What is the Opposite of Hate?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on April 10th, 2018.

This may sound like the ultimate contradiction, but I hate the word hate. I truly do. I hate the way it sounds. I hate the way it feels. I hate the word hate. And I especially hate the fact that I can’t seem to avoid it these days. Politically and socially this word has seeped into our collective consciousness at an alarming rate, and while a lot of people have spent countless hours debating how we got to this point, I’m personally far more interested in how we move forward from here. How do we bridge this ever widening gap to find common ground and work together to move this country, and the world, forward?

Clearly, this is not an easy question, and as such there are no easy answers, but thankfully there are people who are trying to find a way forward. One such person is Sally Kohn, a political commentator and contributor to both CNN and Fox News, whose book on this very topic is available todayThe Opposite of Hate examines the current epidemic of hate and its historical and cultural roots, but more importantly, it offers insight on how we can move past this bitterly divided impasse and learn to work together. I have known Sally for many years, and so when I heard that she would be devoting an entire book to the issue of hate and how we can move past it, I knew I had to pick up a copy. Sally’s writing has previously been published in The Washington Post, Fox News, USA Today, and The Huffington Post, but this is her first full book, and I encourage everyone to pick up a copy for themselves. And if you need a bit more incentive, please check out below some questions I posed to Sally prior to this book’s publication and her insightful responses. I know I’m looking forward to delving into this issue more deeply when my order arrives later today, and I hope I’m not the only one.

Jacki Zehner: Hate is such a harsh and strong word that I actively avoid using it because of how that word makes me feel, and yet you chose to write a book about it. Why? What made you decide to address this topic at this point in time?

Sally Kohn: I don’t want to sugar coat the hard reality of what we’re facing right now as a species. And there’s no other word for it, really. We have a problem with hate. We hate each other. And it only seems to be getting worse at the moment. Whether we’re talking about racism or misogyny or Islamophobia or anti-Semitism or extreme partisan hate and bias, we have a historical and habitual problem with demeaning and dehumanizing others based on their identities. A problem that has ebbed but more often flowed throughout the history of the United States and the world, which we’ve at times made progress on however imperfectly, but also are clearly still struggling with. Arguably it’s been worse before but still, I don’t think hate needs to be at its worst now to be bad enough that we have to do something about it.

JZ: What is the opposite of hate?

SK: It’s not love. Not for my purposes, anyway. You don’t have to love someone to not hate them. But you do have to understand how we’re all fundamentally connected as human beings, how in spite of our differences and disagreements — which, by the way, I think are incredibly important and even worth celebrating — we’re still more alike than not and have more in common than not. And we all want a world that’s less divided and less cruel. And the way we get there is recognizing how we’re connected, and studies show when we connect with people outside our own bubbles, the people we think of as “other” we hate them less. The opposite of hate is connection.

JZ: I love that answer and I could not agree more. The opposite of hate is connection. Thank you. So how did pursuing this topic change you and your worldview?

SK: You’d think that writing a book about hate would be really depressing, and of course parts were, especially coming to terms with our profound history and capacity for cruelty. But honestly, I walked away from the process of writing this book feeling more optimistic about humanity than ever. Sure we have the ability to hate, but we also have the ability for stunning kindness, for forgiveness to a degree that I never thought imaginable, for seeing the best in others in spite of every excuse not to. When I met former terrorists and ex-neo Nazis and people who had participated in heinous genocides who had somehow managed to leave entire lives of hate behind, that left me feeling more inspired and hopeful about human beings than I ever imagined possible. We all have the capacity for great hate, but we also all have the capacity for its opposite — and, to me, it’s that positive possibility that makes us all so remarkable and full of promise.

JZ: You have spent a lot of time working as a social and political commentator on various news channels. What is your take on the current state of our news media? How has the relationship between the news media and the government changed since the last election?

SK: I’m deeply worried about the state of truth and fact in our world today, which I still believe in the power of journalists to defend and promote, but has obviously been deeply undermined. And in addition to each of us as individuals standing up for facts and real news, there’s a role that government I think needs to play in working with the media, in a cross-partisan fashion, to make sure that we the people have access to the facts and information our democracy needs. In addition, I also worry that the news media helped create this moment in part by sliding away from an emphasis on reporting toward over-emphasizing opinion and debate — a dynamic, by the way, I still play into. And I think it’s important there be spaces in media for discussing and debating opinions. At the same time, I worry when news media starts to borrow too much from sensational reality television… and then we elect a reality TV star President and it comes full circle.

