“We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”– MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR.
I’ve been thinking about hate recently. Not only because we’ve see so much of it this past year, but because I’ve felt some as well. Truthfully it got to a point preceding the US election where it broke me a little.
I thought I was clear about where those feelings came from. What beliefs were driving my anger. But now that the waters have calmed down, I can’t seem to shake this feeling that something else has been going on. Some deep-seated fear deep beneath the surface.
Following years of resisting my emotions with disastrous consequences, I figure that ignoring it isn’t wise. So I thought I’d give the topic of hate a more thorough examination. In an attempt to understand its purpose. And from that understanding hopefully find in my heart to show it some compassion. So that we can all learn how to make love to our hate.
First let me get you in the mood with some foreplay in the form of gentle stroking questions!
One thing that’s touted around the blogosphere as the panacea to all of our problems is universal compassion. It got me thinking (and laughing) that maybe I should write a post entitled, Why Universal Compassion Must Include Donald Trump.
If I can get through that without reneging on the premise well, ladies and gentlemen, that would be something. Because honestly I can’t wrap my head around the idea.
Are somethings not meant to be hated? The emotion exists for a reason right? The rational part of my brain figures it must have evolved to serve some kind of necessary function. At least, in very rare circumstances.
Let’s, for example, circle back several hundred years and place ourselves in a small rural English village with a plague-ridden wife and four malnourished children.
Now imagine a hoard of angry, horny, Vikings start pillaging the village by chopping your neighbour’s head off (you hated him anyway).
Do you, a) abandon your family by running away, b) resign yourself to death and hold your family one last time, c) try to negotiate a civilised peace treaty (by agreeing to share your neighbour’s stuff) or, d) pick up your sword and fight?
Now let’s pretend your name is Uhtred, son of Uhtred, and that you pick up your sword. (I must watch less television.) What emotion do think would serve you best in a battle to the death?
Maybe I’ve inadvertently hit the G spot here?
When it comes to protecting yourself against someone (or something) who is attacking you (or those you love), perhaps hatred is meant to act as a last line of defence? Perhaps what drives our hate – at its deepest level – is a fear of death?
At this point my wife would tell me to slow down as she’s not quite there yet.
Anyway let’s get stuck into the main body (of this post) with some stuff I found on the internet.
After doing a bit of research into the relationship between hatred and death I stumbled upon something that got me very excited (that wasn’t porn) called Terror Management Theory (or TMT).
TMT posits, “The inevitably of one’s death creates existential terror and anxiety that is always residing below the surface. In order to manage this terror, humans adopt cultural world-views — like religions, political ideologies, and national identities — that act as a buffer by instilling life with meaning and value. TMT predicts that when people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will more strongly defend those who share their world-views and national or ethnic identity, and act out more aggressively towards those who do not. Hundreds of studies have confirmed this hypothesis, and some have specifically shown that triggering thoughts of death tends to shift people towards the right.”
I feel like I might have the G spot again!
If our cultural world-views are meant to act as a buffer against our own mortality, it stands to reason that a fear of death would cause us to hold onto them more tightly.
What happens then when those beliefs are challenged? Perhaps some of us might feel like our lives have been threatened? And what if people’s actual lives are threatened by something like a pandemic? Perhaps they’ll do everything they can to ensure that their beliefs survive in case they don’t?
(If you want to learn about how TMT can be used to explain people’s different reactions to the pandemic I highly recommend giving this study a read.)
Now imagine, if you will, a large facist nation invades your country forcing you to take up arms to defend it. How do you think that might affect your feelings toward your country? I’m guessing you’d concentrate on what it is you love. What it is you’re willing to defend and die for.
Oh hello Nationalism!
Now consider how a rise in Islamophobia often follows terrorist attacks. Or how a rise in hate crimes against the Asian community follows when the former fear monger in chief dubs COVID the “Kung Flu.” Or how you Binge watch all 5 seasons of The Wire and decide you can’t trust black people…
Oh hello Racism!
