America, It Is Time To Wake Up.

Sophia Fifner. Photo: Jen Brown Photography, Columbus, OH

There is nothing more gut-wrenching than expressing love to an enemy who spits in your face. When the hurt you feel is not just from one moment of pain but from the millions of residual moments that ripple throughout each day, every month, and years. When they’ve hurt you not just once, but a thousand times. When they’ve treated you with vile, knocked you down, and disappointed you, starting with love, feels like the wrong approach.

As a survivor of sexual violence, many would be surprised to hear that I wish my rapist nothing but love and redemption. I wish him love because my heart does not have space for hate. But, let me be clear, especially for survivors of violence who are reading these words, love does not mean staying in a dangerous situation or not holding those who spew hate accountable.

The love that I am referring to is biblical in proportion and referenced in Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech delivered on Nov. 17, 1957. Dr. King preached from the book of Matthew sharing,

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven:” Matthew 5:43–48, KJV

I’ve listened to his speech a half dozen times since the insurrection of Jan. 6. Because, quite frankly, it’s been hard to figure out how to love in a world filled with so much hate. We have reached the proverbial boiling point with our words and a serpentine shape of destruction with our actions.

As we turn the corner toward the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, and for many who are reflecting on where we go from here, let me suggest taking a movement to listen.

Right (Sophia Fifner — Republican) and Left (Crystal Lett — Democrat)

Four years ago, I embarked on a social experiment with a total stranger. She (a Democrat) and I (a Republican) found common ground in our passion for public service and advocacy. Despite the country’s movement toward hyper-partisanship, we wanted to see if we could bridge the increasing political divide by encouraging women to find a common ground. To accomplish this, we freely invited a network of women to gather in my suburban home. In my living room, a handful of women with entrenched and diametrically opposed beliefs gathered around a well-loved sofa and a few chairs. We invited Obama believers and Trump supporters. We invited environmentalists and gun rights enthusiasts. We invited township trustees and stay-at-home moms because we believe the future of our democracy lies in the hands of women.

Group Photo of Salon Lab Columbus — Columbus, Ohio

As strangers, we poured a glass of wine (okay, two or three) and introduced ourselves. We started each conversation with a few ground rules and freely made space to discuss controversial issues like abortion, gun rights, #metoo, immigration and Black Lives Matter. We did not hold back while sharing our perspectives because we were sharing the stories that built us.

While our country slowly pulled apart, we were pulling together. With a shocking display of vulnerability, each month I would hear a personal story that enlightened another’s policy perspective. A harrowing story about domestic violence informed another’s thoughts on stand your ground legislation. I sat in a room with two first-generation Americans with vastly different views on immigration policies, and I was astonished.

Now, I would be lying if I said we left each gathering with minds changed. However, I can attest that throughout every conversation, one theme rang true: we care deeply about our families, our communities and our country. More importantly, we have much more in common than that which divides us.

We paused our in-person gatherings in 2020 due to COVID-19. However, after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the United States Capitol, we decided to resume our gathering once more. Using the same process as before, we opened up my living room to connect. Virtually (and this time with women from all over the country), we made space for women to share their voices.

However, something changed.

Salon Lab Columbus — Virtual Meeting

What I heard was defeat and frustration with those on the other side of the political aisle. In a virtual room filled with a nurse, a former judge and a recent college graduate, each of them shared their reflections on the state of our challenged democracy, and they were tired. They were angry by the partisan style of leadership that plagues both political parties. They were frustrated by one too many conversations met with malicious contempt within their own families. Like many Americans, they were angry about an America, once described as “the shining city upon a hill,” that has become unrecognizable — with only us to blame.

As we worked through an hour-long discussion about our reflections on our country’s future, it became clear that our brief pause in meeting was a microcosm for what was happening across the country. We stopped talking.

America, we have hit the ultimate low, and it is time to wake up. Vitriol is seeping out of the fibers of a flag that should weave us together. And, after the historic second impeachment of a sitting U.S. President, quite frankly, we have had enough.

The finger-pointing, corner picking and heel digging must stop.

Yes, we should speak passionately about our truths and convictions. Yes, we should hold our elected officials accountable. Yes, we should expect more from our national leaders.

However, each of these individuals are elected by a body of proud Americans, and those proud Americans are you and me.

It is time we have a long hard look in the mirror. We have a personal responsibility to build a world we believe in, and if we can’t talk to our neighbors about issues that matter and impact every aspect of our lives with civility and decency, then we are without hope. If we can’t show compassion to those who don’t align with 100% of our values, we are without love.

Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he shared, “Love is creative and redemptive. Love builds up and unites; hate tears down and destroys.”

We must start somewhere. More importantly, it should not take a list of stipulations and concessions to start with love.

What makes our country exceptional is our healthy competition of ideas. Our freedom lies within that system, which hangs on the balance of diverse thoughts and shines a light on the best solutions. We need a country that respectfully depends on you and me. We need a county that relies on teaching civil discourse at home so that when our youth find themselves in a stranger’s living room, they are willing to listen.

As this group of women wrapped up the evening, they proved we still have a future that shines a light on love. Commit to build up love, America. Continue to talk, and most importantly, continue to listen. You never know, all it takes is one conversation with a stranger (or foe) that can bend the arc to unite us.



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Sophia Fifner

Sophia Fifner

I live for the intersection of philanthropy, public relations & politics. As advocate for women & girls, I’m a #metoo survivor & #feministbeautyqueen