“I imagine that one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, that they will be forced to deal with pain.”
From Notes of a Native Son by James Baldwin
There are all kinds of hate and all of them cover up some kind of past pain, some hidden fear. It’s a primal instinct to push away and demonize that which may cause us pain, that which scares us. A friend asked how we can help people deal with it and I had to think about it. My first instinct is to think that you can’t help, but maybe you can.
When I sense that someone hates someone or something, I don’t insist that they not. I try to respect where they are and know in the back of my mind that they have some fear or pain they are working though. I let people have their opinions, let them speak them and feel them, hold space for them, even if I don’t agree with them.
There is a difference between hateful feelings and hateful actions, though. Making a law to ban certain people from places or activities, physically or verbally harassing someone because they are hated, etc., cannot be tolerated by anyone. But a person saying they hate certain people and don’t want to interact with them can be left alone. They are hurting no one but themselves.
If we allow people to have their hate, if we love them anyway, and respect their opinions, give them space to feel what they feel, we have the chance to open a dialog about where that hatred comes from. Hate is a natural, instinctive feeling, and it takes time to work through. When someone makes a statement about something they hate, I ask questions about it. I ask why and respect their answers, maybe give an opinion of my own. This gives people a chance to reflect on their feelings and possibly change them.
If we shut people down when they express hate, we cut off that dialog and let that feeling ferment in the darkness. In that quiet feedback of the mind, that hatred grows and turns into action.
Hate isn’t going anywhere. You can’t get rid of it, but we can minimize it and give it a shorter lifespan.