If hate is driven by a fear of death it makes sense that hateful beliefs are irrational. Fear – False Evidence Appearing Real – is deliberately cautious in nature. After all it’s about protecting your life. Maybe that’s why, if I hear about enough crimes committed by gangs of a certain colour I start to distrust all people of that colour. Or if I hear about enough attacks committed by people of a certain faith I start to assume all of them are terrorists.
Of course this is a big problem. And it’s important to stress that while hate may serve to unite a country or tribe against a common enemy, hate always loses. Because hate begets hate. As war has proven throughout history. Unless you succeed in completely eliminating your perceived threat (assuming that’s the purpose of hate) then that hatred is only going to build. What’s worse is that hate won’t be resolved by eliminating that threat if you do (which is impossible when considering an entire race of people). And then what happens? Hate looks for a new target. And if it can’t find one, it turns on itself. (Insert caracatiure of Hitler shooting himself here.)
This is why hate always loses. Not because love always wins (that’s definitely not true), but because hate ends up destroying itself. That’s something I believe Trump never understood. He cultivated just as much hatred on the other side of the fence. And it came back to haunt him. That’s exactly why the answer cannot be hate in return. (And suddenly the idea of Universal Compassion is starting to make more sense.)
At this point my wife would tell me to get to the point. And I would tell her that the secret to great love making is patience. And then she would tell me that girth is more important the length. And then I would cry myself to sleep…
Anyway, ladies and gentlemen, let me wrap things up. I’m nearly there!
TMT reminded me of one more stereotype. The idea that people become increasingly “set in their ways” the older they get. It occurs to me that this might have less to do with what people believe then an inability to come to terms with their own mortality. That they’re simply clinging to their beliefs more rigidly because they’re unable to come to terms with the fact that they will die. Not all people face death in the same manner of course. Many are happy in death. Even when suffering many remain at peace. They’re not bitter or resentful. They’re not consumed by hate. They don’t want to hurt others.
This all begs the following question: If our beliefs are designed to help us cope with the elephant in the room – our own mortality – and if a fear of death causes us to cling to those beliefs more tightly, then maybe that’s exactly where we need to start in order live in peace?
Now here’s my radical theory.
If the purpose of hate – at its deepest, darkest core – is designed to eliminate threats to one’s life, and if hate is driven, therefore, by a fear of death, it seems plausible to me that coming to terms with one’s own mortality might be one way to resolve internal feelings of hatred.
How do you do that?
Well I can think of a few ideas. Meditating on your own demise. Facing the idea of your death head on. Talking about it. Planning your own funeral. Treating today like it’s your last.
The Stoics used to employ a technique called Negative Visualisation where you imagine losing what you value the most in life in order to help eradicate that fear. The beauty of practising such a meditation is that it serves to lessen the emotional impact when difficult losses actually take place. The other hidden benefit is that it helps to cultivate a greater amount of gratitude for those things or people in our lives today. We become less interested in wanting things to be different and more grateful for the here and now (which is most important).
Here’s one more idea: Cultivate as much meaning in your life as you possible can. In your personal relationships, your community and your work. Studies show that those who feel they are living a meaningful life are less afraid of death. Other studies show that those who have lower self esteem (believe their life isn’t meaningful) are more likely to harbour feelings of resentment. Of course this means coming to terms with past traumas. That means embracing your personal demons as well. (Undeniably another major reason for hate which I mean to talk about in my next post.) So if you want to overcome your fear of death and let go of hate at the same time, go and do some charity work.
Anyway that’s it ladies and gentleman! My answer for how to make love to hate is to fall in love with death. Maybe if we do, we’ll realise that life is too short to live for anything but love.
- Terror Management Theory
- Terror Management Theory and the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Terror Management Of Fear, Hate, Political Conflict, And Political Violence
- A Complete Psychological Analysis of Trump’s Support
- Divided America—Here’s How We Heal (YouTube video based on Terror Management Theory)
- Understanding the Psychology of Hatred
- Why We Fear Death and How to Overcome It
- The Importance of Negative Visualization