As a journalist in the war-torn Balkans, one of my closest relationships was with a "fixer." That's an all-around term for driver, interpreter, cultural consultant and impromptu investigator.
My fixer was a 50-something Albanian taxi-driver with mild manners and a pleasant grandfatherly face. We went through plenty of scrapes together, walking in single file to avoid landmines, driving fast down sniper-seeded roads, crossing the front-lines from one warring camp to another.
My fixer's sympathies could have been with the Albanian rebels and against the Macedonian home guard they were fighting at the time. He agreed that Albanians faced discrimination.
But he refused to take a side and felt that the rebels' violent radicalism would only harm his people. He could speak fluent Macedonian and often passed as Macedonian to keep us safe when we encountered pro-government patrols.
I recall how we once narrowly made it across the front, only to find that the first rebel sentry was a boy from my fixer's old neighborhood. Joy at meeting a good neighbor kid wrestled in his tone and expression with shock that someone he knew well had taken up violence.
But after only six months of war with a few hundred dead on both sides, I sat in a baklava shop with the old man and he told me that he was now ready to support the rebels. Too much hurt had been done. He was depressed, having been pushed beyond some limit that allowed him to contemplate acting in a way he once saw as wrong.
Three years later, I too had been pushed, though not that far. My journalism job had evaporated with most others of my generation. I was on the streets of Prague holding a hand-drawn sign to protest the invasion of Iraq.
By my side, was another man in the process of being pushed--an Iraqi refugee who had helped our international peace group on several occasions. His younger brother had been shot and killed by American soldiers in Iraq a few days earlier and I was one of the first people he called, an honor I wasn't sure I deserved.
These are the memories that come back to me when I watch clashes in American streets, neighborhoods universities and town hall meetings today.
Two lines of demonstrators facing off, spitting curse words at each other, fists clenched. One group has t-shirts with the name of Trump emblazoned on them and stars and stripes across their shoulders. The other group has a motley array of colorful clothing and scarves over their mouths.
One of the Trump supporters gets particularly excited, yelling insults and inching ahead of his fellows. Faster than thought, a silver snake lashes out from the rank of colorful protesters and blood wells from a lash on the man's head. He cuts off a howl of pain and curls in on himself retreating back behind the lines.
The cell phone camera follows and his friends cry out for an ambulance. The buzz of anger is at fever pitch. In the camp of the Trump supporters there is injured solidarity and iron conviction.
How many times have I seen this animosity play out? in different cultures and contexts, in different languages, and yet it's all the same. Hate on both sides.
I'm not a saint myself. I can hate if pushed far enough. I can feel it surge up inside me. And then I force myself to stop and to ask who is really doing the pushing. Those I am pushed against, are they really the ones I should hate?
In the days after the election I caught the brunt of just such hate. A friend from my days as a journalist covering inter-ethnic conflict in Eastern Europe turned on me on social media, ripping me for being "white" and declaring "You have been told your voice is not welcome here! Do not speak to me."
We were both devastated by the election of Donald Trump. My friend had been pushed hard and long. I saw that and I didn't strike back. But the pushers of hate won anyway because the divide between us is still there.
I can't blame others because I have been there. As a child with a somewhat visible disability, I was heavily ostracized in public schools. Most of my friends had to pretend not to be my friends in school to avoid the same physical and verbal abuse that I endured.
I remember one day in seventh grade with painful clarity. I had found a place where I could withdraw into myself during the lunch period. I would huddle on the steps of a stage set up in the cafeteria and draw with my treasured set of colored pencils. It may seem pitiful to describe, but to me it was solace and a delightful respite from the rest of the day.
I sat there most days, ignoring the saliva, random kicks and insults hurled my way by other kids who had been ingrained with the idea that what is different or outside the herd is both disgusting and threatening. But on this particular day, my drawing was interrupted abruptly when someone came flying down the steps above me and landed on top of me, scattering and breaking my expensive colored pencils.
I had ignored it. I had let the insults roll off my shoulders. All year I had kept my head down. And then I snapped. I was a tough kid, brought up with hard physical work and most days outdoors in the mountains. I grabbed the skinny town kid by the collar and hit him and hit him and hit him.
It was the first and the last time I ever did such a thing and I pummeled his bent back, until a teacher hauled me away. The kid, a quiet, physically weak nerd, was bruised on his back. He had been seized by several bullies and thrown down the steps onto me.
I don't know the boy's name. What I know is that we should have been friends. We were natural allies, set against one another by those who push hate.
In the wider world today, I see this happening all the time. One group of the defrauded and abused is thrown against another group of the oppressed and beaten. And it is hard to stop and think. Very hard. You've been ignoring it and letting it roll off your shoulders for decades, not just one day.
It is very hard to stop.
But what if I had been paying better attention in seventh grade? What if I had stopped to find out what happened and offered friendship instead of retaliation?
What if supporters of Bernie Sanders listened to Trump-voting coal miners the way Bernie did at one town hall that ended with both sides agreeing that single-payer health care is in their common interest? What if white women who desperately wanted a female president took the time to see how similar their needs are to women and even men of color?
No matter which examples I give, someone is likely to feel put upon. Both sides have a choice but the biggest opportunity for resisting bullies lies with the one who is about to strike back, the one who currently feels most wronged. If you feel pushed around, silenced and beaten down, then it is likely that you are currently the one with the greatest chance to reach out a hand in friendship to someone who has been pushed on top of you by a bully.
Resist the burning desire to strike back. Yes, resist. Stop and make sure you are not striking a potential ally--someone who is not winning in today's system, even if they appear better off then you.
The bullies are pushing us around and as much as we talk about resistance, we are still striking at each other as often as we strike at the bullies.
First, we must know what is our core need, that which goes beyond politics. We need a way to live and relieve suffering. Second, we must avoid becoming like the bullies at all cost.