For me, what happened in Charlottesville last weekend was sickening. I mean that literally. The anger I felt was so overwhelming that it made me physically ill. And I suspect that I was not alone.
Charlottesville aroused the passions of an entire nation. But we learned that not all passions are created equal. Strong feelings of anger like what I felt are debilitating. Hatred is even more so. The haters who marched on Charlottesville may not seem all that debilitated. After all, they got the attention of an entire nation. But what power do they really have? Clubs and torches are the last resort of the desperate. The only power they have is to incite outrage and violence in the rest of us.
“If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” This was the last Facebook post of Heather Heyer, who was killed when a car drove into a crowd of peaceful protesters on Saturday. Although I never had the pleasure to meet Heather, I know that her passions ran much deeper than mere outrage. Her friends, family and co-workers described her as someone who was driven by compassion, a sense of fairness, and love. Heather’s father, Mark, described her as “a strong woman that had passionate opinions about the equality of everyone.” Her friend, Marissa Blair, added, "If you knew Heather, you would know that she loves everyone and all she wants is equality for everyone, no matter who you love, no matter what color you are."
I see Heather not just as an American hero but also as a free spirit. As such, she was not passionate about being white; she was passionate about being free. Rather than identifying with one particular group, Heather identified with all people, especially those that were being treated unfairly and needed her help. And according to her father, Heather had the courage of her convictions. “She had a stubborn backbone that if she thought she was right, she would stand there and defy you.” But, he added, “she would want to do it peacefully.”
Free spirits are passionate about the experience of being fully alive, and that experience is inherently transcendent. We are most fully alive when we see beyond our individual and group differences and become most fully connected: to other people, to the natural world, and to the perfection inherent in every moment. Emotions like compassion, forgiveness, kindness, and love expand us, draw us outside of the narrow confines of our individual identity. And when we do so, we have no enemies in the world—although undoubtedly there are adversaries.
In this case, the adversaries are those who are impassioned by hatred and anger. We are playing a game in which love trumps hate and the object is total inclusivity. When we are able to recognize everyone and everything as being part of the same team, our team always wins. In other words, everyone wins. Rather than the supremacy of a single group, we strive for the supremacy of being, which is something we all share.
As free spirits, we possess the qualities that make victory inevitable, including our creativity, playfulness, and imagination. All of these qualities were on display when Twitter users like “Yes, You’re Racist” revealed the identities of individuals who took part in last weekend’s hate parade. Some of these men were fired from their jobs, disowned by their families, and criticized by their peers.
This is a truly free-spirited way to overcome hatred; it is playful, nonviolent, and extremely resourceful. Imagine all the other ways that future hate parades can be rendered impotent. For instance, what about an “I Won’t Date Men Who Hate” campaign? Imagine what would happen if positive attention and affection were with withheld from those who take part in these parades.
I also love the idea of holding celebrations of diversity in the same cities where these marches are taking place. Thousands or perhaps millions of people could converge for world music concerts, food festivals, or other celebratory gatherings. Instead of drawing more attention to public displays of hatred through counter protests and acts of aggression, we come together to celebrate the very things they detest: cultural differences and the power to find common ground regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, ideology, or sexual orientation.
A Free Spirit Movement is taking shape. We can create alternatives to hatred and violence, and we can do it in ways that are fun, liberating, and—most importantly—unifying. Can you think of some other ways to accomplish this? I have no doubt that you can. We just have to let our imaginations run wild. As free spirits, that type of thing just comes naturally!