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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss


Updated: Jul 14, 2020

It is hard to avoid expressions of hatred, in the news, on social media, even in everyday life. Of course, there is nothing new about it, but the extreme polarization we have been experiencing in our country and our world has risen to a new crescendo in recent months. It is far more than political in nature, although it is exploited by politicians and others for their own ends—and surely it is condoned even at the highest levels of our government.

I understand the emotional climate and must admit that at times I find myself so angered by the expressions of intolerance, racism, and brutality that is commonplace of late I too feel the temptation to react. So, when I see or hear someone wish ill to those who protest, or those who threaten protestors; to those who harbor opposing political views, or those of a different race or religious belief, I can feel the bile rising in my own throat.

I am no better than most, worse than many when I examine my own actions over the years. Although I can honestly say I try not to feel hatred—even repulsion when I am exposed to violent, malign behavior it is hard to resist. What stops me in the end is the realization that hatred is self-perpetuating. We hate one thing, perhaps something so evil that it is impossible to feel anything but overwhelming anger, but it never ends there. Slowly but surely the circle of things and people we hate widens until it is no longer possible to see anything clearly and we become the kind of person we most revile.

I can’t and won’t stop resisting hatred—and those who give voice to it in word and deed. Nor am I prepared to say that there is good in everyone, though I understand that to some extent we are products of our upbringing and surroundings. I know too many people who grew up in households filled with bigotry, vile and despicable racism and extreme prejudice yet are among the most decent, kind and forgiving souls I have ever known. I do not know their journey—I was never taught to think that way but I know that I am far from a model for anyone. If it is possible that these individuals were able to free themselves from the environment in which they were raised it remains that others have not.

In every case those who freed themselves from the tyranny of hatred began the long climb out of their personal darkness with a question. Why is this person or thing hateful? When we move beyond the emotion of hatred to the issue of hatred, we come to the realization that fear, lack of self-esteem, envy, a sense of powerlessness, and a dozen other negative feelings are the seeds of hatred. The demonization that follows endows the subject of our emotions with power and as our hatred grows so does our perception of the threat the hated object or person poses. No one is cured of hatred by hatred in response, it only guarantees perpetuation.

The only way to escape is to reduce haters to what they are—to rob them of the power they wield. And we can only do this by refusing to hate them back. Now please do not misunderstand me—I am not suggesting we ignore hatred or find excuses for it. Hatred must be resisted, forever. But the only way to end a cycle of hatred is to refuse to engage. Sadly, there will always be haters among us, but we can create an environment where expressions of hatred are so universally condemned that they find little fertile ground. And we can respond to the underlying emotions and treat others—yes even those who we may find vile, with empathy. Empathy for their weakness, empathy for their resentment, anger, self -loathing, fear and the sense of powerlessness that has made them what they are.

Most of us have had a feeling akin to one or more of these emotions at some time—we know what it is to be demeaned, shunned or worse—and we know the sense of injustice we felt and perhaps gave voice to a moment of anger. If we know this about ourselves then we must acknowledge it in others and move past hate for hate.

None of this is easy. Resisting without hating, expressing empathy without condoning is a tightrope walk at times. And we may feel betrayed by those around us we think of as decent and emotionally mature—those who in a moment of anger or to feel better about themselves accuse us of sympathy for the enemy. But to paraphrase Walt Kelly’s character Pogo, “we have met the enemy and he is all of us.”

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