How to Wage Peace in the New Year: Three Things to Stop (and Start) Doing in 2018

Last year, a friend introduced me to the idea of unconditional hope. It resonated with me because last year was discouraging. There were chemical attacks in Syria, Nazi marches in Charlottesville, hundreds of civilians killed by American airstrikes in Mosul and Raqqa, violent political clashes, mass shootings, threats of nuclear war…. I could keep going, but you remember. You were there.

Even the most determined among us are tired, worn out, and overwhelmed. Where do we go from here? And should we even try? Maybe we should just bury our head in the sand, make our life as comfortable as possible, and hope it all magically gets better.

Resist that urge, my friends. This year, resolve to have unconditional hope.

Because our hope doesn’t depend on the odds or on current events or political power. Hope comes from knowing that if we live with love, we cannot lose. Even when it feels like we are.

That’s the beauty of rejecting an “us versus them” view of the world. If we stop trying to “win” and change our goal to loving the person in front of us every chance we get, there’s no way to lose.

So this year, stop trying to win—at church, at family dinner, at being the most politically correct, or determining what’s morally right—and choose to love anyway. With your neighbor, your parents, your coworker who drives you crazy. But also with whoever is “the other” to you. Undocumented families, conservative evangelical Christians, liberal protesters, Muslim immigrants, gun-rights activists, LGBTQ people.

Love anyway by getting to know people and seeking to understand them.

You don’t have to agree—you can even vote against their candidate or protest what they stand for—but you need to love them. You need to see them as a person and care about their wellbeing as much as anybody else’s. This is how we bring hope, light, and love to our world.

Here are a few practical ways to do that this year—three things you can stop doing and three things you can start doing in their place:

Stop calling names and start learning people’s names.

It’s dehumanizing to categorize someone as simply a “Trump supporter” or a “liberal leftist” or “Muslim” or an “immigrant” and assume you know everything about them. People are more than their vote, more than their race, more than their religion. Learn the names of the unarmed black men who were murdered by police this year and learn the names of the police officers who were killed in the line of duty. Learn the names of the immigrants in your neighborhood, your neighbor with the “Make America Great Again” hat, and the couple down the street flying the rainbow flag.

Stop dismissing views you disagree with and start learning about them. 

Whatever issue people are fighting about—if it feels simple, that’s usually a good sign we don’t know enough about it yet. Start reading other news sources to try to stand in someone else’s shoes and see it the way they see it. Get outside your echo chamber. Listen to conservative radio instead of NPR (or vice-versa.) If you still think the people on the “other side” are idiots, keep listening.

Here’s a good rule of thumb: you’re not ready to discuss an issue in public (or on Facebook) until you understand it well enough that you can argue both sides of it.

Stop arguing on the internet and start having conversations #IRL.

Instead of spouting off our opinions on Facebook or Twitter, let’s go have a conversation with someone who sees the world differently. Actually, “conversation” is the wrong word—just listen and be curious. Then post about what you learned, what you were thinking, and how you were changed.

It will be far more constructive for you and for the rest of us. Very few people are changed because of an argument on Facebook, but we are often changed by face-to-face interactions with those who are different from us. And that’s a good thing.

“If we live with love, we cannot lose.”

Remember—if there is going to be mercy in a broken, divided world, then we have to live it. If there is going to be hope for the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible, we have to create it. If there is going to be light in the ever-growing darkness, we have to be it.

This year, let’s be the people who practice unconditional hope. Who bring light to the darkness. Who listen instead of yelling. Who love anyway. The world needs it right now.

Featured image by Astrid WestvangCC BY-NC-ND 2.0