A Rising Tide of Hate; What You Do Matters

The opposite of hate is not love. The opposite of hate is the realization of our common humanity and the action we should take is to find common ground.

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Robert Kenneth Jones

 is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse. ,In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

Hatred is a powerful force and something we all have the capacity to experience. It’s part of being human. It’s a feeling embedded deep within us. It’s just that some people feel its pull more deeply.” 

~ Guy Raz (TED Radio Hour)

I think that we are in trouble. Flood waters of hate are threatening the very fabric of who we are.  When growing up in Danville, Illinois six decades ago we were not even allowed to use the word hate in my home.  Now I hear it every day. My grandfather’s motto, “Don’t Worry, Don’t Hurry and Don’t Hate” seems passe.

One of the things going on to address a growing concern about this rise in hate has Oscar-winning filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Alex Gibney participating as executive directors of a six-part docuseries entitled “Why We Hate” which is headed to The Discovery Channel. Production is in high gear with a release date scheduled for some time in 2019. “Why We Hate” will tell stories from the past and present to help us understand the nature of this emotion which is, to greater or lesser degrees, shared by everyone. They are drawing on extensive research in all fields of study. This series comes at a time when we seem to be drowning in this tide of hate.

A social media study by SafeHome.org released in February 2017 reported that there were at least 917 organized hate groups in the United States. The study was based on data collected by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It specifically looked at the presence of hate groups on Twitter and found that the number of likes and comments on hate group accounts grew by 900 percent from 2014-2016. Their graphics depicting the concentration and makeup of hate groups is quite disturbing.

What Hate Is and Where It Comes From;

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain. ~ James A. Baldwin

Hate has been explored by psychologists, neuroscientists, anthropologists, sociologists , and historians. One of the strongest of emotions, it comes to us all at one time or another.

Gordon Allport was a psychologist who pioneered the study of hate in the early 1900’s. His findings have been used extensively as the Allport Scale which measures the manifestation of prejudice. Dr. Sigmund Freud, the father of modern psychiatry, taught that hate is “an ego state that wishes to destroy the source of its unhappiness.” Both Allport and Freud might agree that hate wants us to be a terminator. Hate identifies people, places and things as “the other” directing our anger and hostility toward them. We cannot be happy until their perceived threat is eliminated. Sometimes we gather in communities of like-minded people to form hate groups combining forces to overcome our identified enemy.

What is happening inside your brain when you feel hatred? In a recent study, researchers have compared fMRI brain scans to answers that subjects had given on a questionnaire about people they hated. The more intensively a person said that they hated another person, the more powerfully their frontal cortex lit up at the sight of the person. Parts of this so-called “hate circuit” are also involved in initiating aggressive behavior.

“Hate is in our DNA. If we begin to understand this, that’s how we begin to get to a point of being able to hope that we can overcome hate.” ~ Alex Gibney

We are wired to hate because of DNA which has evolved through fear of an unknown “other’ from the beginning of humankind. The threat of such unknown and unfamiliar others was met with violence and tribal warfare. It comes to us through a need for our in-group to survive an out-group as defined by behavioral researcher and renowned life coach Patrick Wanis. Hatred is written about in Genesis, by ancient Greeks, the Buddhist Dhammapada and throughout the books which chronicle our history. But who we hate is learned. There is no DNA to make us racist. In the words of the Rogers and Hammerstein standard “You’ve Got to be Carefully Taught.”

Patrick Wanis goes on to tell us that; “Hatred begins when we believe that an object/person/group is not valuable, insignificant, unworthy. Next, we become fearful of them believing that they are a threat to us or our survival. Next, we begin to devalue them, reducing or neutralizing their humanity and progressing to the belief that we must eradicate that person or group, and, reversing our moral code so that we believe that we are fully justified in doing so and it is our right to do so. Eventually, that behavior becomes accepted, normal and promoted.”

Genocide and The Holocaust; Definitive Examples of Hates Outpouring

Drowning in rising tides of hate has too often led humanity to horrific acts of genocide. Genocide is the deliberate killing of large groups of people of a particular ethnic group, religion or nationality because of extreme hatred. In the past 100 years, tens of millions of men, women, and children have lost their lives in genocide. We have witnessed it in Armenia (1915), Cambodia (1975) Bosnia (1991) and Darfur (2003). Much attention (albeit too late to help at the time) has been given to the April 1994 genocide in Rwanda when the Hutu militia and elements of the Rwandan military begin the systematic massacre of Tutsis.

Within 100 days around 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus are killed; Hutu militias fled to Zaire, taking with them around 2 million Hutu refugees. But the most devastating and haunting example of hatred and genocide, known as The Holocaust, came after Germany’s Nazi Party took power in 1933. A highly organized strategy of persecution and murder called The Final Solution was aimed at the ethnic purification of Germany. Under the direction of Adolph Hitler, six million Jews and five million Slavs, Roma, disabled, Jehovah’s Witnesses, homosexuals, and political and religious dissidents were killed during The Holocaust.

“Someone who hates one group will end up hating everyone – and, ultimately, hating himself or herself.” ~ Elie Wiesel

Much has been written about The Holocaust by historians and by its’ victims. But especially compelling are the memoirs of children. Teenagers tell us their stories in The Diary of Anne Frank, and in Night by Elie Wiesel. Most recently the accounts of eight-year-old Steven Ross can be found in his book “From Broken Glass.” He describes the horror of living through ten death camps including Auschwitz, Dachau and Bergen Belsen. Young Steven endured unimaginable acts of hatred and violence. He survived through cunning resourcefulness, determination, and the help of his fellow prisoner.

