Fighting Hate with Love: A Q&A with Niobe Way

Niobe Way, professor of applied psychology, studies the intersections of culture, context, and human development. In 2013, Way, Carol Gilligan, and Pedro Noguera founded the Project for the Advancement of our Common Humanity (PACH), a think-and-do tank at NYU that draws from the science of human connection to reveal what lies are the root of our “crisis of connection” and what we can do to create a more just and humane world.

This Valentine’s Day, PACH and more than 20 other organizations will gather in Washington Square Park for a love rally – with notable speakers including a Nobel Peace Prize winner, United Nations adviser, and member of the New York City Mayor’s Office – to bring together diverse communities and focus on love triumphing over hate.

Today’s news headlines are often about violence and hatred. What does your research show about how we interact with one another?
The emerging science of human connection, which crosses the disciplines of developmental psychology, neuroscience, sociology, social psychology, primatology, health sciences, and evolutionary anthropology, suggests that our social and emotional capacities and needs are what makes us thrive as a species. Social science research also suggests that we live in a modern, Western culture that disconnects us from our core humanity by privileging the self over relationships and community and reinforcing dehumanizing stereotypes of the “other.” Finally research indicates that we know how to reconnect to our common humanity, via community building and a focus on love of each other across divides, and the urgency now is to move forward with what we know. We are facing a crisis of connection around the world, as evidenced in the dramatic increase in suicide rates, mass violence, sexual assault on campus, loneliness, and alienation, and we need to effectively address this crisis now.

You’ve mentioned that Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new prime minister, is a role model because he leads with love. What does it look like to lead with love?
It means responding to ISIS with welcoming Syrian refugees into his country and offering them housing, clothing, food, health insurance, and citizenship. That’s what Justin Trudeau did. He has shown us, as has Angela Merkel with her acceptance of millions of refugees, that there is another way to respond to violence and war. While Americans are busy thinking about how to build walls to keep out Muslim and Central American foreigners and defending their ability to own assault weapons, Canadians and Germans are busy figuring out how to effectively integrate Muslim refugees into their countries and fighting violence not with guns but with proactive strategies to combat violence at its root.

This Valentine’s Day, PACH and more than 20 NYU and community organizations are holding a love rally in Washington Square Park. [The event has been postponed until April 10.] Why did you decide to have this event?
I realized that there is another way to respond to terrorism, violence, and hatred. I was inspired by Trudeau in Canada and also by the Pope’s visit to New York in which he underscored, with interfaith leaders from New York City, the urgency of recognizing a common humanity. There are organizations throughout New York City who are committed to insisting on a common humanity and leading with love. Thus finding co-sponsors – along with PACH – was incredibly easy. Our co-sponsors include peace, interfaith, youth, and education organizations as well as NYU coming together to call for a love of our common humanity; a love that crosses religious, sexuality, gender, race, class and other types of divides that we have created in our individual obsessed American culture that privileges the self over community, individual rights over human rights, and reinforces dehumanizing stereotypes of the “other.”

The love rally has been postponed until April 10, 2016. For more information, visit the event’s Facebook page.