Love As The Foundation Of Social Change

I retaliate against these [modern political] crises with love and community. It’s the only path that aligns with my values. It’s how I feel I can be most impactful.

Hurt, fear, anger, blame, violence, and the reduction of other beings to less-than-human are the tendencies underlying modern public debate. We can’t make the paradigm shift we need - right at the very roots of our hearts and culture - without building a foundation of change upon something radically different. We must be trailblazers and create a formula for change grounded in compassion.

Aggression and division have developed a stronghold on modern, mainstream social justice communities. Folks who are not angry, unwavering, “renouncing,” and “calling out” are told they are not doing their duty as activists. But what about our duty to build a better world - not by shouting over evils, but by loving, caring, and acting compassionately in our communities?

Aggression and division aren’t the radical tools they’re made out to be. Actually, they’re traditions of our culture, emblems of the systems we vehemently oppose - the systems that operate in contrast to human wellbeing. Our “democracy” elects the narcissistic and the privileged elite. Our monetary market system rewards exploitation and encourages manufacturers and service providers to offer the least quality for the greatest profit. Toxic masculinity - in the form of individualism, egocentrism, and aggression - shapes our politics, our culture, and our relationships. Our culture grows more violent, isolated, and anxious daily.

So how do we create change? I don’t believe we can disassemble these broken systems with their building blocks. There must be another way. By convincing ourselves that hostility and division are “the only way” to fight darkness, we play into an insidious trap - a trap that renders us angry and entrenched in negativity. It is a trap that inherently gives power to those who can wield their weapons of aggression most widely: those already in power.

But love and connectedness can’t be exploited in such a way. Love is beyond capture; it is impossible to wield in order to harm others or fracture communities. It reminds me of this passage from Emma Goldman’s Marriage and Love (1914):

“Free love? As if love is anything but free! Man has bought brains, but all the millions in the world have failed to buy love. Man has subdued bodies, but all the power on earth has been unable to subdue love. Man has conquered whole nations, but all the armies could not conquer love. Man has chained and fetted the spirit, but he has been utterly helpless in the face of love. High on a throne, with all of the splendor and pomp his gold can command, man is yet poor and desolate, if love passes him by. And if it stays, the poorest hovel is radiant with warmth, with life and color… All the laws on the statutes, all the courts in the universe, cannot tear it from the soil once it has taken root.”

Love, then, is a force that all the fear in the world cannot contain. So why don’t we see lovingness as a legitimate method for political and cultural shift? Why are we convinced that the only way to succeed on a grand scale is to shout louder?

With hostility as the only acceptable method of change-making, activist communities are collapsing with in-fighting, members foaming at the mouth at the prospect of calling out their fellow members for imperfect jargon or unintentional ignorance. Invaluable moments for potential connectedness are sacrificed for ego and moral elitism. And with every fracture, we become more disconnected from the fundamental spirit that connects us all.

I don’t believe that these tired methods are the only moral methods of change-making. And I refuse to accept the idea that love and peace are inherently privileged ideals. Love and peace - inherently privileged? What a terribly dangerous idea to perpetuate - an idea that plays right into the hands of those in power.

Of course they want us to believe that love won’t make change because love is the only tool that they can’t wield against us. As long as we remain hostile and divided, aggressors will always have the power. To scoff at love is to speak against a value that could reignite the soul of our world.

I have felt the state of my body, mind, and heart when I’ve operated from a hostile mindset. And I’ve felt the state of my body, mind, and heart when I’ve operated in loving communion with others. A safe and sane community can be built only on the latter. Love doesn’t need to be “postponed” until the battle is won. Love is the very foundation upon which all change must be built.

I respect the need for urgency. I understand that people are dying out there, and I understand the idea that the only way to immediately fix problems that disproportionately affect the disadvantaged is to engage “the system,” “beat them at their own game,” and do whatever we must in order to fix it now. But we will not be efficacious in creating long-term change because the systems in power are beholden to the wealthy elite and special interests. Human well-being will never be a true consideration to our current systems because they weren’t designed that way. The ego and brutality of our government; the narrow-mindedness of our capitalist system that values green paper over human life - these systems at their core work against the well-being of all people. So while it may be true that using big money to lobby Congress to pass a bill on (health care reform, gun safety, etc.) may save some precious lives in the short-term, focusing all our efforts in a strictly legislative direction entertains a broken, harmful system and misleads us to believe that we have “won.” It’s only a matter of time before those same tools that aided us then are turned against us - and those disproportionately affected groups - later. Our systems are built on broken values and I don’t believe that we can ever effectively “use them to our advantage” in a way that will create lasting change.

We are afraid of love as a change-making tool because we can’t control it. We cannot wield it to bolster our own agenda. As an individualistic people fixated on personal power and control, the “free” and uncontrollable nature of love terrifies us. But isn’t that exactly what makes it such a powerful force in the mission to create change? Isn’t its inclusivity and community-building power exactly the sort of radical shift we need to liberate ourselves from the narrow and insidious methods of “activism” that segment us instead of thicken us, tire us instead of refuel us, enrage us instead of fill us with hope?

Our aversion to love as a change-making force is rooted in our ego and fear. It we can be brave enough to relinquish our deeply-embedded notions of power and control - the same notions that shape the very systems we seek to change - we can open ourselves to an enitrely new way of change-making that is, at its very core, designed to build community, inspire understanding and empathy, and stimulate generosity and warmth in all people.