October 4, 2006

Where Does Hate Come From?

This year, 2006, the Jewish High Holy Days coincided, as they often do,
with the Muslim Ramadan and Hindu Navaratri/Dasera. This "coincidence"
in a time of cross-cultural misunderstanding (someone once said that
coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous) was not lost on the news
media this year and was so very apparent in my own life, when both a
dear Hindu friend and a beloved Muslim business associate wrote to wish
me a happy Rosh Hashonah.

When did we humans start to resent each other...and why?

Robert Sternberg, a Yale psychologist known for his work on wisdom,
love and creativity, began a study of hate in 1999. He was motivated by
his own family history, as the son of an Austrian Jewish survivor of
Hitler's Final Solution, and by reading a book about the Rwandan genocide.
He wondered why human beings are getting smarter (on the average, our
IQs worldwide are rising as much as 3 points per decade), but not
kinder. If we are so intelligent, why do we promote intolerance and wreak war
and terrorism?

Sternberg came up with a triangular theory of hatred. One side of the
triangle is passion: impulsive rage excited by fear. Another side is
what Sternberg calls "negation of intimacy," which is basically a feeling
of repulsion or disgust. The third side is "cold hate," a cognitive
commitment to hatred, such as the learned, conditioned prejudices that
many societies have regarding homosexuals. He calls a combination of these
three kinds of hatred "burning hate," which expresses as a need for
annihilation. And all hatred, Sternberg proposes, arises from a story;
there can be no hatred without a tale of woe to tell about how the hated
one "done us dirty."

We human beings tend to love our hate stories. We don't want to lose
them. On an individual level, this could result in revenge killings, in
spite of the consequences. When an entire nation wants to be right,
other nations may perish. Entire worlds can disappear...and have.

On a less grand scale, the hate story can lead to a lifetime of stress.
A "bad mommy" story may result in a lifelong hatred of women. A bad job
can mean anticipating every work situation will be undesirable. When
women laughingly say "All men are pigs," there's bound to be a painful
paradigm behind that sentiment.

Hate stories, Sternberg points out, are always factually wrong. All men
are not pigs. Jews do not have all the money. All Muslims are not
terrorists. All Christians do not vote for conservative political
candidates. True wisdom, acknowledging all perspectives, all stories, would help
all stakeholders reach saner conclusions. But it appears to be much
easier to follow the conventional "wisdom" than to question one's beliefs.
It doesn't even occur to most of us to do so.

Until all governments, all nations, all people are committed to knowing
the truth, it is likely that wars and hate crimes will continue. But if
I think the world needs self-inquiry, I'm confused. Am I willing to do
what I want them to do? It's a lot to ask of others who have endured
suffering, loss and injustice. It can seem insensitive and unkind. Can
you imagine asking a Palestinian, "You need your ancestral land, is it
true?" Or an Israeli, "Can you absolutely know that it's true that your
child should not have died in a suicide bombing?"

So, for now, "Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me."
If I wish for hatred to cease, I must unceasingly look to my own hateful
impulses, however seemingly insignificant, and meet them with

Deepening Transformational Inquiry: Where Does My Hate Come From?

Driving home from Yom Kippur services the other night, my male friend
expressed dismay at the egalitarian service we'd attended together. He
noted how overwhelmingly female the attendance was and indicated this
was because there was a lot of male-bashing going on there. I was amazed
that I hadn't noticed.

"It was so blatant," he said.

"You mean because of the gender-neutral or feminine translations of the

"No, for years it's been sexist in the opposite direction, so I don't
have a problem with that. There are just these remarks...like when the
two men couldn't figure out why the door wouldn't open and a woman
noticed there was a U-lock on the other side, and she said, 'It takes a
woman to unlock a door.'"

Then I remembered. There was laughter (I guess from the women). I
didn't think it was funny, so I didn't laugh. I also didn't think it was
significant because of my cultural insensitivity around how men might hear
and experience women's "little" jabs.

I love and appreciate so many men in my life. I like to think that I've
"done my work" about men and that I am not sexist. I mean, I stopped
sending around those male-bashing jokes in the email years ago, realizing
that it felt violent to perpetuate that kind of "humor." However, my
friend's remark helped me to see that I am far from a done deal in the
Mars-Venus department.

I sat down to write a brief list of beliefs about men...the kind that
might fit into Sternberg's "negation of intimacy" category.

*Men are insensitive.
*Men are too sensitive. :-)
*Men are clueless about women.
*Men always have to be right.
*Men are enigmatic.

Then I sat with each one and asked myself, "What is my earliest memory
of holding this belief?" "From whom did I learn these beliefs?" In this
way I was able to question the validity of my beliefs from the place
where they first occurred to me: as a small child learning from my
mother, as a little girl interacting with other little girls, as a teenager
among other teenagers awkwardly moving towards a new kind of intimacy,
successfully or not.

What "hate paradigms" are you still holding onto? Even if it's only 1%?
When did you first feel this way? Does the feeling bring peace or
stress into your life? How would you live your life differently if you never
again saw people in terms of racial, cultural, political, religious,
class or gender traits?

©2006 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

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