All too frequently we observe eruptions of hatred in our world. We see them on the international stage, locally, and everywhere in between. They contribute to an unending parade of horrors that we are compelled to witness. Our schools and places of worship have been consistently targeted. People who have been marginalized within our society have also been targeted, although they don’t often receive the same level of media attention.
Hatred is the child of fear. When it grows large enough, hatred gives birth to violence.
There is nothing new about this. Tragically, hatred boiling over into violence has been a part of human history from our very beginning. And yet here we are now in the 21st century, still hating and killing each other.
In one respect, fear was the beginning of our evolution. Our ancient ancestors survived, in no small part, due to their ability to experience fear. As they discerned how to balance their fear by applying their intelligence to dangerous situations, they learned how to exercise caution. Once they developed the habit of cautiousness, our existence as their descendants became assured.
Long ago we humans learned to fear whoever seemed “different” in some way. At one time in human history this was literally a matter of life or death. It is not hard to understand the power of such primal conditioning that runs deep in us even now. Hating can be understood as going on the offensive in order to protect and defend against some perceived threat. Attack “them” first and make “them” think twice about attacking “us.” Assuming, of course, that “they” are actually planning to attack.
Haters are afraid. They fear annihilation. They fear degradation and humiliation. They fear being displaced, replaced, and having their culture erased. These are intensely painful fears! How can such pain-fueled hatred be met?
Conventional wisdom would suggest that you “fight fire with fire” by responding with exactly the same kind of energy, and, if at all possible, doing so with even greater force. The main problem with this conventional wisdom is that it’s unwise. It is the inside-out, upside-down logic that wants us to believe that someone with cancer is going to be saved by having more cancer cells injected into their body. If your doctor told you that was your treatment plan, you would probably seek a second opinion.
Instead, we need to go further down the rabbit hole. It is not enough to see that hatred emerges from fear. We are speaking here of a fear that is the result of not recognizing the difference between fact and fiction. We need to understand where that fear comes from. When we go deeper, we find it is the product of ignorance.
In human terms, this ignorance is the belief that someone or some group is actually not good enough and therefore undeserving of equal treatment or even existence itself. Such beliefs are based on irrational judgements of perceived danger: “They are threatening our way of life.” “They are going to take over and we will be at their mercy.” “There’s not enough for all of us.” Will it be “us” or “them” who is deemed unworthy?
The tragically-believed lie says that we are all separate from each other and the rest of creation, that we are separate from the ultimate mystery that engendered us. This ignorance of our true interconnectedness and interdependency disorients us through an illusion of separateness and traps us in the fear of the different other.
The liberating truth, on the other hand, is that each of us is profoundly interconnected. We are intimately part of each other and all of creation; all of creation is likewise part of each of us. We all come from the same creative energy, the same sacred source. In traditional religious language, we are all part of the body of Christ. If you prefer a more secular narrative, we all come from the same recycled stardust. As far as we can tell, biodiversity appears to be the modus operandi of the ultimate mystery that all of us have emerged from and continue to be a part of. Diversity, not uniformity, seems to be the way of the universe. Uniformity, however, has been the clear and consistent preference of all authoritarian groups throughout human history.
What drives a segment of the human population to embrace a social system that requires everyone to “follow the leader” in order to avoid being severely punished? What is the incentive for people to stop thinking and being responsible for themselves and allow “those in charge” to think and decide for them? In one sense, it can be seen as a choice made out of frustration with the democratic process: how nothing ever seems to “get done” to improve things. In another sense, it can be understood as an evasion of personal responsibility insofar as it consents to let the powerful make decisions without outside interference. In return, the powerless are promised to be looked after and protected by the reigning elite. It means trading away freedom in exchange for security.
If we know what a bad deal this is, how do we keep agreeing to it? Put simply, through a conspiracy of ignorance and fear. Our “old programming” for irrational fear has never been deleted. It remains dormant within us, just waiting for an injection of energy into its system. Unfortunately, there are groups who want to cultivate fear in as many people as possible. The reason for this is simple: People are much easier to control when they are scared.
We are presently caught in a riptide of fear-based hatred in our society. This is the consequence of a culture that has been structured according to a primitive fear of the different other. The violence that is the natural progression of hatred is the response to a misperceived threat. This misperception is part of the “old programming” that remains within us so that difference or alterity is misunderstood as danger. Since this fear is embedded in our culture, we must recognize that it is systemic in nature, and systemic problems must be met with systemic solutions.
We need to first recognize this fear as a remnant of our ancestral instinct for survival. It is time now for us to replace this instinct to make room for living as we were meant to live together as sacred children of the ultimate mystery. While we recognize our old instinct as an early human adaptation, we must now firmly assert its obsolescence. Our primitive fear has served its purpose. Our evolutionary journey needs to continue toward a rational compassion that excludes no one. This attitude of compassion rests on the scientific foundation of the interrelatedness of all life on this planet. The reality is that we are all part of the same family. Perceived differences are superficial and obscure our unity with a veil of ignorance.
The work of our time is to remove the veil that interferes with the expression of natural compassion for all. We seek to open the way for an appreciation and expression of the healthy diversity of the human family. The challenge we face today is to love courageously in response to all forms of hatred and any violence that emerges from that hatred. We do our best to love the person infected with hatred and refuse the temptation to retaliate with violence when the hate-infected person lashes out. It is extremely difficult work, but it is absolutely necessary. We cannot escape our interconnectedness. Either we will all go down together, or together we will rise up and be who we really are: people of courageous love.
Paul Nyklicek is a husband and a father. He works in Farmington as a psychotherapist and is a member of the Campaign Nonviolence Central CT Group.