Pushing yourself towards understanding the people you fear is the only way to stop the cycle of violence.

Baton Rouge. Philandro Castile. Dallas. Alton Sterling.

Just looking at these names, it's easy to pick sides; to identify with one perspective and defend it until your fingers bleed from pounding on your keyboard.

On one hand, you have black people. On the other, you have the police.

Who is the friend, and who is the enemy?

There is good and bad in every person; in every society. But now, more than ever, recent tragedies mean we're honing in on the bad. We're scared shitless of each other. We feel helpless. To regain some semblance of control, we lash out at one other with hate on social media, or bullets in real life. After all, attack is easier than reconciliation. Takes less brain cells.

It's a recipe for disaster in a country like 'Merica, a place defined by our "right to bear arms." Weapons make us feel secure in a world where we're terrified of a police force who seem to be infected with unwavering brutality and inherent racism.

Law enforcement fears us back, though. We've got guns, too. We can murder as easily and dispassionately as they can.

It's this mutual fear of each other that's escalating the bloodshed. After all, hate begets hate. Vitriol on vitriol creates chaos. Revenge creates bodies. At this pace, it'll keep doing so until nothing's left but smoldering carbon-based mush.

Does nobody realize that in lashing out at people who think differently from us with violence and hate, we're doing the exact same thing they're doing? By fighting hate with hate, we get nowhere except the grave.

During tense times like these where the feeling of helplessness is as common as hunger, what can we do to stop all this?

In the words of a far greater man and in memory of the lives lost to the violence in this country:

"Love your enemies."

It's a direct quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. who delivered countless sermons during the Civil Rights movement in which he demanded hate be met with the much more difficult emotion of love.

It's hard to visualize this right now; this idea of loving the people you fear the most, but his infamous words are more applicable now than ever. After all, the only control we have over these growing tensions is over ourselves. If we can redirect our reactions to injustice towards a more positive emotional spectrum, it might be the only chance we have to stop the mounting spiral of violence.

Dr. King again:

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy; instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

How do you understand someone who fundamentally opposes everything you believe in; who thinks you're entitled to less rights than they are? Who believes you don't deserve to live?

By really, really putting yourself out there. It's not easy, and it doesn't always make sense, but it's effective and and most importantly, non-violent.

Perhaps one of the best and most extreme examples of this "loving your enemy" concept is Daryl Davis, a black musician who has spent the past 30 years befriending members of the KKK in an effort to see if friendship can dissolve racism.

Turns out, it can. His effort at race-free human bonding has inspired at least 25 KKK members to leave the organization, not the least of which was an Imperial Wizard who lead a KKK faction in Maryland where he lives. Davis has even managed to find common ground with notorious racists like National Socialist Movement chairman Jeff Schoep, one of our nation's more prominent advocates of white separatism.

What did he do to these highly racist white people to make them reconsider their position? He sat down with them, tried to understand their point of view, and became their friend.

“I try to bring out the humanity in people,” he told The Daily Beast. "We are all humans at the end of the day. The bottom line is, this country’s getting smaller and smaller. We have to learn to get along. We don’t have to agree with everything, but we have to learn how to respect one another and work for the same common goal. Because the best way for us to be defeated is by dividing and conquering, and we are a very divided nation right now.”

History is full of famous reconciliations like those of Davis. A recent one matched Davis' bravery, open-mindedness and willingness to turn strained relationships into positive bonds.

In Witchita, KS, police and a Black Lives Matter group met not for a protest, but for a picnic.

The event was called the First Steps Community Cookout, a reference to its goal of bridging the gap between police and the community they serve. Taking place instead of a protest that had been planned for Sunday, the cookout came about after Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay (no, not that one) met with activist A.J. Bohannon and other members of the local Black Lives Matter movement. Deciding that a unifying, rather than divisive event was what their community needed in the wake of Baton Rouge, both groups decided to act with understanding rather than rage.

At the cookout, police, black people and supporters of BLM harmonized seamlessly; eating, getting to know each other and having meaningful discussions about about each group's needs and experiences. Photos from the event show uniformed police officers — many of them wearing radios and other gear they use on patrol — talking with smiling residents, dancing and playing basketball at McAdams Park.

The cookout was a hit on social media, with the news that police and Black Lives Matter had come together rising above the ridiculously inane Taylor Swift/ Kim Kardashian drama on Facebook's list of trending topics.

After the cookout, Ramsay thanked those who came — and issued a challenge to other police departments to hold similar events.

Not only did the event spawn greater understanding and unity, but it inspired actual hope, something this country has been low on as of late. In response to one of the department's many tweets about the barbecue, one Twitter user wrote, "This makes me happy! First time in a while that anything in the news made me smile. There is hope."

"It takes two parties to make a healthy relationship," the police chief said in response.

Ex-fucking-actly. If that's not an example of what Dr. King was talking about when he urged his followers to love their enemies, nothing really is. That's exactly the kind of adaptive response to violence he spoke about; the kind of response this country needs right now.

Furthermore, there's proof that the earlier on in our lives we can expose ourselves to people with different backgrounds than us in these ways, the closer we get to ending the sort of black-and-white binary beliefs we're taught to hold.

Studies have shown that school children benefit from integrated schools where diversity flourishes because different races are exposed to each other. They learn side by side, breach puberty together, play sports on the same teams. In doing this, they find that their experiences aren't really so disparate. In addition to working harder and smarter, kids from diverse schools also become more empathetic and less prejudiced. It's clear that when we spend time around those who are different from us, the differences become less apparent.

None of this is to say that people who exhibit biased or hateful thinking should be left alone or forgiven. Instead, we should encourage these people's exposure to the populations they're bigoted towards so they can develop a greater understanding of them. The more time people spend around those they hate, the more they start to accept them as people. Acceptance of their communities follows.

That's why we need to be exposing ourselves to people who are different; getting to know people for who they are, not just what they believe. Loving our enemies doesn't have to mean literally loving them; but making some effort to understand them as individuals is a lot more culturally therapeutic than picking them off with automatic weapons.

Understanding isn't passive. It's not giving up and letting someone walk all over you in the name of peace. It's a fight in itself. Think about how much harder it is to try to empathize or find common ground with someone who hates you than it is to hate them back. But not all fights have to end in bloodshed.

As Davis told an audience at a SXSW screening of his film Accidental Courtesy: "You’re going to be on one side, somebody’s going to be on the other side. Invite those people to the table. Sit down and talk. Because when two enemies are talking, they’re not fighting."