Diversity & Media

Love, Fear, and Empathy

I found bell hooks’ “Value: Living by a Love Ethic” to be incredibly relevant to our current political context. In this piece, hooks claims that “Awakening to love can happen only as we let go of our obsession with power and domination.” Thus, by this statement, hooks sets up a dichotomy in which power is a blockade to love. This is because “A love ethic presupposes that everyone has the right to be free, to live fully and well. To bring a love ethic to every dimension of our lives, our society would need to embrace change.” This change would be the idea that everyone deserves to be equal, rather than operating under a hierarchical power structure. Love as a transformative, political practice would be built around the premise of building each other up. It would focus on the success of all individuals. But, unfortunately, the 2016 election proved that right now, our society is not ready for a love ethic. We are not ready for radical change. The election of a candidate who built support off of white supremacy and the degradation of specific ethnicities, religions, and genders proves this to be true. As bell hooks argued, “Cultures of domination rely on the cultivation of fear as a way to ensure obedience. In our society we make much of love and say little about fear.” It is quite clear that Donald Trump channeled America’s fears. This is because, as hooks explains, our culture is obsessed with safety. Thus, Donald Trump was able to tap in America’s collective fears in order to re-instate notions of power and domination. I would argue then, that in order to eradicate the blockade that keeps us from a love ethic, what this country truly needs is to be less fearful.  My understanding of love is centered around the principle of empathy, because I believe that it is the key to breaking down fear; thus, it has the potential to move us from a society obsessed with power to a society that cares about one another. I think that teaching empathy is a tangible lesson that teachers can institute in school. In this way, it is less abstract than other theoretical politics.

While these are changes that may take years to implement and take effect, each individual has the ability to practice empathetic politics to those in their life. These politics have the ability to be instituted at the individual level; this output is not to be overlooked. Similarly, I think it is important that writers like hooks continue to complicate the notion of the personal and the political; love is seen to be something incredibly personal and individualistic. But, we can make this concept a transformative politics by sharing these ideas and instituting a politics of love. I think even the slogan “Love trumps hate” was an incredibly effective usage of a love politics. This simple slogan was an important reminder that what is occurring in our current political system is far from loving. Love has the ability to trump Trump; to trump power; to trump dominant dominance ideologies. But, we must first start with overcoming our fear through empathy.


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