In today's political environment, there is a lot of contempt, not love. American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks wants to change that, in part by adapting the work of missionaries to the political environment. His latest book, "Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt," is a call for us to move past contempt and toward love for one another.
Brooks worked as a professional French horn player in symphonies for over a decade. He also has a Ph.D. in policy analysis and focuses much of his work on translating academic and research information into language for the masses.
"Love Your Enemies" does just that. It takes research data and turns it into a plea for us to do what Jesus did but which so few of us do today: to love those who don't love us. Brooks begins by reminding us of President Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address: "We are not enemies, but friends. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection." Brooks challenges us to reach beyond affection for love.
When I say politics, you might think anger and yelling, but Brooks pushes deeper. "We don't have an anger problem in American politics. We have a contempt problem," Brooks writes. "If you listen to how people talk to each other in political life today, you will notice it is with pure contempt."
He calls it a culture of contempt. It's this contempt that creates a chasm too large for the two sides to bridge so they can work together. This contempt also allows us to see those on the opposite side of an argument as morally wrong and full of hatred. This contempt allows us to see those with whom we disagree with as less than, or less worthy than, those who are on our side.
Part of the problem is "an 'outrage industrial complex' in American media today, which profits handsomely from our contempt addiction," Brooks writes. "They make us justified in our own beliefs while affirming our worst assumptions about those who disagree with us -- namely that they are, in fact, stupid, evil, and not worth giving the time of day."
We should not believe them, Brooks argues -- and possibly not even pay them any attention.
The push to love our enemies is not a push to agree but to disagree civilly and thoughtfully. A push to listen to those on the other side -- even when you don't agree with them. The argument Brooks makes is that our current national battle is not simply a political one but a moral one and the way to win a moral argument is through love.
In conclusion, Brooks provides five rules to subvert the culture of contempt, beginning with: "Stand up to the Man. Refuse to be used by the powerful." This is a call to get away and not participate in "the outrage industrial complex." This includes tuning out those in media and standing up to personal attacks on people.
Second is, "Escape the bubble. Go where you're not invited, and say things people don't expect." Most of our country is divided politically and socially by political ideology. The only way to learn and love the other side is to mingle with them. This broadens your mind and theirs.
Third: "Say no to contempt. Treat others with love and respect, even when it's difficult." This is hard, especially when the other side is treating you with contempt. The natural response to being attacked is to attack back. This one takes particular self-composure and prayer -- at least, it does for me.
Fourth: "Disagree better. Be part of a healthy competition of ideas." Brooks argues that we need disagreements to make improvements to our country but we need to disagree in a nicer way -- not personally and not at the expense of name-calling and dehumanizing. Make an argument and make it clearly, but do it with love.
Fifth: "Tune out. Disconnect more from unproductive debates." Brooks notes that, while we might be caught up in the day-to-day drama of politics, for most of us, it's a spectator sport. Not much will change if we move away and take a break, except that we will feel better.
Brooks likens his call to "Love Your Enemies" to missionary work, for those of us who are tired of our current political environment. "Missionaries supply others with a new, clear, and purpose-filled vision," he writes, "and then give them the tools to make that vision a reality."
Let your missionary work begin.