THE SOURCES OF HATING AND VIOLENCE
James N Kraut, Psy.D., LLC
When I was very young – maybe 4 – I was periodically picked on by a slightly older kid who lived down the street. I can still remember my mother’s response when I tearfully approached her with my bullying problem.
“Mean people are unhappy people,” she said.
So, at the age of four, I was introduced to the negative correlation between peace of mind and aggression. Throughout my life, the truth behind my mother’s statement has become increasingly fleshed out and today I am more convinced than ever that she was correct. The more turbulent, hurt, empty, traumatized, psychologically dead or otherwise unpleasant the inner space, the more likely aggressive behavior will emanate from that space.
The first question that should arise, then, given the present state of affairs, is how did things get so bad? Why all this violence-driving unhappiness? Moreover, there’s a lot of ground between a pre-school kid knocking down his neighbor and a man emptying his semiautomatic weapon on a group of people because his hatred is uncontainable. Why do so many of us hate so much?
One reason has to do with where we are as a global culture. As a species and as a world, we are between two ages. To see the two “sides” at their most basic, consider that many of us are certain that our planet is being destroyed by our behaviors, while others either disagree or don’t care. Take a moment and realize the intensity of the conflict that difference alone will cause. All of our institutions – education, religion, politics, sexuality and our terms of intimacy, to name the biggest, are no longer nailed down. All are weightlessly unstable and deep in the process of transition.
This divide can be seen in those who identify with the nationalistic movements cropping up all over the planet. From their standpoint, a Golden Age, which they understand as a cherished way of life reaching back centuries and now fading into an irretrievable past, is being replaced by a dramatically inferior, decadent, immoral, ethically polluted human race. Consequently, all signs of the emerging era evoke intense fear and contempt. Those of us in the United States who are not fully on board with that level of mistrust and anxiety can nevertheless probably recall at least a slight irritation at being reminded of the fact that whereas America used to mean the English language, everything is now is Spanish, too, including conversations that those who only speak English cannot understand.
Exacerbating the problem is the fact that there is a worldwide plethora of dire problems, the blame for which can be conveniently placed on Mexicans, Jews, Blacks, Israelis, Arabs, Republicans, Democrats, Muslims, or whoever happens to be “the other side.” The deeper the conflict between the two factions becomes, the more each fears and hates the other, the less each can communicate with and trust the other and the more complete the other becomes as a fully formed scapegoat for all the problems that are seen as so threatening. Both sides see their opponents as being responsible for destroying the earth. And if you want to read about it, remember we don’t even have an objective news media anymore.
While not everyone embroiled in this struggle is psychologically primitive enough to channel it into violence, most of the world is to some degree lost in it, having forgotten that deep down, we are all fundamentally the same – trying to live a good life and be happy. At its worst, when we are actually driven to take life, we have completely lost our ability to see those who become our targets as fully human with the same rights we have. We are so driven by fear, anxiety and paranoia that we are no longer capable of seeing people as human beings if they disagree with our world view.
Related to the falling of our institutions in this time of transition is the dead, restless feeling of emptiness that so many people feel today because they have not been taught to respect life. Many of us who grew up in modern times have interests that rarely, if ever, inspire us to move beyond the anesthetizing stimuli that have become increasingly dominant in the culture. Our phones are always in hand; we watch movies while filling our gas tanks; we get lost in video games while sitting on hold for long periods of time, waiting for a human voice.
In short, we have learned how to amuse ourselves and thus ward off the dehumanizing terrain we encounter daily in the real world. The reverence for life that sits at the core of any spiritually motivated individual has often never been addressed. So many of us – mostly, but not exclusively young people – have not learned three crucial life skills: how to be patient, how to feel compassion and how to think. Whether or not we are aware of the hole this avoidance of the essence of human life leaves in us, our disconnected way of living bears out the truth of the disconnection.
The only way out of this ultimately fear and emptiness-driven hatred is to find a way of becoming comfortable and grounded in the world. While there are a number of ways of becoming more emotionally healthy, speaking from my usual soap box, I must mention that scientific research has shown that long-term meditators show changes in two parts of the brain – the amygdala and pre-frontal cortex – as a result of their practice. In lay terms, these changes result in their being less controlled by the appearance of crisis and more capable of seeing things rationally, calmly and objectively. Furthermore, the research suggests that both wisdom and compassion are increased over time if we regularly meditate.
To what degree will our species undergo a rehumanizing in the foreseeable future? My guess, regretfully, is that there are many of us who are not ready to take that route. As a result, I expect the fear, hate and violence to continue. Meanwhile, however, the more YOU AND I remember to respect all souls, to work on increasing compassion toward self and other, and to listen deeply and respectfully to points of view that are different from our own, the more we will each affect incremental change. At some point, let us hope that enough people will be reinforcing inclusivity and positivity to bring about global change in the way we treat each other.