How to love your enemies

Originally published in Utah Business.

During a recent appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Democratic pollster Fred Yang summarized the modern political landscape by saying: “You get your reality from what channel you watch.”

His statement does not surprise me. If you watch Fox News, you celebrate our current president. If you watch CNN or MSNBC, you malign our current president. We are, in a very real way, what we watch.

In his new book, Love Your Enemies, Arthur C. Brooks, the former president at the American Enterprise Institute, provides an analysis of this type of “ideological siloing.” According to his writings, he says that not only do we stop interacting with people who hold opposing views but we hold contempt for them. He wants to start a countercultural movement to subvert the prevailing culture of contempt and open up our hearts to love more.  

Mr. Brooks is not a mushy kind of guy. As a social scientist, he loves the marketplace of ideas and believes in standing up vigorously for ideas and beliefs. He says “differences are fine… they are the fruit of democracy.” However, holding contempt for people who disagree with you is not fine.

He argues for a different approach. Mr. Brooks says we should escape the bubble, go where we’re not invited, and say things people don’t expect to hear. “If you’re a conservative,” he says, “listen to National Public Radio in the morning a couple of days a week instead of watching ‘FOX & Friends.’” He continues, “If you’re a liberal, from time to time put down the Washington Post and read the Wall Street Journal editorial page.”

He shares an epiphany he experienced during the last presidential election while presenting at a conservative gathering in New Hampshire. Other speakers were throwing out conservative “red meat” to make people cheer but Mr. Brooks decided to take a different approach.

He told the group that people who disagree with you are not stupid or evil, they are just Americans who think about public policy differently. At the end of his speech, there was no applause but a woman in the audience spoke up, claiming people on the other side are actually stupid and evil. It was then that the audience broke out in applause.

The event had a profound impact on Mr. Brooks. He took it personally because although he holds conservative views, his parents do not. He said, “That lady was insulting my family.”

In speaking about this event, Mr. Brooks shares something his father taught him. His father said: “The mark of moral courage is not standing up to the people with whom you disagree. That might be important. It might be good and meritorious. But it doesn’t require courage to stand up against people with whom you disagree. Moral courage comes from standing up to people with whom you agree on behalf of the people with whom you disagree.”

You may have to think about that one for a moment. Mr. Brooks is advocating for a whole new way of treating people with whom you disagree. He wants you to love them, to listen to them, and to appreciate them for their life experiences, which have been different than yours.

This approach was originally shared with Mr. Brooks during a conversation with the Dalai Lama. Mr. Brooks asked His Holiness, “what should I do when I feel contempt?” The Dalai answered simply, “Show warm-heartedness.”

Mr. Brooks offers several ways to tone down the contempt present in our current culture and embrace warm-heartedness. He says don’t do anything anonymously, don’t interact with anonymity, and adopt the five-to-one rule, which requires that before you say something critical, say five loving things.

To make it even simpler, Mr. Brooks says to do the following: “Go find someone with whom you disagree, listen thoughtfully, and treat him or her with respect and love. The rest will flow naturally from there.”

Mr. Brooks’ message is well-timed, especially here in Utah. Salt Lake City has an open mayoral race this year. By Fall 2019, several candidates in Utah will begin announcing their candidacy for an open governor’s seat. And, Utah is now a Super Tuesday State for the 2020 presidential race, which means more candidates will pay attention to our state.  

Now is a great time to let go of contempt and show love for people who think differently. Let’s change our political narrative into something more worthy of our blessed state and nation, let’s love our enemies.