Have you ever read something that just seems to speak directly to your heart? That happened to me recently when I was reading Fredrik Backman’s excellent novel “Beartown” and came across this passage:
“Hate can be a deeply stimulating emotion. The world becomes much easier to understand and much less terrifying if you divide everything and everyone into friends and enemies, we and they, good and evil. The easiest way to unite a group isn’t through love, because love is hard. It makes demands. Hate is simple.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m often troubled by the amount of hatred I see in the world, and frightened by how quickly and easily it bubbles to the surface. Organized demonstrations of hateful dogma are scary enough, but when I see the endless parade of on-line rants, name-calling and attacks on-line, I’m even more disturbed, because I see just how easily we unleash our hateful side once we’re convinced we’ve found someone who deserves it. And as tempting as it is, I honestly don’t believe in fighting hatred with even more hatred.
For example, I am an animal-lover who spends her days working with shelter dogs, and I am sickened when I see any kind of animal abuse. But I am also sickened when I read an article about an abused animal and see all the on-line comments calling for the abuser to be tortured and killed. I may love animals, but I am not a sadist. I don’t believe that the proper response to one act of evil is another act of evil. What I really want is an end to the abuse. And there are plenty of ways to do that without becoming an abuser myself.
Believe me, I get upset when I see injustice, hatred, abuse and evil, and often my gut-level reaction is to lash out in self-righteous fury and indignation. And sometimes I have given in to that impulse and said things in the heat of the moment that I shouldn’t have said. Yet when I calm down, I realize that all I did was make the situation even worse by copying the very behavior that horrified me in the first place. I allowed someone else’s hatred to take root in me, if only temporarily. And that’s not the person I want to be.
I think it is possible to stand up to hate without being hateful, just as it is possible to stop abuse without becoming an abuser. We don’t have to leave our best selves behind when we oppose evil, and we certainly don’t have to follow the example of the very people whose actions horrify us in the first place.
As Fredrik Backman so eloquently pointed out, hatred is easy and love is hard. But when it comes right down to it, I want to choose love.