Lately, I have been reflecting on what I have in common with extremists. It turns out that the list is longer than I thought.
I share their passion for change, an ability to withstand discomfort and a lack of tolerance for passivity and denial. Extremists are people of action. I am a person of action. I empathize with their demand to be heard and seen.
The Southern Poverty Law Center Hate Map shows that hate groups have increased from 599 in the year 2000 to 940 in 2019. My own state, Oregon, boasts 15 groups and Portland finds itself surrounded by and infused with hate.
“What can be done?” many of us are asking. It’s a good question.
The writer Viktor Frankl observed in the concentration camps he survived, that some of his fellow prisoners were influenced by the brutality they experienced and, when given power, harmed others.
He writes, “Only slowly could these men be guided back to the commonplace truth that no one has the right to do wrong, not even if wrong has been done to them.”
And so it is with domestic terror and hate groups—the fear they create gives them great power over us. This is the point of their terror.
In this time of great darkness, there must also be an opposing force of light. That force must come from us.
Here is how we start: Look inward. What are the ways we “otherize” our opposing side? This is where the battle must be fought, in all of us, for our empathy, our kindness, our love, our patience, our complexity as humans. But mostly, for our action. It is inaction that puts us into such great peril.
As a doctor, I accept that the first principle of healing is to do no harm. But what if great harm has already been done to so many? This guilt over our collective inaction cannot define what we do today.
My wish for the new year is this: let us love with the same intensity that others hate.
Let’s all start inside ourselves by choosing love over hate. Today and every day. We may have more dark days ahead, but I will not let my light be put out.
Saskia Hostetler Lippy, MD, is a psychiatrist and community activist in practice in Portland, Oregon she wrote this essay for the Progressive Media Project.