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Brooklyn Author Sally Kohn pens book about finding common ground among political foes

Brooklyn BookBeat

March 15, 2018 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Author Sally Kohn. Photo by Paul Takeuchi
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CNN’s Sally Kohn is a Brooklyn resident known for her ability to make friends across the political aisle. While establishing herself as a leading progressive voice as a liberal commentator on Fox News, she went head-to-head with her colleagues on divisive issues, engaged in heated arguments — and developed unexpected friendships. 

She went on to give two viral TED talks (with more than three million views) about practicing kindness online and finding compassion even for your fiercest political enemies. But since the 2016 election and the upheaval that followed, even the famously nice Kohn has found herself wanting to lash out at her enemies. She recognized the increased vitriol permeating America’s political discourse — as well as her own intensifying anger — and wondered: Where did all this hate come from?

In “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity,” Kohn talks to leading scientists and researchers and investigates the evolutionary and cultural roots of hate in its most subtle and obvious forms, from implicit bias and racism to violence and full-blown genocide. 

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She travels across the country and worldwide, interviewing fascinating people who have left extraordinary lives of hate behind. These include a former neo-Nazi who began to change his life when a cashier at McDonald’s, upon seeing his swastika tattoo, told him, “You’re a better person than that. I know that’s not who you are.” He’s now a Buddhist. 

She also interviewed a former Palestinian terrorist who, after a prison sentence and even after his daughter was killed by the Israeli military, now works with Israelis to forge understanding and peace. Other stories include the survivors of the Rwandan genocide, including a man who fell in love with and married the daughter of the man who had slaughtered his entire family, and some of Kohn’s own Twitter trolls who expressed regret and opened up about their own personal hardships to Kohn.

Kohn even reflects on her own history of bullying: “I despised Donald Trump’s supporters,” she writes, “and as I caught myself in these little moments of hateful hypocrisy, the more I thought about someone I had bullied at a young age. If I could backslide into such anger so readily, was I really just a hateful person? Was everything I preached about emotional correctness an attempt to mask my true nature? Was it inevitable that the spreading crisis of hate would engulf not only me but all of us? I wanted to understand how hate infects our entire society. And I wanted to know how we can fight back.”

To that end, “The Opposite of Hate” draws on the fields of psychology and neuroscience to explore the patterns of thinking behind hate, such as “otherizing,” groupthink and attribution errors — and how we all are implicated. Kohn then offers tools for combating these tendencies, including connection-spaces (bringing people from opposing sides together), connection-speech (communicating your viewpoint in a way that’s empathetic but firm) and community activism.

At a moment when Americans are facing an epidemic of animosity and incivility —divisive political speech, online trolling and escalating hate crimes — “The Opposite of Hate” is enlightening, instructive and hopeful, providing an optimistic look into one of the most pressing issues of our time.  

Kohn received a joint degree in law and public administration from New York University and was a Root Tilden public service scholar at the New York University School of Law. She received her undergraduate degree from George Washington University in Washington, D.C. Originally from Allentown, Pennsylvania, Kohn now lives in Brooklyn with her partner Sarah Hansen and her daughter Willa.

Kohn will be discussing her new book “The Opposite of Hate” at Murmrr Theater at 17 Eastern Parkway on April 24 at 7:30 p.m. Community Bookstore is hosting the event.

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