Haymitch says these cautionary words as Katniss Everdene is about to enter into a deadly “game” hosted by the Capitol. The Hunger Games is a heinous annual event where children are chosen at random from their local district to be part of a bloody televised battle to the death. Only one winner emerges victorious, hence the belief that the other children are their enemy. Haymitch, Katniss’s guide, reminds her of a greater truth: the enemy is not the other children.
Haymitch’s words have run through my mind over and over this past year and especially over the past few months. The division that we feel as a country and in our communities is palpable. We do not feel united–we feel divided. Our votes and polls show our division. Words and messages on social media speak of “us versus them”…hate is spewed on both sides. There is nowhere we can go without obvious lines being drawn. We have to look no further than a piece of cloth on a face (or not on a face) to have immediate alarm and a litany of assumptions fill our minds. I understand the stakes are high. There is serious racial tension, we are living through a pandemic, there is political unrest, these are intense and unprecedented times.
Last week I stumbled upon this quote by Elizabeth George Speare and it really struck me:
“It is hate that is the enemy not man. Hate does not die with the killing. It only springs up a hundredfold. The only stronger thing than hate is love.“
So I started to think to myself…who is truly the enemy? Is it hate? Throughout the pandemic we have seen so much violence and social injustice, and during the most recent events at the US Capitol, I have also seen fear in the eyes of those witnessing the events and even in the eyes of those committing the attacks. To be honest I believe our president has been leading from a fear-based mindset which has created an even more fearful republic.
Politics are not my strong suit–philosophy and psychology are more in my wheelhouse, but seeing hate and fear filling our newsfeeds and permeating all around us, I began to ponder their presence as the true enemy.
Interestingly, Gandhi says,
“The enemy is fear. We think it is hate–but it is really fear.“
Many would suggest the opposite of fear is truth or possibly hope or faith. But I found an interesting perspective that presented the opposite of fear is curiosity. I wonder if the most effective thing we can do in our fear is be curious? Why does this group act, live, speak in this way? What would cause them to make decisions that are diametrically opposed to the way I think and believe? Further, do I know anyone who holds a different viewpoint or who holds different beliefs than my own? Could I find or make a new connection and have a curious conversation with someone who holds a different worldview?
One of the only ways that children survive the Hunger Games is by believing in self preservation. They may appear brave and warrior-like (even groomed as the Careers) but ultimately they must dig deep to destroy a life and that often stems from a primal fear. All of the children in the game must be dehumanized because how else could there be such a slaughter and the person who “wins” live to tell about it? Not to be dramatic, but I believe our humanity and human decency is on the line. We must re-adjust our mindset toward one another…we must not be driven by fear or hate. We must see one another. Not as enemies but we must see their humanity.
In thinking about this, I was reminded of a brief clip from I Love You America where Sarah Silverman was visiting a home and family from Louisiana with whom she shared an opposite worldview. In those seven minutes I witnessed a chasm being bridged. Sarah was kind. Sarah was curious. The people who hosted her in their home were gracious. Both parties humbled themselves to see the other…not as the enemy but a sister or brother.
It takes courage to lower our defenses and move toward one another to find common ground. When we extend ourselves, and face one another, and see the other side, our humility and vulnerability look like love. This past year we have been wrecked by divided households, friendships, political parties, churches, and communities. I believe the human divide is growing daily and the drivers are hate and fear. I am not sure whether our real enemy is hate or fear…but I know the enemy is ultimately not the other children in the game. And I believe the antidote is love.
Love in our homes. Love in our neighborhoods and communities. Love in our churches for God’s sake. This is a complex time where we are not able to be together and invite someone over to dinner or grab a cup of coffee in the same way we could in the past. I know this is partially why we have become even more siloed and hidden behind screens and our closed front doors. I really believe there is a way to make our way toward one another and it starts with a belief that “they” (name whatever group is most different from you) are not the enemy. The corrosiveness of this system works if we stay stuck in this mindset and continue to fight one another and not the larger systemic issues. Our best weapon is love.
There is no way to fully begin to take on the scope of these topics and I know this may seem incredibly simplified or without teeth or a practical application. I know. To say nothing felt wrong. I am deeply disappointed in the current climate and devastated by the lives lost over the past year from violence, the pandemic, and our political unrest. I am grieved by the anger, hatred and fear. My words are a feeble attempt to say in the midst of all this I don’t have all the right words or all of the answers but I do have hope because Love wins.