“Hate” is a Four-Letter Word

“I hate you!”

How many times have you heard a toddler scream this at you after you’ve disciplined them?

“I hate my job.”

How many times has a conversation with a friend started with this gripe?

“Oh, I hate that woman!”

How many times have you heard someone say that about a neighbor with a noisy dog, or a pop star who has just done something foolish?

Hate is a very strong word, often misused and even more often misunderstood.

Not so much “misused” as “overused”. All of the above “hate” statements are really expressions of varying levels of dissatisfaction with people or situations. The person making the statement feels that their autonomy, control, or comfort are threatened, and it’s just quicker to register that with an “I hate … “.

But true hate is something a lot deeper than anything a 3-year-old can muster when they aren’t being allowed to eat Froot Loops for dinner.

Hate is the emotion that closes off all ability to reason. It’s the absolute belief that thet inherent “otherness” in an individual or a group is too deep to be bridged.

It’s the seed that started the Holocaust and tore apart society in Rwanda in the 1990s. It’s the catalyst that makes Palestinians and Israelis strap on explosives and throw themselves into crowded marketplaces, buses, cafes and schools. It’s the engine that keeps the prison at Guantanamo Bay running.

Hate is one of the hardest emotions to confront, both in ourselves and in others. I honestly don’t know how to respond to it, and I think many people have similar feelings. After all, what is the proper response to something as senseless as the mechanized, industrial extermination of six million people? How do you counteract the mass deprivation of basic human dignity and respect?

You can’t bomb it away, or legislate it out of existence, or even ignore it and let it run its course.

It has to start, I think, with one person deciding that they don’t want to continue making the choices and taking the actions that they have been up to that point. It begins when we make the conscious decision to take a hard look at who it is we hate and why.

Hate is a small word, but it’s a big concept, with lots of gradations. “Resent” is one, but that’s not as deep-seated as pure hate (unless, of course, you let it fester for a really long time, and then it can grow into very strange and dangerous fruit indeed).

It’s easy for me to say, without think, “I hate her”. But if I don’t really know “her” except as a name and a few surface details, can I truly hate her? No.

Do you really “hate” your job? Chances are, the answer is no. There are certainly aspects of it—long commute, unpleasant boss, pointless meetings—that you “dislike”. It might not be your “dream job,” either, but if it keeps a roof over your head and food on the table and allows your wife to have access to high-quality health care and your kids a chance at a good education, it’s a lot more than many people have.

One of the most destructive things is when, without thinking for themselves, people simply accept someone else’s hate as their own and choose to act accordingly. This mindlessness is one of the most effective tools that terrorist organizations try to cultivate. When a person simply acts because they have absorbed the messages of hate so completely that their own morality has disappeared—that’s truly frightening, because those people are the most committed to the cause and the most difficult to convince that their reasoning is wrong because they’re not using reason at all, they’re just acting without thought.

I admit that certain people make me angry. Certain situations frustrate me. Certain aspects of my life cause me physical and emotional discomfort. But I choose not to hate, even if I find it very difficult to see the other side of something with equanimity.

At the end of World War II, after the fighting had stopped, the damage that had been wrought by hate was not undone overnight. The conditions that were present in society that allowed it to gain such a strong foothold—apathy, mistrust, jealousy—were all still there. They’re still with us today.

But we can never know how are choice, our example, will move the people that encounter us in a lifetime.

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