orlando gay rights protest signI’ve been struggling for months as this election and mass shootings and bathroom bills and all the issues that make the news cycle spin keep drawing lines across my relationships and through my own view of the world. It’s hard for me to reconcile people I love, like, and respect holding views that, through my lens, seem cold at best and downright hateful and bigoted at worst.

It just doesn’t make sense, I’ve told myself. And yet it must.

I’ve known there was some piece missing, some key to understanding that remained just beyond my grasp. There had to be – because the good I experienced in these people with whom I fundamentally disagreed was real.

This week the code was cracked and my confusion fell away.

The dissonance has been within me all along.

The rallying cry of my people–those of us who identify as liberals and progressives–is that love is love. What tears societies and families apart, we say, is the inability to love what we cannot understand, to hate what is different. We’re talking about those people who hate people who are gay or trans or poor or people of color. We wrap ourselves in the armor of knowing that our side is right because ours is the side of love.

Everyone knows love is better than hate.

We were reminded of that this week when a man filled with hate massacred 49 people in an Orlando gay bar. In our collective grief, we unfurled our flags and trumpeted the horns, vowing to continue loving and calling on our brothers and sisters to do the same.

But oh, my friends, how I have hated. How I have failed to love what I cannot understand and what is different from me.

I’ve thrown around the word bigot and distanced myself from friends who haven’t understood racism in the same way I’ve come to. I’ve questioned intelligence, rolled my eyes, and dismissed the cultural relevance of those who would oppose me.

I have not loved my neighbor as myself. Instead, I have joked about the evil that surely must reside in the house down my street where a Trump sign is staked. I’ve never met that neighbor–don’t even know what he or she looks like–but I’ve denounced them as evil in a 140-character quip.

I have been righteous in my defense of love but failed to use it where it was most desperately needed.

It’s no wonder I’ve been so confused. My own hypocrisy has been churning in my gut, integrity fighting to resurface while I succumbed to the basest of human instincts.

I want to do better, but what does that look like in a world where we face serious problems with devastating consequences?

Does loving my neighbor mean that I no longer speak out against men like Donald Trump? Does it mean that I excuse myself from the gun debate or stay silent when I witness bigotry rearing its head?

No. Love means continuing to champion for progress. It means saying what I believe to be right and true even if it is uncomfortable. But it also means refusing to lose sight of the humanity in each of us. It means seeking to understand and remembering my own imperfection. It means finding common ground, always, because it is always there.

My mother taught me that women everywhere are concerned about their babies; they want them to be safe, healthy, and happy. Of course that’s an oversimplification–all women don’t even want to have babies–but she wasn’t too far off the mark.

We want our loved ones safe. Most of us want that even more than we want our own safety.

We want health and happiness. Desperately. What divides us most is how to get there.

I’ve debated with myself whether people in power–or those who seek it–have purposefully sought to obscure our commonalities in an attempt to win some philosophical game. It does seem plausible that very smart people with a lot of luxuries to lose might actively take steps to rally factions and incite segmentation so as to more easily subdue and control a population. It’s not all that difficult to imagine, especially if you watch any primetime TV. But I’ve decided that the motives and MOs of any possible power players don’t matter.

We don’t need to bow to some mystical figurehead in a high castle. We the people have the ability to come up with smart solutions and complicated compromises. We have the capacity to learn from one another, to make progress while conserving what is already good and right.

But it can’t happen if we continue to fight. We cannot work together under our separate banners of hate. Our only hope is love, to extend love beyond what is easy and comfortable. That means checking our intellectual egos at the door, holstering our fear and mistrust of one another, and coming to the table with humility and the basic consensus that all of us want the same thing: to be safe, healthy, and happy.

Perhaps that’s an overly idealistic dream, but what can I say? I believe in the power of love.