JZ: Increasingly, Americans are dividing up and self-sorting themselves into groups and spaces where we are constantly surrounded by people who think alike and hold the same opinions as each other, particularly in the online spaces. What are the dangers of this division? How do you think this is effecting our ability to engage and connect with people who think differently about important issues?

SK: I’m an opinionated person. I literally have opinions for a living. That’s my profession as a commentator and columnist. So I want to be clear that I don’t think the problem is people having deeply held convictions and beliefs or even defending their perspectives. I think the problem is when we do so by demeaning and even dehumanizing those who don’t agree with us. And divisiveness — both conceptual and in real life — just makes the problem worse, because it’s easy to be mean to people you don’t know. And more and more of us don’t know people, don’t live around people, don’t work with people, who hold different views than we do. And then we reinforce those bubbles in the news we consume and the social media we follow. Which is why connection is the answer — making sure you have friends outside your political bubble, or at the very least following smart thinkers on social media who come from the other side of the political spectrum. And then learning how we can disagree without resorting to or reinforcing hate.

If you read this, love your thoughts in the comment section. Have a wonderful day.

500 Reasons to Support International Women’s Day

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on March 8th, 2018.

Every March 8th, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, a celebration first held in 1909 in New York, but which was formally declared an annual international celebration by the United Nations in 1975 during the International Women’s Year. Today, March 8th is officially a public holiday in numerous countries around the world, including Cambodia, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Nepal, Mongolia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and there are events scheduled to mark this occasion in nearly every country across the globe. International Women’s Day is both a celebration of the accomplishments of women worldwide, and a call to action for gender equality and world peace, and I hope you all join me today in celebrating the incredible women in your life.

Every year, the United Nations picks a theme for the celebrations, and this year’s theme for International Women’s Day is Time is Now. I can’t think of a better mantra coming off of the year we’ve just had. Incredible strides have been made, yes, but we still have so much farther to go. Gender inequality is not yesterday’s business, it is today’s. The Time is Now. This past year was, for me, the year that moments became movements, and movements are about people moving together towards a better future.

So what makes people move, individually and collectively? Many things, including personal experiences, values, stories of others, and yes, data. Prior to my extensive work in philanthropy, I worked in the finance industry as a trader, and I relied on numbers, statistics, and data to inform my decisions and my actions. As I transitioned out of the financial sector and into the philanthropic space, I brought this mindset with me. Though I personally did not need evidence to prove what I know to be true; that a more gender balanced and inclusive world will be a better world for all, when I truly dug into the research, I learned the depth of the need, the depth of the inequities, the depth of the opportunities, and the depth of proven interventions in need of resources. A road-map for positive change is in the research. It is not hypothetical, it is real. So not only did I search out, collect, and aggregate research and studies, but I shared them. Last year, in honour of International’s Women’s Day 2017, I published the Top 400 Reports on Women and Girls. 

The response to this publication was fantastic, and over this past year it has been an invaluable resource on more occasions than I can count. However, it quickly became clear that 400 reports, as high a number as that may seem, did not nearly encompass the scope of the research available. I continued to collect and gather research, studies, and reports, and before I knew it, that list had grown to 500 reports across 20 different categories, including Arts, Entertainment, Film & Media, Impact Investing with a Gender Lens, Philanthropy, Violence Against Women & Trafficking, Entrepreneurship, and Political Representation. There’s even a section for Masculinity and Engaging Men in Gender Equality.

I cannot promise that this list will be updated and republished every March 8th to celebrate International Women’s Day, but I’m hoping it will, so please send me any missed or new reports for inclusion in future editions to @researchonwomen and #researchonWandG on twitter, or post the link below.

Happy International Women’s Day!

What Does It Mean To Be Human?

As published on LinkedIn Influencers on February 16th, 2018.

I’m not exactly what you would call an early adopter of technology. I love it, but I don’t always take to new technologies right away. That being said, once I figure it out, I usually become a ferocious consumer, which is a pretty accurate way to describe my initiation into the world of podcasts. I may have been late to the podcast party, but now that I’m here, I can’t get enough. Whether it’s in the car, on the elliptical, or taking my dogs for a walk, there’s never a bad time to catch up on my podcasts. While there are literally hundreds of thousands of podcasts to choose from, there’s one that is heads and tails above the rest as far as I’m concerned, and if you’re not listening to On Being, I’m not going to lie, I may be judging you right now. Just a bit.

