She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisionous.
Brendan Cox, widower of Jo Cox, the Labour MP murdered last Thursday.
How do you fight hate?
Like many other people, this question has occupied my mind in the last few days. The UK is reeling after the murder of one of our MPs. Jo Cox was, by all accounts, a shining light in politics: kind, caring, funny and compassionate are the words used to describe her – including by political rivals. Before becoming a politician, she worked in charity and supported humanitarian causes. According to her sister, “From a very young age, all Jo ever wanted was for everyone to be happy. We were brought up to see the best in everything and everyone.”
To think that someone could be murdered because of her compassion and caring is shocking, yet that appears to be so. The man who stabbed and shot Jo Cox was heard to shout: “Britain first,” just before he attacked. This may, or may not, have referred to a far-right group, Britain First. The group deny knowledge of Thomas Mair, the man charged with her murder. However, reports suggest police have uncovered evidence linking him to far-right and white-supremacist groups, including a USA neo-Nazi group. These links are still under investigation, as is his mental health. However, there is no doubt that when asked to give his name in court, Mair replied, “My name is death to traitors, freedom for Britain.”
Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, the USA is also reeling. The murder of 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando is by far the worst in USA history since 1949. As horrifying as these murders were, the reaction of some right-wing Christian factions is equally shocking. A pastor stood up in church the next day and said the tragedy was that more people didn’t die, and that the death of 50 sodomites helps society. A group from the infamous Westboro Baptist church threatened to disrupt a funeral held for one of the victims this weekend. Thanks to support from bikers and others, they didn’t succeed.
Outrage at these incidents and the prejudiced reactions is easy. Outrage is understandable.
But if we are to honour Jo Cox’s death, and the deaths of the people in Orlando, of Syrian refugees fleeing from war, of school children in Nigeria and countless other deaths across the world and across time, we must go beyond outrage.
I agree with Martin Luther King Jnr when he said: “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”
But how do we do that?
How do we love those who hate? That is what’s needed if we are to end these cycles of violence that consume our world. Compassion wasn’t enough to save Jo Cox’s life. Seeing the good in others didn’t save her either. Yet, I still believe we need to go on looking for the “good,” for the humanity in others, and we need to go on having compassion – even for the lost souls that commit these atrocities. We need to connect with that humanity.
Loving someone includes holding them responsible. In the UK, we are close to a referendum on whether to remain in or leave the EU. As a long-time supporter of the developing world and champion of human rights, Jo Cox was passionately campaigning to remain. It’s possible the man charged with her murder was influenced by hate speech of some Bretix campaigners. Some writers have pointed out that it may not have been coincidence that on the same day Ukip unveiled a poster that has since been reported to the police for inciting racial hatred. But ultimately, he wielded the knife, pulled the trigger and has been considered fit to stand trial.
All of us are influenced by each other, and have been since we were tiny children. From an early age, we learned to please our parents, though what pleased them might vary from day to day and so caused us confusion. We grow up, all of us, with that muddle of confused beliefs and feelings still churning away in the backs of our minds. Science has shown that neural pathways are formed in our brains and by repeatedly having the same thoughts these pathways become stronger. So someone who grew up hearing aggressive and demeaning language is more likely to keep thinking that way.
I don’t know if this was the case for Thomas Mair, or if something else fuelled his hate. In spite of being considered fit for trial, more investigation of his mental health may yet change this. But mental health is not black and white. It is a continuum, and someone can appear sane and yet see reality in a very fixed and distorted way. We all can.
Outrage is easy. Outrage is understandable. Outrage is appropriate in the wake of horrific murders. If we suppress anger, it doesn’t make it go away; while allowing it, welcoming it even, can be the start of a healing process. But if we are to truly heal, we need to go beyond outrage.
We need to learn responsibility.
While you and I are not responsible for these murders, nor for the Standford sexual assault so prominent in the news last week , we are responsible for our responses to them. (That’s partly what responsible means – response-able.) We have a choice. If we dehumanize the perpetrators in the same way they dehumanized their victims, we become perpetuate the cycle. If we dehumanize the right-wing politicians, clergy or protestors, we perpetuate the cycle.
Science has also shown us that neural pathways can be changed, even in later life. I know this is true, because I’ve experienced it myself and witnessed it in many others.
