Turning From Hate
Updated: Jul 4, 2020
If you have not already done so, please go here to read my previous post on this topic, The Hate Pathway.
Go ahead, I'll wait.
Since we should always work on ourselves first, let's start with the elephant in the room - any journeys we've personally taken on the Hate Pathway.
And if you're clutching your pearls and thinking, "Why, I never!" just hold your horses there, cow folk, because we've all rode down that trail. Even innocent little babies hate feeling cold, hungry, alone; remember, hate just means we've continued on a path that started with lack of knowledge and led to fear. It's a natural human response that we have to work to counteract.
How do we do that though? How do we regain a sense of peace in this externally crazy world with our internally wild emotions?
In order to start reversing ourselves down the Hate Pathway, we have to have an awakening. This awakening can happen on a personal level (in college, on a vacation, after meeting a certain person, etc.) or as part of a society through cultural development (a group consciousness metamorphosis, like collectively condemning racism).
An awakening can stem from something good (for me, the birth of my son) or because of something bad (culturally, escalating police brutality, racial tensions, and rioting). It usually happens by chance (surviving a near-fatal car accident, for instance) but, in the absence of a serendipitous occurrence, you can orchestrate an awakening for yourself with intention.
How? I'm glad you asked! It's called mindfulness meditation.
Wait, wait, don't go, it's not as froufrou as it sounds!
This isn't some new age BS created by monks and promoted by hippies. It's completely legitimate.
Look, I’m a very scientifically-motivated individual with a rational, logical mind (baby, I was #bornthisway). Evidence is incredibly important to me, so please allow me to share some with you.
Studies have shown that meditation can:
Increase emotional regulation and reduce drug abuse and treat sex addiction
Reduce performance anxiety and enhance sexual function in men
Best of all, meditation is absolutely 100% free of any costs or negative side effects. You don’t need a teacher or guide, you don’t need any fancy equipment, you don’t need a single thing more than what you already have on you right now (and don’t let the Internet gurus tell you any different).
You can go down the rabbit hole of tricks and techniques for mindfulness meditation, but it does not have to be complicated. In fact, it could not be easier to get started: just sit quietly and watch your thoughts. That's it.
Notice your surroundings, feel your body, engage your senses, and watch what you think and how you feel (particularly your emotions). No need to place value judgements on what you notice: whatever comes up is not "good" or "bad" or anything in between. Remember, you're just noticing.
That's it; that's mindfulness. Simply awareness.
(We'll delve deeper into mindfulness and meditation practices in future posts, but you can get started this very minute!)
We can use mindfulness as a tool to investigate ourselves, acknowledge gaps in our knowledge and understanding, endeavor to educate ourselves, and develop compassion towards others and ourselves. This is the path of yoga.
We are constantly taking in information but not processing it, really examining it, watching how these stimuli affect us and how our reactions to it affect our overall outlook and well-being.
We are watching movies, reading tweets and Facebook posts, seeing the news, and otherwise hearing the opinions of others. We are parroting back what we've heard, repeating (often incorrect) "stats" we've seen, and sourcing more "proof" to support our existing opinions.
We are rarely thinking critically, learning the other sides of arguments, and trying to understand where our “opponents” are coming from.
In other words, we're working so hard to prove why we're right that we've never even taken the time to think about why we feel the way that we do.
Look, the goal here isn't to change your own mind, just to understand why you think the things you think, to observe the affect your beliefs have on you. You are just trying to notice yourself, understand who you are, and figure out why.
This leads us back to the Hate Pathway.
Stage 1 - Lack of Understanding
If, during your mindfulness exercises, you find gaps in your knowledge (Stage 1), take the time required to educate yourself. Examine differing viewpoints from a wide variety of sources, including and perhaps especially those which you are have previously avoided. Suspend your judgment while looking critically at the sources you encounter, try to (objectively) identify potential motives behind the sources, and see if you can track the viewpoints down to a plausible set of reasons why someone(s) would come to that particular conclusion.
When it comes to developing compassion, you can create a persona or character to better identify with the source if that helps you, but I recommend using yourself.
