The Hate Pathway
Updated: Jul 10, 2020
I may have picked the worst time in history to start a blog. There is so much going on in our world, particularly in online communities and forums given our social distancing, that it is difficult to know where to start. As someone who struggles with accepting criticism, sharing my innermost thoughts is a triumph of overcoming social anxiety.
I have seen folks online calling for certain things to be said, in a certain way, creating anxiety for people like me who have the best intentions with our voices. I assure you that I’m listening and processing the important conversations we are having as a society right now, and I am doing it my own way. I will not ignore our current climate, but I have to, at the same time, stay true to my message, to my process, and to myself. If this blog doesn't remain authentic, then why should I even write it?
I am not afraid of a challenge, but the thing I want to avoid most is harming others. This blog intends to be a safe space for the promotion of kindness, compassion, understanding, and forgiveness - that, above all, remains my message. It is a message of hope and love created by my experiences in personal growth and in life.
So before I go any further, let me say what needs to be said:
I unequivocally condemn racism, discrimination, hate, and violence of any kind. I stand with those who oppose injustice. I support the advancement of all of humanity, who, whether they realize it or not, are deeply connected. I mourn those who have been killed, emotionally or physically wounded, or otherwise treated unjustly, because of racism or any other -ism.
I admit that the topic of race is not something I have personally delved deeply into before now. This is a perfect example of a privilege afforded to white people, who are not forced to face the issues of racism on a daily basis in the same way as black and other people of color are. In light of this realization, I commit to learning more and growing in understanding of race, racism, and the unique experiences of people of color. I seek to grow and understand that which before I did not. Understanding is the heart of compassion and empathy and lies at the very core of who I aspire to be.
I previously thought my stance against racism would be a given since I am a student and teacher of yoga philosophy, which includes core tenets of nonviolence and truthfulness. However, some alarming public statements made recently have shown that is not necessarily a safe assumption. I do not wish remain silent while others take part in these crucial conversations, nor do I want to add to the noise. Rather, I hope to provide a voice of reason and of love for our modern age.
I do not claim to have all the answers; rather, I am committed to being a lifelong learner. I remain open to other thoughts, opinions, ideas, and experiences, as these are the things that have helped me grow in the past. I hope you will join me.
Today, I'd like to talk about what I call the "Hate Pathway."
The Hate Pathway illustrates how a lack of understanding can lead to fear. Fear can then grow into hate, which finally manifests into actions: the harmful behaviors that outwardly reflect our inner landscape. Here is an overview:
The Hate Pathway
Stage 1 - Lack of Understanding
The causes of gaps in understanding are too numerous to count. Although we live in the Information Age, many of of our information sources are unreliable, either accidentally through incompetence or purposeful through deceit (#fakenews). We often struggle with determining if a particular resource is trustworthy. I mean, why do I have to Google the name of the news outlet before I know if it even - actually - exists?!
We may not have access to relevant or timely information in a format which we can understand. Remember, not everyone has a smartphone, a WiFi connection, or even can read. Perhaps we know enough to realize there is a gap in our knowledge, but we do not know how to seek out the information or discern what is true vs. what is not. Further, we may lack the motivation required for the effort involved in real learning - it's easier for us to watch a 3-minute YouTube video than it is to read a whole book.
To top that off, there are obviously gaps in shared human knowledge, as we are learning more all the time. After all, the scientific method is less than 500 years old - we are still in the infancy of human innovation! It is a great thing that more accurate information is discovered daily, but that makes it impossible to stay on top of emerging science, current events, social and cultural developments, global health trends, and every other important front.
Although a shared, constant experience, sitting with lack of understanding is very difficult for us. We avoid admitting that we are wrong or do not know something; it is painful and embarrassing to confess our ignorance.
Whether we realize we are missing information or not, the gap therein does not stop us from forming opinions. It is human nature to try to make sense of our surroundings. One key tactic for doing so is categorizing and prioritizing. This can be as banal as "I prefer cats over dogs, and here is why" or "chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla, and if you prefer vanilla, you must be boring." (And now you want ice cream...you're welcome.)
Categorization and prioritization has played a critical role in our evolution and survival as a species - think "avoid snakes of this color" or "don't eat those kind of mushrooms." Performing categorization and prioritization is a basic human brain function that will not go away any time soon. And for good reason: it is critical to the advancement of science and technology.
We also perform categorization and prioritization on ideas (often okay) and on people (usually not good):
Without grouping and analyzing ideas, we would be crippled in forming opinions, formulating coherent thoughts, and developing new ideas. There is a natural course for this process; we group our personal experiences, fears, likes/dislikes, and bits of (often mis-)information and use them to characterize political parties, religious factions, and other sources of collective opinions. This, by itself, is not necessarily harmful. Categorizing helps us understand the ideas, integrate our knowledge, and identify others with whom we agree (or disagree). As long as it’s not used as a stepping stone into the Hate Pathway, it’s totally fine (and natural) to perform categorization and prioritization on ideas.
Here is where things get touchy. There are thousands of characteristics by which we can (and do) classify groups of people. Everything from appearance and occupation to politics and religion is a potential category to which one may belong. For instance, I am a member of the following groups (to name a very few):
Small Business Owner
You may think, "I've known Michelle for X years and I never even knew she was a Y." Of course you didn't, how could you? Humans are incredibly complex, with complicated thoughts, ideas, and opinions and vastly diverse experiences based on our respective cultures, upbringing, education, and geographic locations, among other factors. To reduce me to a single group on the list would be completely unfair and not a full picture of Who Michelle Crawford Is. Would you define yourself by just one of your categories?
