I’ve discovered firsthand in recent weeks that to take a stand, to raise a beacon is to expose the darkness. A few weeks ago I became embroiled online in a conversation with a gentleman. It was his contention that the Confederate flag had no connection to racism. The conversation took a sudden turn when, frustrated with my position and his inability to change my mind, he abandoned his line of reasoning and countered with an argument that, I assume, was supposed to have no counter argument:
“There’s always been racism.”
I must admit my jaw hung slack until I countered there’d also always been murder, rape, and child molestation, yet we don’t find those acts acceptable. He then changed his argument again to include a deluge of swear words. End of conversation.
Two days ago I commented on a post celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Yesterday, I awoke to the following uncapitalized response:
“too bad your mama didn’t have access to planned parenthood because if she did there’d be one less idiot wandering this earth wasting our oxygen…”
Interesting that the gentleman passed over numerous comments left by men who expressed similar opinions in order to attack me, but that’s a different topic. Yet again, I faced hatred, yet what bothered me most was the man’s profile picture that included his young son. Does the man brag to boy about making such comments? Is he passing on his hatred? Other commenters had already risen to my defense, but after reflecting I responded that I support the presidential candidate I believe “understands compassion.” I then added, “I can’t say as I’ve ever had someone wish me dead before, but I forgive the outburst that hopefully was not thought through beforehand. To possess that level of hate inside cannot be doing good things to your health, [name omitted].”
Before commenting I remembered the root of hatred is fear, a fear born out of a sense of unworthiness that eventually isolates us from others and causes us to lash out in anger. In her book, Radical Acceptance, Tara Brach, Ph. D. explains:
When we are caught in our own self-centered drama, everyone else becomes ‘other’ to us, different and unreal. The world becomes a backdrop to our own special experience and everyone in it serves as supporting cast, some as adversaries, some as allies, most as simply irrelevant. Because involvement with our personal desires and concerns prevents us from paying close attention to anyone else, those around us—even family and friends—can become unreal, two-dimensional cardboard figures, not humans with wants and fears and throbbing hearts. (p.227)
I could have done better in my response, and certainly I could have done better in my first encounter, though in neither case did I trade hate for hate.
Hatred never ceases by hatred
But by love alone is healed.
This is an ancient and eternal law.
We aren’t born hating and I thought about the man’s son’s heart hardening a little more each day. It’s my hope that he finds a way to protect himself, for I know all too well what childhood trauma can do to you. Wayne Muller, in Legacy of the Heart, describes, not only what happens, but what we lose:
Our greatest hindrance is our ongoing capacity to judge, to criticize, and to bring tremendous harm to ourselves and others. If we can harden our heart against ourselves and meet our most tender feelings with anger and condemnation, we simultaneously armor our heart against the possibility of gentleness, love, and healing. (p.62)
I’d like to think I’ve not ever attacked others in hatred, for I don’t recall that ever being a part of my makeup, but I know what it is to be pulled down into bitterness and unfocused resentment. Much of my life was spent wrestling with those emotions while clinging to the hope there was an answer that was the right fit for me. In recent years I’ve found it and the woman whose writing has connected with me more than any other is Pema Chödrön. In her book, The Places that Scare You, she introduced the path to me.
Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt. These walls are further fortified by emotions of all kinds: anger, craving, indifference, jealousy and envy, arrogance, and pride. But fortunately for us, the soft spot—our innate ability to love and to care about things—is like a crack in these walls we erect. It’s a natural opening in the barriers we create when we’re afraid. With practice we can learn to find this opening. (p.4)
And then, for the rest of the book, she teaches you how to practice. I dearly hope the haters in the world, and their children, find their own path to happiness. I hope, too, that every person reading this is also finding their path to happiness.