Imagine yourself born into a particular set of circumstances. How would you cope with the bad experiences you live through in your imaginary life? How would the good things that happen to you shape your ideals? How would the viewpoints to which you were exposed in daily life through your family, community, and larger culture have affected your own?
Again, the goal here is not to finally agree with the other person or persons, but rather to understand them so that you can have compassion despite your disagreement.
Let's use an example:
Imagine you were born into an isolated tribe that is blissfully unaware of all modern technology. If someone were to show up with the tools we use in modern life, like an iPhone, you would be completely astonished and likely fearful. You might lash out in defense, seeking violence as a means to control your mounting anxiety.
Would this reaction make you wrong? No, you were just afraid and lacked understanding. Maybe this time-traveling wizard from the future was just trying to help feed your people or build a school in your village, who knows? But, because of circumstances outside your control, your fear and misunderstanding could cause anger, rage, and even violence out of a desire to protect yourself, your loved ones, and your way of life. (End thought experiment.)
For your own cause, acknowledge that your various opinions have been shaped by many factors that lie outside your control, and then actively take the wheel in steering your attitude towards understanding and acceptance of others (remember, they are a product of their own circumstances just like you).
If you can come to a place of understanding those with whom you disagree, you can stop fear in its tracks.
Stage 2 - Fear
It is difficult to acknowledge when we're in a state of fright. Remember, we don't like to admit when we are afraid, even to ourselves, so we are often blind to the way that fear drives our opinions and our behavior.
But there is hope! First, acknowledge that it's okay to be afraid. Our world can be frightening (I mean, spoiler alert, we all die at the end), but we are particularly fearful of that which we do not understand.
I'm reminded of slasher films, Scooby-Doo, and any other example of the masked mystery villain genre: once you take off the mask, the bad guy just ain't as scary.
That is, once you understand what you're afraid of and why, and you acknowledge that scary things are going to happen because it's a scary world, you'll (perhaps ironically) feel a lot less fear.
Yes, you have to practice this daily especially if, like me, you struggle with anxiety (bless us all).
It's not easy to acknowledge your fears, but you don't have to do it publicly. Remember, this is inner work - you're the only one there, doing the mindfulness stuff! All you have to do is sit with yourself. Take the time to acknowledge your fears, figure out where they come from, and decide if they serve a positive purpose in your life.
Ask, is there an opportunity for me to grow in understanding and get myself back to Stage 1 and eventually off the Hate Pathway altogether?
Stages 3 & 4 - Hate and Associated Behaviors
If you find yourself in Stage 3 or Stage 4, take heart in knowing that you are NOT a bad person, no matter how hateful you have ever been. Once you get off the Hate Pathway, you'll be pleased to find that there are no bad people, anywhere.
Through mindfulness meditation, you'll understand yourself and can develop self-compassion (a cool thing we'll learn more about in a future post).
You are good and you are getting off of the Hate Pathway and onto Understanding Lane (okay, that’s not a thing, but I'm making all of this up anyway, so...).
It’s not about changing your mind either, just seeing why you believe what you believe and how you've come to hate. You may find, along the journey back down the path, that your old opinions no longer serve the inner you, so you shed them like a snake growing out of its skin.
Yes, your views have been shaped by your life up to this point, but now you have new experiences on which to draw (like this awesome blog, for instance). You have a whole world of different viewpoints to explore and understand, resources to take in (we live in the Information Age, folks), and there are so many books you could never even hope to read them all.
No matter where we are on the Hate Pathway, we can take the first step in accepting our current status, working to understand our underlying fears, and educating ourselves where necessary. That's all inner work really is: using mindfulness to understand ourselves, others, and our world, and to develop awareness and compassion.
In my next post, we’ll look at how to successfully navigate a world where other people are on the Hate Pathway (hint: we can do it, we can do it with peace, and we can start today).
"I'm starting with the man in the mirror,
I'm asking him to change his ways.
And no message could have been any clearer,
If you want to make the world a better place
Take a look at yourself, and then make a change."
Man in the Mirror, Michael Jackson (1988)