Though you can apply this logic universally, just for fun, let's examine something mildly controversial from my list: Vegan. Some people see the word "vegan" and, based on their past experience, think of angry protesters, rabbit food, and hippies who refuse deodorant. Others may see the same word and think, based on their (different) experience: she's an environmentalist, a naturalist, and a healthful eater.
Are either of these opinions right or wrong? Of course not, they are simply based on the specific experiences that each thinker has had throughout the course of his or her life. Truthfully, those opinions have nothing to do with me, with my reasons for choosing a vegan lifestyle, or who I am at the deepest part of myself. To draw conclusions about who I am based on a single facet of my personality or my choices is reductionist (but, as we will see, a perfectly human response). That is, there is simply a lack of understanding of who I am as a complete, complex human being and how I got to be that way.
Stage 2 - Fear
So you're thinking, "how do we get to fear from being just kind of annoyed that Michelle spent the last two paragraphs talking about being a vegan?" You might even think, "the last person I fear is a vegan who is weak from lack of protein and a vitamin B12 deficiency."
Sure, you probably don't live in fear that I'll sneak into your house at night, trash your hamburger meat and fried chicken, and stock your fridge with kale and broccoli sprouts (but have you tried them?). Instead, there could be fear of lost traditions (familial, cultural, etc.) as the world adopts a more plant-based diet. You could be worried that your options for meat-based meals might suddenly become limited if food producers create more plant products. You may even fear the implication that you're a bad person for choosing to eat animal products. (Disclaimer: though I do not claim to speak for all vegans, I do not think that about anyone – after all, I have not been vegan since birth, so it would be hypocritical to say as much. Not to mention, I'm not sure I even believe that bad people exist - but more on that later.)
The categorization and prioritization process described above in Stage 1 creates in humans a false sense of separation. We begin to focus on our differences instead of our similarities. We start to think in terms of "Us vs. Them." Some examples include:
Meat Eaters vs. Vegetarians
Republicans vs. Democrats
Black vs. White
Young vs. Old
The "Us vs. Them" mentality was more rare and caused less problems before we had a globalized society. Think about it: when we assembled as tribes, we shared a common religion, way of life, and belief system. We shared the same ethnicity, cultural background, and history. If there was fighting, it was either with a rival tribe or with a black sheep in the group (who may have eventually struck out and started a tribe of his or her own). Now our cultures are mingling about, in person and online, sometimes causing a clash.
As we become more globalized and are exposed to diversity in everything from skin color to sexual orientation to religion, we are regularly confronted with those who look, believe, and behave differently than we do.
The reductionist ideas we use to narrowly define these groups of people seemingly threaten our established way of life, resulting in fear of loss, change, insignificance, ridicule, and so on. The louder the opposing faction becomes, the louder we are compelled to become ourselves. Before we even realize that there is any fear present (hello, denial!), we have likely already jumped to Stage 3: Hate.
Stage 3 - Hate
No one likes to admit ignorance (Stage 1), and we surely do not confess our fears (Stage 2), but we love to talk about everything we hate. We hate certain TV shows, books, and movies. We hate our old boss and our ex from college. We hate pineapple on pizza and anything that is banana-flavored but not an actual banana (seriously though, why is that a thing? Just stop with the banana-flavoring).
We all have likes and dislikes, of course, but there is a huge potential problem: we can even hate entire groups (see: categories) of people.
The thing about hate and anger as opposed to fear is that they are empowering emotions. When we are wrapped up in fear, we feel weak, small, and victimized. Conversely, when we become hateful, we become strong, powerful, and righteous: you are the bad guy, I am the good guy, hear me roar!
Hate not only brings a sense of power, but also a call to action. When we are afraid, we are likely to freeze or take flight, but when we are angry and hateful, we are more likely to fight. We get an emotional release through venting our anger and even form close social bonds over shared hatred.
When we are in the middle of a rage-filled rant, we are on fire. We're full of righteousness, strength, and resolution. We climb on our soapbox, spout our truths, and be damned anyone who dares to disagree. Before we can say "mad", we're on to Stage 4: Behaviors.
Stage 4 - Behaviors
Stages 1-3 are largely performed internally, hatred growing unseen for years upon years. We have taken our experiences, desires, fears, personality, knowledge (or lack thereof) - everything that makes us who we are but which others cannot and do not know - and consolidated them into neat little packages. If we are not mindful, or trained in watching the processes by which our particular mind works, we can become overwhelmed by fear and anxiety. When fear rages out of control, we can soon be thrust into the throes of hate. Finally, if our hate boils over, we begin to present our internal feelings to the outside world: our publicly displayed behaviors.
We display our hate in an angry posts on social media, yelling in the face of a fellow human being, or even committing acts of physical violence. We see here the extremes of discrimination, sexism, racism, and terrorism. The behaviors often escalate in the face of reciprocated hatred to devastating results, up to and including injury and loss of life. It's a heartbreaking escalation of what started out as nothing more than a missed opportunity to understand each other, to grow in empathy and compassion, and to realize the truth of what it means to be human.
So, How Do We Stop Hate?
That is the billion-dollar question, isn't it?
We are literally talking about world peace when we discuss the Hate Pathway, so please do not crucify me for not having all the answers. I'm just a lowly, beginning blogger. However, I do have some thoughts on creating personal peace in our world which, at times, is full of misunderstanding, fear, hate, and harmful behavior.
In my next posts, we’ll explore options for managing your own journey on the Hate Pathway and how to address others (with kindness and compassion) wherever they stand on the spectrum.
"Same as it ever was,
But there's gotta be a better way.
It's the same as it ever was but today's a different day.
You and me could make that change.
But it's the same as it ever was, we better start today."
Same as It Ever Was (Start Today), Michael Franti (2014)