We need to remember this and change the way we treat prisoners. I don’t mean we should let them off with their crimes. While the roots of their behaviour may lie in childhood abuse, this does not excuse it – and being taught that you are superior to other people, with no need to consider the consequences of your actions (as the Stanford rapist appears to have been) is a form of abuse because it robs children of their natural empathy and humanity. We need prisons that rehabilitate, prisons that guide murderers and rapists to understand the consequences of their actions and to face their own repressed shame and pain. These services do exist, and some rehabilitation initiatives have been set up by not by “bleeding hearted liberals” but by conservative politicians who want value for money. Our prisons are overcrowded and current systems don’t work: in the UK reoffending in under 18s is almost at almost 75% in the first year after release.
This is hardly surprising, according to Politics UK: Thousands of prisoners are released every year without anywhere to live, worsening problems of homelessness. Almost three-quarters of those in prison have mental health problems and almost two-thirds have drug problems.
We also need to make changes to how we campaign, politically and in general. I am pleased to see that the British parliament was recalled in the midst of the EU referendum campaigning, so that MPs could pay tribute to Jo Cox. She was a member of the Labour party, and its leader Jeremy Corbyn appealed for a “kinder and gentler politics.” He said, “we can come together to change our politics to tolerate a little more and condemn a little less.”
So much intolerance is to do with perception. Nigel Farage, the Ukip party leader who unveiled the racist poster that embarrasses even other politicians campaigning to leave the EU, sees himself as a victim of hate. And while most political parties have said they will not contest a by-election in Jo Cox’s constituency, a member of small right-wing party Liberty GB, has said he will, claiming that the Labour party has “blood on its hands” and is responsible for the “the demographic and cultural assault on Britain” caused by immigration.
So there is a long way to go.
My first reaction on reading about these two men was disgust. And that’s okay. Disgust, like anger, has its place.
And I guess that takes me full circle. Outrage is easy; disgust is easy. But if we are to make lasting change we need to move beyond this. I need to face my feelings of disgust, my non-love feelings. I need to face the thoughts that run through my mind when I look at photos of the Liberty GB politician or Nigel Farage. I need to notice those thoughts contain almost more anger than the ones I have about Jo Cox’s killer: “They foster this environment. They have the power. He is a victim of life.”
The truth is, I don’t know that.
I don’t know what Farage thinks and feels when he is alone. He claims to be a victim of hate, and it’s true many people do hate him. I’d like to think most people hate what he stands for rather than him, but we’re not always too great at making that distinction.
So how do we fight for love?
We show respect. In the UK, we’ve come to despise politicians, but their job is challenging and, as last week proves, can be dangerous. Within hours of Jo Cox’s death, #ThankyourMP was trending on Twitter.
Also within hours of her death, campaigning organization Avaaz sent emails asking its members to honour Jo Cox by sending messages of love.
I love Avaaz for the way it campaigns positively. I just received another email from them, in which, Fatima, one of the team, writes about a conversation with a cab driver, who had opposing views on the upcoming referendum. This is some of what Fatima says: “The conversation transformed both of us. After listening to him deeply, I said ‘thank you’, then explained why I was voting remain, without rebutting his views.” Fatima wasn’t trying to change the cab driver’s mind, but he did change. She says, “But it’s crazy how just listening to people can transform them.”
This is a powerful example of the importance of listening. As Fatima goes on to say, people want to be heard, and often don’t feel they are. When we listen respectfully, we open the way for transformation, just as Fatima describes.
So we need to learn to respect and listen to each other, whatever our differences. We need to cease the constant blaming, and that includes of ourselves.
There’s one more thing we need to do, and it’s maybe the most important. We need to look inside and face our own prejudices and blinkered beliefs. We need to stop pretending that prejudice is “out there.” It’s in each of us, in small or larger ways. The moment we blame anyone else and see ourselves as superior, we perpetuate the problem.
The changes we need to make aren’t easy. We will fall down again and again. We will have thoughts that shock us and hear others say things that horrify us. But if we are ever to create the societies that we dream of, we have to treat ourselves and others with kindness when we fail. When we fall down, when others fall down, instead of blaming, we can help each other up.
Instead of pointing fingers and shouting (including on social media) we need o face the emotions that make us so quick to judge, so certain we are right.
If, as you read this, you are thinking, “But I am right. They are terrible, appalling, not fit to be called human” just be aware the person you think that about most likely has the same thoughts about someone else – possibly even about you.
In her maiden speech for Parliament, Jo Cox talked about the benefit so immigration and said “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
Let’s make sure that what we have in common is compassion, tolerance and love.
In the midst of hatred, let’s choose love. #LovewinsTweet
This post is written for 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion’s June link-up.
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