defamation League “in response to the questions of the world community about where the hate of genocide comes from, …that the hate of genocide is built upon the acceptance of behaviors described in the lower levels of the pyramid." This tool is helpful in seeing the escalation of hate.
Recently a dear friend and mentor, George Thompson, asked me to coffee. He wanted to tell me about an idea he had for diversity and anti-bias training. We talked about needing to focus on the positive instead of the negative aspects of the history and perpetuation of white supremacy. So he and I have proceeded to develop a proactive model that we have titled “the pyramid of love” in order to shift our thinking from understanding violence (which of course we must also do) to a proactive model that might teach how to create and teach love, not hate.
Since then you may have heard Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez respond to the recent gun violence with these words, and we couldn’t agree more:
"Here’s what we have to say to all of America’s men and women falling in the grips of hatred and white supremacy: Come back. It’s not too late. You have neighbors and loved ones waiting, holding space for you. And we will love you back."
Similarly she is quoted as saying, "There is a mother waiting for you, I know it. I know there’s a teacher waiting for you, saying, What happened to my kid? What happened to my friend? And we will always be here and hold space for you to come back. We will love you back. You are not too far gone.” (Yilek, Caitlin, The Washington Examiner, Aug 7, 2019).
The antidote to hate is love. So how does one teach love? George and I have created a pyramid of love to envision what this might look like.
The pyramid is rooted in curiosity or openness to the unknown. We are not innately afraid of anything or innately biased against things we don’t know. The emotion or capacity of curiosity is human—we all have it and can encourage and foster curiosity about what we don’t know. Building on curiosity, the next step is to actively engage in gathering knowledge and educating ourselves about others and the things we don’t know. We must seek information and immerse ourselves in the quest to know. Further, being actively engaged means making a commitment to being involved even if it leads to unpleasant realizations. In the world we live in, we will quickly become aware of inequities.
The next building block is to practice equity and social justice as individuals—to treat others fairly, invite others in to your world, to engage and practice social justice. “Social justice includes a vision of a society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others and the society as a whole” (Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice, Adams, Bell, Griffin, 2nd ed., Routledge 2007). As one becomes equipped at practicing equity and justice at the individual level, one can see that there are patterns of injustice at the societal level and we move toward leveling the playing field for all, correcting intolerance and hate at the institutional level and calling for social justice on the large scale, both locally and globally. If we build this world with care, we can achieve the pinnacle of peace, love and unity.
While I myself am a little leery of the “love model” for all its touchy-feeliness, I am persuaded in this time of epidemic violence that we must answer violence with love. We must teach our children to approach the unknown with curiosity and to engage the active pursuit of information and knowledge so we can see and acknowledge the humanity of all. We can achieve peace and unity through active engagement to social justice. “A more perfect union” can be achieved but it will take work and commitment to balancing our freedoms with respect for others and other ways of being. It means constantly evolving and involving those who are different from ourselves and actively engaging those differences. Peace and unity are not static but active states of being wherein love of self and other, demands responsible and equitable human relations.