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Lions Roar : September 2017
until then, I had considered love something that was in someone else’s hands. They were either going to deliver it to me or take it away. It was as if the UPS person arrived with a package of love, but if they got to my doorstep and decided they had the wrong address, I would have no love in my life. In that retreat, I realized that was not true. Love is inside me. Other people might awaken it or threaten it, but as a capacity, it’s mine. That was incredibly liberating and also a little daunting. Because—and here’s the big question—if it’s an ability, does that mean it’s my responsibil- ity to try to cultivate it, even in dif- ficult circumstances? bell hooks: Anytime we do the work of love, we are doing the work of ending domination. In a culture of domination, it’s extremely hard to cultivate love or to be love. At this moment in our nation, there’s so much disrespect afloat. Respect comes from a word meaning to look at. Right now, we are not looking at one another with loving-kindness, with compassion. As Sharon teaches, you have to practice love not just for the people you like, those who are near you. You have to practice it for everyone. In Appalachia, where I live, I see an upsurge of white supremacy. Prior to this, I felt I was taking to heart the Buddhist emphasis on practicing love. I felt I could walk around Appalachia and beam love to white people. Maybe they wouldn’t respond or they would turn away, but I did not feel fear. These days, I feel fear and uncertainty in my relationship to strangers. So I struggle every day now with how to love the stranger. How do I love people who are beaming a lot of hate in my direction? That’s a really crucial national ques- tion right now. How can we return ourselves to a place of loving-kindness? Sharon Salzberg: Normally, we don’t want to love someone we’re in an adverse relationship with. We may feel it means giving in, surrendering, or giving up our values. But real love means loving them too. An indelible image that has stuck in my mind is of the free- dom riders registering people to vote in the South in the 1960s. One civil rights activist who had been badly beaten was being interviewed in the hospital, and he was radiant. Asked why, he said, “We practice nonviolence.” Where did that come from? I’d have a hard time generating that kind of radiance for a bad cab driver. That shows us what’s possible when we don’t see love as being weak or giving in, but as courageous. If we see love as touching something much greater than our own situation, then it becomes a wellspring of strength. Over the years that I’ve taught loving-kindness, I’ve encoun- tered many people who are skeptical about the whole thing. “If I were to develop a more loving heart,” they think, “I’d have to give more money, I wouldn’t take a stand, I wouldn’t protect myself, I’d just sort of smile.” If we think that’s what love means, what a degraded notion of love we’ve come to! There’s something empowering in recap- turing the word “love” as something strong and unafraid. bell hooks: That’s part of the power of Martin Luther King Jr. that we’ve kind of lost. He talked about love as a transforma- tional source. It’s come down to us as a sort of a watered-down This conversation at the Jewish Community Center in Manhatten was sponsored by Lion’s Roar, in partnership with the Garrison Institute and the JCC. LION’S ROAR | SEPTEMBER 2017 56