Van Jones says “When it gets harder to love, love harder.”
It’s a good rallying cry against an administration and a growing population of angry white supremacists whose ideology is hate.
What does it mean, though?
When it’s hard to love, be harder in your love?
It’s tempting. Hard love is safe love: armored, protected, invulnerable. Hard bodies don’t take the mark of impression: when you’re scratched or poked or pushed, a hard body won’t show a wound. This is what it means to be hard.
In becoming harder, we risk hurting those we don’t mean to hurt because we won’t feel it when we do.
If we’re hard and directed at our enemies, at those who won’t respond to anything but hardness, I say: be hard. But what of the bodies next to us? If we’re hard, we must be aware of the soft bodies around us. That is the work of being hard.
Hard things are so easily made brittle. Brittle love is shattered by the slightest tension, the smallest push. Brittle love is the “but” that follows: “I’m not racist, (but I want to say something racist),” or “I defend your right to protest, (but be nice about it or I’ll stop),” or “Hitler was bad, (but punching nazis is also bad).”
...because they want us to be hard and brittle, those who construct the spaces of the world so that coalitions are hard to form. They want us with sharp edges and corners that will press into the bodies of our siblings, so they can point to us and point to them and say “they did that to you,” and wipe their hands clean, as though they weren’t the ones who pushed us into each other.
So be hard, if you want. If hardness is what you have, be as hard as you can. Love as hard as you can. But care for the soft ones. Remember how to bend.
It hurts too much for me to be hard.
When Van Jones says “When it is hard to love, love harder,” what I hear is: When it is hard to love, love the harder way.
The harder way to love is to be softer than the hard world.
Van Jones says that we should love hard like the mama bear defending her cubs. She defends her cubs not because she is hard to the world, impenetrable, but because she is so vulnerable. Because she feels the pain of her cubs as pain to herself.
She is so afraid of the harm that the hard world will bring to them that she will do anything to protect them. She will feel their hurt as hers: it is hers.
Loving in the hard way means being soft in a hard world. It’s the love that turns our bodies pliant and vulnerable, that causes us to feel the hurt of others as ours. Janelle Monáe says: “Any injustice done to you is one done to me. It should be one done to all of us.” This is what it means to be soft.
Being soft risks being too malleable. The impressions of walls and edges and fingers and eyes on soft, loving bodies remain, but so do our bodies. You can see what’s left behind after moments, years, centuries because we carry those impressions with us. If we’re too malleable, the heat of the hand that kneads our flesh can change our shape.
Because they want us to be so malleable that we feel all pain as the same pain. That we feel the pain of the loss of privilege as sharply as we feel the pain of centuries of oppression. So they can point to themselves and say “we hurt, too” and we have no choice but to comfort them. We must not let that hand shape us. It has a hand in our shaping, but we decide, in the end, what shape to take. We must remain soft without being malleable. That is the work of being soft.
Don’t let them shape you, but don’t let that make you brittle, either.
Stay soft, but become firm: be harder to move. They can press and push and lean their weight down on us and we’ll feel it, but we won’t move. Where a brittle love must choose between moving and snapping, soft love accepts the weight, shifts, takes a new shape, and stays firm.
We plant our feet in the ground. Scarlett Johansson says “Let the weight help get your heels stuck in.” If you’re too hard, too brittle, the weight will break you. If you’re too malleable, you’ll flatten enough for them to walk over you. Be soft but firm: feel the weight of their eyes and the press of their hands in your skin, keep the wound as a reminder to the world. Stay.
Feel the pain of your siblings as your own: it is your own.
My love will be so soft. When they push me into your bodies, it will be an embrace.
When love is hard, love harder: be soft, be firm, stand in the hard world and let it hurt you, and do not move.