Now in his 90’s, Steven’s life has been one in which he turned his awful experiences by dedicating himself to service and education in order to “inspire people to stand up to hate and fight for freedom and justice.” He devoted himself to underprivileged youth, teaching that despite overwhelming obstacles in their lives they could overcome suffering like he had. Over almost forty-years as a psychologist in the Boston city schools, that was exactly what he did. Then, after retiring, he organized the creation of the New England Holocaust Memorial which has been visited by millions. A Study Guide of “From Broken Glass” has been created for high schools to show what happens when hatred, anti-Semitism, extreme prejudice, and discrimination are allowed to flourish while individuals, institutions, and governments fail to take a stand.

Bullying, Cyber-Bullying and Hate Speech; How We Experience Everyday Hate

The Holocaust and extreme hate in genocide may seem distant and remote to most of us. We have never experienced it, nor can we identify with such horror. But we do come into contact with hate regularly in the form of bullying, cyber-bullying and hate speech. You can hear it and feel its palpability on cable news and talk radio. It walks the halls of schools and haunts our places of work and play. It overflows on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram despite promises from the companies to contain or eliminate it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Department of Education released the first federal uniform definition of bullying in 2014. Contained in their publication “Bullying Surveillance Among Youths,” The definition includes

  • unwanted aggressive behavior
  • observed or perceived power imbalance
  • repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition.

The two recognized modes of bullying are direct (which occurs in the presence of the targeted person) and indirect (which is behind the back of the target in the form of rumors). There are four kinds of bullying identified as;

  • physical
  • verbal (includes cyber attacks)
  • relational (efforts to harm the reputation or relationships)
  • damage to property

The federal government cites the following national statistics on their stopbullying.gov site;

  • Been Bullied
    • 28% of U.S. students in grades 6–12 experienced bullying
    • 20% of U.S. students in grades 9–12 experienced bullying
  • Bullied Others
    • Approximately 30% of young people admit to bullying others in surveys
  • Seen Bullying
    • 70.6% of young people say they have seen bullying in their schools
    • 70.4% of school staff have seen bullying. 62% witnessed bullying two or more times in the last month and 41% witness bullying once a week or more
    • When bystanders intervene, bullying stops within 10 seconds 57% of the time
  • Been Cyberbullied
    • 9% of students in grades 6–12 experienced cyberbullying
      • 15% of high school students (grades 9–12) were electronically bullied in the past year
      • However, 55.2% of LGBTQIA students experienced cyberbullying
  • How Often Bullied
    • In one large study, about 49% of children in grades 4–12 reported being bullied by other students at school at least once during the past month, whereas 30.8% reported bullying others during that time.
    • Defining “frequent” involvement in bullying as occurring two or more times within the past month, 40.6% of students reported some type of frequent involvement in bullying, with 23.2% being the youth frequently bullied, 8.0% being the youth who frequently bullied others, and 9.4% playing both roles frequently.

Their research also shows the LGBTQIA youths, kids with disabilities and socially isolated children are at the highest risk of all forms of direct and indirect bullying.

The American Bar Association defines hate speech as “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.” It does not have any fixed meaning under United States law nor is there a hate speech exception in the First Amendment of the Constitution. In other words, hateful ideas are just as protected under the First Amendment as other ideas. But hate speech and hate crimes are increasing.

I just reviewed my Facebook feed and easily found posts made within the past several hours touting positive attributes of hate groups, vicious and vulgar slurs against both the 44th and 45th Presidents of the U.S., anger with all Muslims, and a joke about ‘colored people’. These were all made by adults who fully recognize that children and other impressionable people might see, believe and act upon what they have written. It just seems to me that we are losing our very valuable and precious sense of decency. The words of Joseph Welch to Senator Joseph McCarty ring in my ears; “You’ve done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”

What You Do Matters; Arm Yourself With Compassion

The opposite of hate is not love. The opposite of hate is the realization of our common humanity and the action we should take is to find common ground. Though rather hard to swallow, it would be safe to say that everyone has been hated and everyone has been a hater. We are all broken people.

Much of the action suggested for dealing with hate seems to underscore the idea of fighting it and stopping it which reminds me of the effort to reduce drug abuse by Just Saying No. On the other hand, there are groups across the country that are striving to combat hate in different and positive ways.

The National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) is a human relations organization that promotes inclusion and acceptance by providing education and advocacy while building communities that are respectful and just for all. There are great books to guide us on the way such as Sally Kohn’s “The Opposite of Hate: A Field Guide to Repairing Our Humanity.”

The inter-religious group Sojourners, which operates out of Washington, DC has an impressive online presence with study guides and articles. The CEO, Jim Wallis, tells us to be strong and courageous in the face of hate saying; “There are times when just being appalled by bigotry isn’t enough when just opposing racist words is no longer adequate, or only being a critic of hateful and violent rhetoric is morally insufficient. There are times when must find the courage to speak and to act — and to intervene in situations of violence and hate on behalf of those who are being attacked.”

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My USHMM Wristband

Important words appear on a banner at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) in Washington, DC. It simply says, “What You Do Matters.” What each of us does, or fails to do, says, or fails to say matters more than we can imagine. We are responsible for our behavior.

We are responsible for each other. After my visit to the museum, I was able to re-examine how powerful and important the actions of one person can be in terms of promoting dignity, diminishing hatred and making a difference.

Every time we reach out and provide compassion, lift a spirit with delight, forgive a transgression, or otherwise give of our time and resources, something wonderful happens. If we do not reach out, lift and give, what happens is worse than nothing. What happens in the void of our action can be devastating. We must focus on being instruments of good today if we are to control the floodwaters of hate. The impact, either way, could be felt for an eternity.

Bob Jones’ blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.
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Posted by Robert Jones

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