Howard Thurman on the Contagion of Hatred and the Antidote of Love

Lesson 2: The Antidote of Love 

Emily Morrell

Concept or Focus: What do we mean when we talk about love? How might we view and interact with people we encounter through an imaginative lens of love? How do we deconstruct classifications and cultivate experiences of unity?  

Setting: Adult/young adult gathering; ~45 min-1 hour  

Goal: To explore what ‘love means and how we can cultivate it in our world. Work to make practices of love both creative and tangible in ways that reflect Thurman’s argument that embracing an ethic of love is both hard work and also creative and practical. Connect Thurman’s ideas about declassifying people and experiencing unity to participants’ own experiences.  

Objectives: Participants will… 

  • Share their own definitions and experiences of love  
  • Reflect on those definitions in light of Thurman’s definition of a love-ethic (Jensen, 2)    
  • Identify popular ‘classifications’ that inhibit “mutual recognition” that participants have observed, partaken in, or had put upon them (Jensen, 3) 
  • Discuss participants’ experiences of unity among people whose ‘classifications’ they did not share; reflect on the fears and assumptions that had to be left behind in order to experience that unity; cultivate tools to perceive a person’s ‘center’ and ‘potential’ rather than embracing reductive assumptions 

Materials Needed and Preparation: 

  • Participants will have been strongly encouraged to read Jensen’s essay “Howard Thurman on the Contagion of Hatred and the Antidote of Love;” if possible, have copies on hand during the lesson for reference. White board and markers (outline agenda), computer or notebook paper and pens for participants to use for reflection. Chairs in a circle or around a large table, arranged in such a way that all participants can see and engage with one another comfortably.  

 

Lesson Step and Time Allotted  Teaching Activity  Resources Needed 
Opening 

10 minutes  

 

 

Greet participants and, if nametags are helpful for the group, invite people to wear them. Point participants toward the outline for the class posted on a white board or butcher paper in the room.  

  • Once everyone has arrived, open with prayer and ask participants to share if/how Thurman’s algorithm of hate’s stages might have informed the way they read the news or interacted with current events since the last class.  
Nametags, markers, extra copies of Jensen’s essay if possible  
Reflecting  

10 minutes  

 

 

Before delving into the essay, invite participants to share their own definitions of a love-ethic and briefly explain why they define the word the way they do.  

  • Depending on the size of the group, this might be an activity better suited to small groups who then report back to the larger class. 
Whiteboard or newsprint to write definitions/keywords on in order to share with the entire group 
Exploring 

15 minutes  

 

Move to discussing Jensen’s essay by highlighting Thurman’s assumption that people of faith must “resist the near-irresistible…tendency to become angry, to hate, to retaliate, or to exact revenge” in order to embrace a realistic love-ethic (Jensen, 2). While the last gathering explored the innerworkings of hate, this class will consider the antidote: the work of love. If the group is large, divide them into small groups and invite them to discuss the following questions for ~7 minutes: 

  • How does Thurman suggest that we deal with persons “in the concrete rather than the abstract?” (Jensen, 7) 
  • What role does the imagination play in Thurman’s argument and Jensen’s application of it to love as an antidote for hatred?  
  • What seems like the most difficult element of this love-ethic and the imagination it involves? Why?  
  • How might Thurman’s love-ethic facilitate experiences of unity? How might it cultivate productive conversations about difference and diversity?  
  • How might being familiar with hate, as we discussed last week, make this work of love more attainable? 

After ~7 minutes reconvene the group and ask each group to share insights or questions from their conversations. Make sure that the groups have covered Thurman’s argument about striping people of classifications and the role of creativity and imagination in that work.  

Space for small group conversation if necessary; Jensen’s essay for Thurman references  
Responding 

15 minutes 

 

 

Transition to encouraging participants to look back on their own definitions of a love-ethic and comparing them with Thurman’s arguments about classifications and imagination. How do assumptions about different people or groups affect the ways that the group thinks about the work of love? 

  • Invite participants to quietly reflect for two-three minutes about an unwelcome or incorrect “classification” they have experienced being put upon them. What was the classification? How did it make itself known? What did it assume about the person’s identity/beliefs/status/etc.? How does the participant’s reality go beyond that classification and complicate or contradict it?  
  • Next, invite participants to consider an experience of unexpected unity they have encountered. What was surprising about it? What creative or imaginative work happened in order for participants to feel united with people with whom they did not expect to share an experience? How was that creative work challenging? How might it have been liberating?  

Reconvene the group and invite people to share their experiences of being ‘classified’ as well as their experiences of surprising unity. (If this sharing is better suited to occur in small groups in your context, facilitate that, then reconvene the broader group to hear reports from each cohort.)  

Pens and paper to use for personal reflection; Jensen’s essay for Thurman references  
Closing 

10 minutes  

 

As the class comes to a close, invite participants to wonder about how their own examples of classification and unity might inform a broader love-ethic that meets people where they are—even if that place is “mean, distorted, sometimes vicious” (Jensen, 7). 

  • Guiding questions: how does this ethic of unity and declassification encourage honest conversations about difference/diversity? How might we cultivate more experiences of unity across perceived difference as people of faith? What does it mean to love a person where your “centers” meet, even if that person is full of vitriol? How do our previous discussions about hate inform this work?  
  • Remind participants that the next lesson will shift to Shin’s discussion of Thurman’s ideas of hate and experiences of violence. 
  • Close with prayer.  
 

 

Rationale or Explanation: 

This lesson works to balance participants’ individual experiences of ‘classification’ and unity with Thurman’s broader argument about the hard and creative work of living out an ethic of love in a world full of hate. It follows a similar trajectory as the lesson on hate in order to encourage participants to weave their own experiences into Thurman’s framework and broader argument. This lesson undoubtedly leaves out fruitful avenues of conversation and quotes from Jensen’s essay. If your group’s conversation is pulled more toward examples where hatred has been tangibly countered by expressions of creativity and love, pursue those and leave the lesson plan behind as more of a guide.  

If participants bring up the point of privilege involved in encountering people who express hate and ‘meeting them where they are’ as an act that only people with certain socio-economic, racial, or gender identities might be able to take advantage of and/or feel safe doing, ensure them that the next lesson will work to address those comp

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