Dear Michael:

I pride myself on being able to talk respectfully to almost everybody. I used to be a social worker and now I’m a nurse. I grew up in the South, where you never (overtly) expressed dislike of anyone: like biscuits, you smothered it in a gravy of kindness. But lately, I find myself hating people, mostly people I don’t know: politicians especially, and it’s leaking out in smaller ways, like hating other drivers. I was once voted the “Most Mellow Nurse on the Floor” by my peers. I doubt that I’d get that award now. Please help me not to hate anymore.

Sincerely, Hates Hating

Dear HH:

Thanks for your email. You’re certainly not alone. Years ago I wrote a column about Hating, but the emotional and political environment at that time was so much more gentle than it is today. Now, it’s so hard not to get swallowed up in the river of antagonism and resentment that is everywhere present.

What can we do? How can we hate less? Can we stop hating completely?

The bad news: we all hate, treating other people like they’re fundamentally “wrong”, “crazy” or “screwed up”. We make them into “the other”, e.g., they’re not good/smart/kind people like us, who do things the “right” way. Their actions or beliefs make them into “those kinds of people” who we find it easy to hate.

I read somewhere that the United States was founded on hate: a hatred that justified the annihilation of American Indians and perpetuated the enslavement of Africans. Hate divided the country during the Civil War and, today, the United States is – once again – divided by hate. And it’s not just our country who’s drowning in hate…it’s a global experience.

Are we now in the most hateful time in history? How can you measure national or global hatred? I don’t know how to answer those questions, but, one thing is clear: the hate that’s brewing now is harmful, frightening, and increasingly acute.

How can we help ourselves to stop hating? We can consciously cultivate the opposite of hate. Which is…well, I wasn’t sure, so I looked it up. Here are some synonyms for hate: spite, envy, malice, hostility, loathing, scorn, aversion and cruelty.

Antonyms (opposites) of hate include: happiness, kindness, sympathy, blessing, honor, esteem, admire, desire, love and approval.

Can we develop those qualities more? Personally, I find that by aspiring to be a more forgiving person, I feel less hatred and animosity. I would add “forgiveness” to the above list of the opposites of hate.

If there are no “others”, would there be no hate? I wonder. Can we clearly see that other people are more like us than different? Can we entertain the idea that there is no “them” or “others”, there is only one great, big “us”. We have so much more in common if we choose to focus on that.

Not surprisingly, that’s the opposite of “divide and conquer”: a strategy that encourages hate and a focus on how different we are from those “other” people. History shows us that this is a great way to control people: pit us against each other and encourage us to hate our brothers and sisters. Hating each other weakens us as a community, making us more vulnerable and easily manipulated. Isn’t there strength in solidarity? Solidarity seems like the opposite of hate.

I wish I had a nice, neat answer with five easy steps for the person who emailed me, asking me to “help me not to hate anymore”. But, I don’t. I hope that by raising the above questions and possibilities, that you find your own way to “hate less”, assuming that’s something you want to do.

I’d like to close with this quote that sums it all up quite succinctly: “Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.” Dr. Martin Luther King

And what is love? Ah, now that’s a question for another column…