Only Love

In the last book he wrote before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

2500 years prior, the Gautama Buddha made a parallel statement in the Dhammapada Sutra, (widely understood to be authentic). “Hatred is, indeed, never appeased by hatred in this world. It is appeased only by loving-kindness. This is an ancient law.” (Bk 1, v. 5 tr. Daw Mya Tin, M.A.)

Though it is said that the Buddha made this statement in connection with an interpersonal feud, Dr. King makes it clear that he intends his statement to be interpreted in societal terms. He writes in the preceding paragraph, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.” (Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, pp. 62–63)

Both statements have rightly become axioms for social activists and they have strategic implications for how we engage. They suggest that the nature of the motivations we bring to our action will have a greater impact on our action’s outcome than the nature of the specific actions themselves.

It should be added that though only love can drive out hate, this does not mean that, for fear of being unloving to others, the activist does not set limits on those who harm others or the planet. Of course, an activist must be ready to say no. But these statements do suggests that activists can be most effective it they learn to learn to say no with love.  

For civil rights activists of the 60’s, this meant to Dr. King that “Our aim must never be to defeat or humiliate the white man, but to win his friendship and understanding.” For the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, this meant framing their campaign as protecting needed resources for all people, even those whose actions would destroy these resources. And for those today engaged in the noble struggle to prevent the construction of a fracked gas pipeline in Lebanon, New Hampshire, it means understanding and sympathizing with the financial and professional forces acting on the projects proponents.

But whatever the nature of the campaign, and whatever the specific language it chooses, radical social action has something in common with a valentine: the message will win hearts and minds most readily if it is sent with love.

With that, we wish you a most happy (and radical!) Valentine’s Day from all of us,