Updated: Jan 13, 2021
I find myself wondering where the hate parasite goes once it’s done feeding on the lies it’s host has accepted as truth. In an essay I wrote recently and posted here, I ask the question “Where does hate go after burning so hot?” I have not been able to ignore that question.
Does hate wither away in the sunlight of truth? Does it slowly slip away after vengeance is achieved? Does it magically disappear after forgiveness is granted to that which is hated? Does it use it’s host to duplicate itself and help it’s “offspring” take up residence in another host’s heart?
Throughout my life, when I’ve been subjected to some harm, I have imagined harm descending upon the people who did me wrong. Mostly I imagined them experiencing the kind of harm similar to what they subjected me to so that they can experience what it feels like. If somebody stole something of mine, I’d yearn for them to have something important of their’s stolen. If somebody told a lie about me, I’d pray they be lied on. I have even fantasized about kicking someone in the face because they acted so offensively that I believed no other act would be sufficient. Yeah, harsh, I know! It was a fleeting thought that provided me with a small sense of what vengeance might feel like.
Somewhere along my journey through life, I was taught that people who do wrong to others “get what’s coming to them”. Later I learned about the concept of karma and letting the universe mete out justice. At some point I began to consciously treat people the way I would want to be treated.
The ideas of loving others as I love myself and treating others as I would like to be treated caused me to wonder how someone who doesn’t love themselves would take that idea to heart. I wondered how someone who treats themselves poorly would treat others and whether a person who doesn’t even like or maybe even hates themselves would then dislike or even hate others.
What I find very hard to understand is the kind of hate directed at groups of people because of their skin color or where they are from or what their religious or political beliefs are. The idea of lumping everybody from the same category into a pool of negative stereotypes seems immoral. What causes people to do this? It can’t be because that whole category of people harmed them. Maybe they believe they were harmed by someone with like skin color or like religious beliefs OR maybe it is because they were taught to hate those people.
Nelson Mandela in his book Long Walk to Freedom said “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
What a powerful concept. I want it to be true but I am not sure love comes more naturally than hate to the human heart. I believe that we naturally have a capacity to gravitate toward those things which we perceive will bring us good and a capacity to repel and avoid those things which we perceive will bring us harm. I believe that fitting in and belonging comes more naturally to the human heart and the groups with the most influence on us are the groups we are born into (family), the groups we choose to fit into and the groups that choose us. It is these groups that influence what we learn is good (love) and what we learn is harm (hate).
It was around middle school that I became aware of the power “fitting in” has to influence the choices people make. My father’s stubborn streak and my mom’s compassion, which I often say I inherited but which were more likely learned, made me a skeptic when it came to fitting in. The teasing of elementary school had graduated to the cliquishness of middle school and even though I wanted to hang with the cool kids, I also appreciated the nerds. I found it hard to be a full fledged member of any group because of the “rules” of belonging to them. But this is only surface explanation, what was really going on was I not only wanted to be right which was a part of my Dad’s ethos and said another way, “I wanted to know the truth”, I also wanted to do right which was part of my Mom’s ethos and said another way, “I wanted to empathize with suffering”. I would not have been able to verbalize this process then but that was the journey I was and am still on.
So as I was finding my way around my world, if an activity didn’t get me closer to truth and or closer to understanding suffering, more often than not, I moved on from it. I am not saying I was never swayed by my peers, we did some things then that I cringe at now. When I scan my memory of adolescence, most of those cringy adventures were done with family. Outside of family, I had one or two close friends up until my freshman year of college when I joined a fraternity. The only other organizations besides church that I believed at the time wanted to be right and do right, which meant I could “fit-in” to them, were ROTC, my High School gymnastics team and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
My point in sharing that is what I learned early on was influenced by those with the most influence on me - my parents. As I grew more independent, what I got from them was foundational enough that I could navigate the nonsense and avoid getting too caught up in the shallowness of tribalism. I must say that I fail more often than I'd like and I do my best to question my allegiances. By tribalism, I am referring to the type of stubborn loyalty to a group which prevents members from even challenging the idea that the group they belong to might not be the best and might not be right about everything AND the type of loyalty that denies that any opposing "inferior" group could be right about anything. Cults, gangs, cliques, political parties, religions, fandoms, nations and yes families are all examples of where this could occur. Any group of people can fall prey to the tyranny of superiority.
Back to hate. Hate packaged into a neat set of “values” has a way of convincing seekers that it is love and truth. Hate disguises itself so well and seduces with lies so easy to believe, that there but for the grace of God, go I. If there is a person who’s need to fit-in, who’s need to be part of something bigger and who’s need to live with purpose, is greater than their need to question “truth”, that person willingly endures even hellish initiation rites to be able to gravitate further into the delusions of the gangs they are willing to prove they belong to.
I have come to understand that I may never fully comprehend where hate goes. Yet, I can say that lies and hate are in business together. Hate has a way of turning your heart into a construction site and hires lies to do the manual labor of building your warped world view. Or maybe it’s the lies that hire the hate. Either way, if the one is prevented from breaking ground the other has no way of building the foundation.
When you believe the lies that support the idea that you or your group are better and that in order for your life to be better, other people or groups must be minimized, then you are closer than you think to breaking Capitol windows or cheering for or defending those that do. Deep down you admire those “revolutionary” ones that are sold-out & operating with the courage that comes from believing all the lies while you cower in the background just believing some of them. You appreciate their crazy because it helps fulfill the mission while making your crazy stand out less AND you get to keep your job.
Even as I write this, I am questioning it’s truth every step of the way so let me be clear by saying this is just a theory that I am wrestling with. Having this idea does not make me better than someone who has another idea even if my idea lands closer to the truth. Writing it for people to read does not make it any closer to the truth either, it is just something I am wrestling with and that other's may be wresting with too. Hopefully it offers some insight.
Wrestling as a sport is very demanding and I gave it a go in high school and it didn’t take long to realize my heart laid elsewhere (flipping). Wrestling requires the utmost discipline and demanding preparation and in order to excel as a wrestler, one has to get in the ring and be tested time and time again with different opponents who have different styles and strategies. The best wrestlers are not only strong, they are conditioned to go the distance, they are smart and sometimes fast and the really good ones respect reality and enjoy figuring out what is required from them to not just arrive at the awards podium but to arrive there because they did the work, they put in the time, they earned the kind of truth that comes in the form of a gold medal. Anything less is living a lie. Shortcuts - living a lie, steroids - living a lie, cheating - living a lie. Lying - living a lie. When we, the citizens and leaders of our nation cannot approach the “sport” of democracy with the same level of discipline a high school wrestler approaches achieving his dreams, then maybe we deserve all of the chaos we find ourselves mired in.
And if, while reading the above paragraph, you thought about all the cheating you believe the other side does and you didn’t once consider the shortcomings of your side, you are closer than you think to storming the Capitol.
Winning is satisfying but almost always temporary. As Frederick Douglass believed, the truthful, honest and virtuous among us recognize that it’s the "journey" they undergo to get to the awards podium that gives the effort meaning and makes the entire adventure worthwhile.
I think we’ve gotten lazy. We need to start training our hearts and minds and question the truth of the movements we join. If we train honestly and with virtuosity while wrestling with truth together as a nation to pin the tough issues to the mat, it just might carry us to being civically fit enough to tackle the even bigger problems we might face. Oh, and we might wanna throw a few dunks in there for some inspiration along the way.
*Updated January 13, 2021 to include references to my failing to sometimes avoid tribalism and credits for images