Not long ago, I found myself at a party discussing the meaning of the word “love” with a truly lovely friend of mine. It is a word with no real meaning. How can love have meaning if I love chocolate and love my daughter? I keep meaning to write about it, but it seemed too hard. So I thought I’d give “hate” a try. I know the two are connected, but there seems like at least one huge difference: Love can be expansive, true hate is very narrowly focused.
Needless to say, I did what I always do, extensive googling and asked my super-secret-sect of super-intellectual-friends. Almost nothing I found online reflected what I think is the core of true hate. Almost everything my friends said, did.
Let’s start with how it is commonly used. “I hate Twinkies.” “That is hate speech.” “I hate the current political climate.” “I hate that I am wearing fleece socks in June.” None of that is hate – there are better words for all of it. Words like: disgust, ignorance, fear, frustration, abhor, etc…. Even the more mild-mannered (and usually more accurate,) “dislike.”
But none of that sounds like true hate to me. I’ve only experienced true hate once, but it was physical. It came over me as completely as true love has the very few times I’ve felt it. It consumed me, distracted me, made it hard to eat and sleep, it made me reevaluate what I believed about myself, the person to whom the hate was directed and even the entire nature of the relationship in which the hate blossomed. It literally changed the shape of my world. More than that, it was actually kind of productive. It had an energy of its own that created things – desires to do things, say things, be things, change things. It was a generative force. Just like love is. And the intensity with which it caused pain was equal to the intensity with which love causes pleasure.
That is not how I feel about Twinkies, which I think are disgusting and I abhor everything they symbolize about our modern diet and health.
No, what I was feeling was deeply intimate. It was the direct result of things that were done to me by someone else. It was the direct result of a connection gone awry and turned toxic. It was not the same as ignorance, which is a lack of knowledge leading to faulty reasoning and inappropriate actions. It was not the same as abhorrence, which is a general dislike of a principle. It was not the same as fear, which stops you in your tracks and closes you up. Nor was my pain as simple as frustration or annoyance. And I didn’t dislike anything about the situation or the people in it.
More than that, all of those things are closed loops. What I was feeling was open. Hate is like an open wound and the slightest air or water brushing across it makes it rage. That said, I’ve never been afraid of pain. And, in general, being open and generative is a good thing, so let’s not dismiss hate yet. But I’ll get back to that.
On to my friends, surely they’ll know what hate is. I asked them not only how they defined hate, but what they believed to be the root and function of hate. Their answers caused me to say, “I love my friends.” And I do.
Brilliant friend #1 said: I would describe hate as anger that causes you (or comes along with) a dehumanization of the source of the anger.
This struck a cord, in two ways that harmonize perfectly with each other. First of all, the hatred that was coursing through my veins was the direct result of having felt that I had been dehumanized. That I had been dismissed as irrelevant and expendable, given no more value than the weather or a craving for pasta. Secondly, I was able to look at the other person in a way that was not human – allowing fanciful ideas of revenge, or more simply, enabling me to extricate that person from my life as if nothing real had been lost. I was able to fully separate the person I loved from the actions that I hated and focus only on the actions. Hate grows, just like love, and allows itself to be used to create more hate – and hateful acts. It is a way to remove value from something and justify anything as a result. Good start.
Brilliant friend #2 chimed in with: The thing that pushes me over that crazy edge, where I actually feel hate, is when I have come to terms with the fact that someone made choices that devastated me and they knew it was going to devastate me.
This was also huge for me, because it implies that the person who is now the object of the hate was knowingly and willfully doing things that they knew would hurt you, and they chose to do it anyway. At its core, this speaks to a willing destruction of trust, a willing destruction of respect and the willful creation of an environment of fear and isolation. This knowingly takes things that are of stated value to you and destroys them, while you watch, with no regard to your feelings – or at least with a greater regard for anything and everything else.
For me, if this is done by a casual acquaintance, it’s not a big deal. But if someone who you love does it, then it is devastating. It is the moment where love can begin to turn to hate.
This made me picture love as an artery in my soul. Through it courses trust, respect, hope and everything nice. When those are replaced with fear, destruction, manipulation and deceit, it turns to hate. The pulse is as strong and the energy as real, but the nutrients are painful not pleasurable. That is hate.
This explains, to me, why I never felt hate for the man who raped me. How could I? That wasn’t about me – I could have been any woman. That was his violent act, it had nothing to do with me. Or why I never hated the people in my life who lied to me and manipulated me as a direct result of a serious depression or mental illness – it wasn’t willfully to hurt me, but a result of something else. No, the only time I ever felt true hate it was directly between me and another person with whom I had a love connection.
I’m a firm believer that feelings – emotions – are neither good nor bad. They all exist for a reason and it is up to us to act on them in ways that are either destructive or productive. So, what is the purpose of hate?
Fear makes sense to me – pause, think this through, analyze the situation, etc… Love obviously makes sense. But what is the purpose of hate?
It is NOT to blow up buildings, beat people up or start wars. (All of which I would argue is fear and ignorance, not true hate.)
I think the purpose of hate may just be to help us define the boundaries in which our souls are healthy and productive. Just like you learn to find your balance on a bike by falling off of it, maybe you learn to define a healthy relationship – with anything – by watching it turn from love to hate. By identifying the things that caused it to turn and stopping them next time. Maybe it makes you stronger?
Hate is not the opposite of love (that’s apathy.) Hate is love’s misunderstood twin, the one that was denied oxygen at birth and although it caught up eventually, it was always bitter.
I know that the one time that I felt true hate, I was cracked open. I was in tiny pieces waiting to see how many of the kingsmen it would take to put me back together again. But here’s the surprise ending, because I was so open, I was able to let everything in. Love, fear, hope, support. I was able to ask for help and find that it is all around me in places I never even knew. I was able to create amazing things – art, writing, 6-pack abs – that I now know were within my power to create all along.
More than all that, I had to sit down, in this horrible stew of hate, and ask myself if I was willing to endure this again. Was I willing to love again, and risk having this happen again?
And what was I going to do about the object of all this hate, the cause of sleepless days of crying? It took me days to figure out that what I was feeling was hate (not the nervous breakdown I was afraid I was having.) Once I did, it seemed so simple.
I did not want hate in my body. It feels bad. If I bothered to return this hate with more hate, then all I would have is more hate. Presumably, that would feel worse. This time, Google turned up something useful: Often it is the most deserving people who cannot help loving those who destroy them – Hermann Hesse
I am a deserving person. I will always choose love – even when it’s incredibly hard to do so. Hate taught me that.