There seems to be a lot of hate out there these days. According to the F.B.I., 2018 was the third consecutive year of increases in hate crimes. What do we do about it? I’ve always thought that the antidote to hate is love, but sometimes loving is hard. Is there another way?
I’ve been thinking about this problem. I did some research on hate. In psychology circles, hate is not considered a primary emotion, it’s a secondary emotion, or a reaction to a primary emotion. The primary emotion that typically drives hate is fear. You’re afraid of something and so you hate it.
We’ve been told that to combat hate in this world and in our lives, we should counter it with love. That’s nice, but sometimes it’s hard to feel love or respond with love when someone is writing hateful comments about you and your beliefs, or calling you names. At those moments, it is hard to conjure up love, to think about love, to be generous with our feelings. At best it is difficult. At worst, impossible. And what does loving even mean?
Talk to any kid who has been bullied at school. They are afraid. Tell him or her that they should be loving toward their nemesis. As someone who has been bullied, I can tell you that it would have been impossible to love that person.
One of my earliest memories was going to the enormous public swimming pool in our town. To my four year-old eyes, this pool was like one of the great lakes. At the time, my six year-old brother and I were complete landlubbers. I never even saw the ocean until I was a sophomore in college. I was terrified of the water and my brother had no swimming skills beyond doggy paddling. In what was a common practice at the time, and what I now refer to as, “The Great Pool Incident,” my dad unceremoniously picked up my brother and in one swift motion threw him into the deep end of the pool. My brother sank like a stone. With a sideways glance to me, my father said that it would force him to learn to swim.
I was mortified. After a long few moments with my brother on the bottom of the pool, my dad finally jumped in and peeled him off. My brother, in a panicked mode, clawed at my dad’s chest. When the whole ordeal was over, they both climbed out of the pool, my dad bleeding profusely from surprisingly deep gashes down his front, my brother heaving and coughing, his eyes open wide like a cornered wild animal.
I think my dad was embarrassed that his son couldn’t just tough it out. My brother was fearful and then angry and finally hateful that my father had betrayed him like that. Through all this, I clung to my mother’s leg, just in case my father got the thought in his head that I should be subjected to the same failed experiment.
I give my father a teensy bit of a pass on this. He was 25 at the time, not particularly adept at parenting, heck, no one was adept at parenting back then. Grownups were still spanking their kids and subjecting them to all kinds of old-fashioned, humiliating parenting techniques that make us cringe now.
My brother was afraid of the water. My father’s method to help him overcome that fear was ridiculous. Equally as absurd would have been to tell my brother to think loving thoughts about the water. What would have been better? Simply, to practice.
Here’s the thing, it is a lot easier to act on something than to think something (or to not think something), especially when emotions are in play. I wrote about this in my blog post: IT’S THE MESSENGER NOT THE MEDIUM. Action is easier than thought and practice is an action.
Practice to overcome your fear, and as a recommendation if you know someone else who is filled with fear and perhaps its resultant hate. If anyone does something over and over, it loses its power over them. They are not afraid anymore.
In the “Great Pool Incident,” if my brother had been given some swimming lessons and the luxury of time to practice them, none of this would have been necessary. He could have jumped into the deep end himself, and my dad could have joined him, playing with the beach ball, diving for pennies, and perhaps racing from side to side. Instead, my brother didn’t learn to properly swim for many years. And me? Not until my senior year in college when I needed one last Phys Ed credit to graduate and Swimming 101 was the only thing left that fit into my schedule. (I really liked it and even took Swimming 102 — the benefit of a four-year college degree.)
When your children are afraid of something, have them get out there and practice. Back to the bully, a good idea would be to role play with your child against their bully. That is practice. Or practice self-defense. Or have him or her practice asking for help.
We can apply this in our own grownup lives. We can communicate it to others. We can apply it in business. You’re afraid to call a potentially important customer? Pick up the phone and practice calling smaller customers. Write a script and role play with a friend or colleague. Practice. (I think role playing in business is highly underrated.)
If someone is afraid of immigrants, invite them to dinner with an immigrant or a refugee family. Invite them to volunteer at a local refugee center. Who knows? Maybe it will make a difference. In the meantime, send them a link to this article.
If you are afraid of something, practice what you are afraid of. Start really small. Practice sports. Read more. Learn more. Educate yourself. Practice job skills, foreign languages, writing. Practice going out and meeting other people. Practice your social skills. Don’t be afraid of other people. Improve yourself.
By defeating fear, you go a long way to overcoming name calling, bullying, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, otherism, and hatred.
Oh, and by the way, you can practice love too. Maybe start small with a smile and a complement.
What fear have you learned to overcome by practicing?