Hosted by Krista Tippett, On Being is a weekly podcast that discusses some of the most basic, and most profound, questions in life. What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live our lives? You know, the easy questions. Except that they’re not easy at all, and in fact are incredibly complicated questions that require extraordinarily sensitive and respectful discussions in order to get anywhere close to an answer, and this is where Krista excels. Guests on the show range from scientists and religious leaders, to artists and teachers, and while you may have heard of some of her guests, such as Maya Angelou, Desmond Tutu, Sheryl Sandberg, Yo-Yo Ma, Martin Sheen, Eve Ensler, and the Dali Lama, I know I hadn’t heard of the majority of her guests before listening to their episodes. However, after hearing what they had to say, I’m happy that On Being provided the introduction, as their discussions with Krista are always thoughtful, insightful, illuminating, and just downright incredible. With episodes dating all the way back to 2001, there are hundreds to choose from, but if you’re looking for recommendations, please check out 5 of my favorite episodes below.

1) Brene Brown – Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart

I just listened to this podcast yesterday and it is so, so, so good. If you do not know Brene’s work, I’m judging you again. Check out her many books and TED talks HERE. Together, Brene and Krista take on the issue of belonging. It’s a big one and it’s an important one, and it goes to the core of who we are as human beings. Such a great episode. Go. Listen.

2) Parker Palmer and Courtney E. Martin – The Inner Life of Rebellion

I am blessed to personally know these two amazing people, and I cannot get enough of either of them. You may know Courtney from her many books and TED talks, and Parker, well, he is a legend, and one of his many books, Let Your Life Speak, was a game-changer for me when I read it almost 20 years ago. I have listened to this episode over and over again.

3) Sheryl Sandburg and Adam Grant – Resilience After Unimaginable Loss

Sheryl suffered an unimaginable loss when her husband, Dave Goldberg, passed away suddenly in 2015. In this touching podcast she opens up about her loss together with her dear friend Adam Grant. I learned so much from listening, including how to support a friend who had recently also suffered an unimaginable loss.

4) Maria Popova – Cartographer of Meaning in a Digital Age

Before On Being I had not heard of Maria and Brain Pickings. Now I know and I am the better for it.

5) Lyndsey Stonebridge – Thinking and Friendship in Dark Times: Hannah Arendt for Now

There were so many great lines and incredible observations in this podcast that I found myself pausing it, hitting replay, and then pausing it again to process. Here is one of them. “Thinking,” she says, “is not the same as judgment, but it creates the right conditions for judgment.” Since last year was the year I was committed to thinking about my thinking, this podcast was a perfect fit.

Beyond her incredible podcasts, there are many other reasons to jump over to the On Beingwebsite. In 2013, Krista expanded her operations by starting her own production company, Krista Tippett Public Productions, in order to produce future episodes of On Being. Since then, this company has gone on to launch several additional podcasts, conversational and writing projects, and 2016’s Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living, a book that once again tackles the ever simple question of how to live a life of wisdom, and where exactly that wisdom can be found. Needless to say, it’s one of my favorite books and I can’t stop recommending it to everyone I meet.

This weekend, Krista is further expanding her enterprise once more by hosting the first ever On Being Gathering in California at the 1440 Multiversity, and I couldn’t be more excited to be one of the inaugural attendees along with my husband and daughter. Billed as three days of “conversation, poetry, and community with Krista Tippett, beloved teachers from the show and the blog, and the entire On Being team”, I can’t wait for the retreat to get started later today.

In today’s divided and fractured times, I look forward to my weekly appointment with On Being, because every time I finish an episode, I’m reminded that civil, respectful, and productive conversations are possible, even between those who couldn’t be farther apart in their opinions, and this is something that our world desperately needs right now. And in case you were wondering why I’ve been referring to Krista in the informal first name basis for this article, it’s because I’ve been lucky enough to get to know her over this past year and to call her a friend. I can assure you, she’s just as incredible in person as she is on the podcast, so go subscribe now. You’re welcome.

PLEASE share your favorite episodes in the comment section if you are already a listener to On Being, or if you have other favorite podcasts, please share those too. Have a great day.