CNN commentator and author Sally Kohn shares an excerpt from her book, “The Opposite of Hate,” released in April.
By Sally Kohn
Photo by Paul Takeuchi
A lot of people “know me” as a nice person in my public life, for being able to get along with even the people I vehemently disagree with. As a liberal commentator on Fox News for two years and now on CNN, I developed a reputation as a fierce progressive who can talk respectfully with conservatives, including extreme ones. I even gave a TED talk about how people with the most diametrically opposed views can practice what I call “emotional correctness” — holding ourselves accountable for talking to each other with respect and finding empathy for one another, no matter how strongly we disagree.
Emotional correctness is about communicating compassion and mutual respect, not only with our words but with our intent and tone. I’m still an ardent fan, but I’ve been finding it increasingly difficult to practice, catching myself slipping into anger and swimming in hate. Especially in the last few years.
I was sort of trained to hate. Before I became a television commentator, I worked for 15 years as a community organizer, fighting for policy reform on issues like lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rights, health care, criminal justice and immigration. Right-wingers were my enemies, and I hated them.
I still have friends, on the left as well as the right, who think that hate is one of the most useful tools in their civic-engagement tool belt. But when I became a commentator, I realized that I could have more influence if people would listen to me, which, practically speaking, they weren’t going to do if they thought I hated them. Also, it turns out I prefer being liked, and if you want to be likable, it helps to like others.
But Donald Trump’s election to the presidency of the United States of America made my blood boil. I couldn’t believe the level of hate he so readily and proudly spewed — against Muslims and women and immigrants and African-Americans. I remember feeling dumbfounded when George W. Bush was re-elected in 2004; there was a map that my friends and I all shared over email that showed the United States carved up into blue parts and red parts, with the red parts labeled “Dumbf***istan.” I may not have consciously categorized Bush voters as less than human, but I certainly thought they were less than American and certainly less than me — less smart, less understanding, and, ironically enough, less compassionate. I didn’t think any of that was particularly hateful. I just thought I was correct.
But this was worse. I truly couldn’t fathom that anywhere near a majority of my fellow Americans had voted for Donald Trump, and as much as I tried to pretend to be magnanimous and uniting, I hated them for it. Suddenly, all the partisan nastiness I’d tried to suppress or even solve as a talking head came rushing back to me with even more vengeance. Instead of being a prominent critic of incivility, I felt like I was auditioning to be the poster child for partisan hate. And though I knew this wasn’t the first hateful moment in U.S. history, or even the worst, it felt like the crisis that was bubbling up in me was also bubbling up throughout the United States and around the globe, in politics and pop culture, in sporting matches and mass shootings.
As I would catch myself in these little moments of hateful hypocrisy — whether I was just noticing them more or they were getting worse — I kept asking myself: If I could backslide into such anger so readily, was I just a hateful person? Was all this stuff about niceness and emotional correctness an attempt to mask my true nature? Was it inevitable that the spreading crisis of hate would engulf not only me but all of us? I wanted to understand not only my own hate but the hate that seemed to be engulfing the planet. In writing my new book “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity,” I set out to do just that.
The bad news is: We all hate. All of us. That includes me — and I’m afraid it also includes you. I promise that although this is a book about hate, it will end on an uplifting and positive note. But we first must face the hard truth. In different ways and to different degrees, consciously or unconsciously, all of us, in one way or another, sometimes treat other individuals and entire groups of human beings as though they are fundamentally less deserving than we are.
Sally Kohn is a CNN political commentator, activist and the author of “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity.”
Sally Kohn will speak at the Detroit Jewish Book Fair for an author talk and lunch on Nov. 12. For more information, visit bookfair.jccdet.org/schedule.