Lydia Gray Rodriguez explains...
The basis of change lies with us. Our thoughts, beliefs and actions are the foundations of our society and system. Hour by hour, minute by minute we’re overwhelmed with information that provokes us into anger and bitterness. A kaleidoscope of newsreels, the buzz of notifications, outrage spilling out from our phone screens. The pandemic, climate crisis, corruption, war. We’re currently at a crossroad: the system is under strain and is no longer a sustainable way of living. If we do nothing, we will face dangerous consequences. But it has become apparent that as much as we desire rapid change and solutions, we can’t achieve this through unguided anger. To reform and uproot our system, we need to base it on love. we must become fearlessly compassionate.
Love is often met with cynicism. Its potential as a solution is never fully recognised and is seen as being overly sentimental or laughable even. Love is synonymous with sex, its meaningless affirmed by pop culture. It has become a commodity, a bargaining chip in our interpersonal lives, where we believe that love will fulfil us in what we lack. We long to be loved yet we’re afraid to care too much. In western society, we don’t view love as what connects us to ourselves, to one another and to our environment. Radical Love addresses love as a revolutionary force. It tells us that love is more than just a fleeting emotion but a powerful experience; a bond that interconnects the private and public sphere. It emphasises the importance of reciprocation, communication and healing. Its concept has been referred to by members of religious communities and political activists including bell hooks and Martin Luther King Jr. The recent death of bell hooks made me revisit her work and her advocacy for Radical Love. Her legacy as an activist and feminist has served as an inspiration to many and her insights on race, gender and class have been influential in political discourse. In her book, All About Love, she describes ‘Love as a practice of freedom’, that it can liberate us from systems of domination – racism, classism, sexism, imperialism. Without love, we can’t free ourselves from oppression and exploitation.
The escalation of women’s violence seen in the past year with the deaths of Sarah Everard, Sabina Nessa, and sisters Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman has called for reform and awareness surrounding women’s safety. Their deaths uncovered how prevalent racism and misogyny is in the Met police force and in our everyday lives. There has been an emphasis on men taking accountability for their actions and behaviour. ‘Re-educate your sons’ became a defining statement for the nationwide protests that followed. On the other hand, what has been ignored is how it is not just a matter for our current generation. There’s an expectation that we can immediately unlearn harmful behaviours that have been ingrained within western society for hundreds, if not thousands of years. The foundations of our institutions, from our education to the justice system, have its roots in racism, classism and sexism. we’re participating in an outdated and dysfunctional world. One that belongs to past generations. We’ve inherited our behaviour from the confusion, trauma and exploitation of our ancestors. In order to understand who we are and to love in this moment, we must confront our past and collectively grieve. As bell hooks states ‘To be loving is to be open to grief, to be touched by sorrow, even sorrow that is unending.’ Rather than viewing behaviour as isolated incidents to be dealt with individually, we should view it as an echo of our past and a mirror to our community. When we don’t openly grieve, we can’t openly love or change. Unhealed pain festers into scapegoating, division and violence.
Loneliness has become a pervasive issue in contemporary western society. Recent studies show that Gen Z is one of the loneliest generations. Much of our social interaction has been defined by social media, where we’re exposed to countless lives daily. Despite being more connected to each other, we have also become more disconnected. The pandemic aggravated this further as much of our communication was through screens. We now face a mental health epidemic with little being done to address this. Mental health is seen as a matter of the individual rather than a public health concern and is often brushed under the rug behind palatable self-care campaigns. In western society, difficult emotions and experiences are pathologised. Sadness, anxiety, death and grief are taboo topics. There’s an unrelenting push for happiness and strength at all times no matter the cost. What we perhaps don’t see is that the rising rate of mental illness signifies the failure of our system. The insecurity, fear and competitiveness that our capitalist system encourages results in alienation from one another. Radical Love requires us to reach out and connect with ourselves and each other.
Over the past years I found myself in a constant state of anger. Everyday there seemed to be something to be angry about. Whether it was an insensitive remark made by a celebrity or a questionable decision made by a politician. I was always overwhelmed and exhausted. It often felt like I was shouting into a void, and it never materialised into meaningful change. I began to question why I was so angry - and who and what I was angry about exactly. That is not to say that anger is an invalid response, but we’re often oversaturated to the point of being engulfed by it. Anger can distract us from what is important. It can paralyse us. It doesn’t give us the tools we need to challenge oppressive systems. Instead, it encourages a pall of pessimism and we approach issues with resentment and fear not with passion.
The absence of love is reflected in the environmental destruction, greed and corruption of our system. What is clear is that it is no longer sustainable. But rather than rushing to fix a dysfunctional system we should see this as an opportunity to create a system that serves our future. But we’re full of self-doubt in our power to do this. We act as if we can’t change things and that we’ve already failed. We’re often convinced that this is the only way to live and that we must accept this. That it is naïve and overly idealistic to believe otherwise. But we are ready for change. Therefore, as bell hooks reiterates in her work, if we want to foster external change we must do so internally. By practising Radical Love with ourselves and each other, we can learn how to be loving in a loveless society.
Words: Lydia Gray Rodriguez