The Toxicity of Hatred and the Re-Understanding of Love

As we mentioned previously, the story of Snow White raises the question of how we respond to the red emotions, specifically our tendencies to love and to hate. Like the story of The Two Wolves, this story suggests that a fundamental life choice is between love and hate. Yet because both tendencies are powerfully present within us, the choice and the life-orientation will involve a struggle between the two.

Writer Richard Rohr has a very strong statement in this regard. “If we need to hate,” he says, “we will destroy anyone who tells us our hatred is the problem.” We have said before that hatred of others is usually a projection on to another individual or group of unfaced hatred of self. Rohr also adds that the challenge is to oppose hatred without succumbing to hatred within ourselves, without becoming a mirror image of what we oppose. Martin Luther King writes similarly: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do so. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do so.”

The major religions and worldviews have stressed that love or compassion is the root value that should ground and find expression in all else. This approach seems to imply to crucial things. One is that it is essential to arrive at an understanding of love that is wider than a one-to-one relationship, especially a narrow romantic view. The second is that if love is the core value then its opposite, hatred, must be the fundamental disvalue.

We have perhaps often been given the impression that a basic challenge is to determine whom to love and whom to hate. Yet at the heart of many traditions and worldviews is the understanding that hatred itself is the problem. There is also the saying that the first victim of hatred is the one who hates, in other words, that hatred is soul-destroying.

Richard Rohr speaks of shame, the sense that not just what we do or fail to do, but who we are is inadequate, unworthy, wrong. And he contends that this is the experience of most people, and that it is overcome not so much by changing our behaviour, as by changing our self-image. In this regard, a more fulfilling and also challenging image is the one we have consistently stressed, that of our sacred worth.

It is fascinating that spiritual writer, Henri Nouwen, who also struggled with anxiety and depression, has the notion that each of us is “beloved” as the basic truth of our lives. Thomas Merton, another spiritual writer, also emphasizes that the root commandment is not to love others but to believe that we are loved. Political scientist, Michael Ignatieff, in writing about human rights says that their foundation is the recognition that we all share a common humanity which is to be respected.

The United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights also grounds human rights in the dignity of the person, and of every human person. Philosopher, Robert Johann adds that we do not have rights before impersonal forces of nature, such as a tornado or hurricane, but only before another person who has the capacity and responsibility to recognize and treat me as a person, and not as an object.

Karen Armstrong, begins her Charter for Compassion with these words.  ” The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures,… and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.”

We have referred to these authors in previous reflections. From their writings we distill the same  underlying conviction of the sacred worth of the person. As the story of Narcissus implies, the starting point or foundation of that recognition begins with the image of ourselves as someone who is lovable and capable of loving and being loved.

Yet we may develop here a more expansive understanding of love in its basic form as a recognition of the sacred worth of self and all others. We may experience that worth more directly in the experience of friendship. But friendship itself can be foundational for seeing personhood not just as an “I” but as a “we.” We can then gradually extend our experience of personhood to every other human being, both near and far. Michael Ignatieff observes that it is an intense love of those closest to us enables us to extend that recognition to those farther away, to acknowledge the needs of strangers.

Erich Fromm further emphasizes that it is in a response to the most marginalized and vulnerable in our society that we learn to love. “Only in the love of those who do not serve a purpose,” he writes, “does love begin to unfold.” Theologian Albert Nolan, speaks in a like manner of responding to those who do not have wealth, power, privilege or the like. But have only their humanity to commend themselves

We return to the basic conviction of a sacred worth to each and every human being and, in effect, to everything that is. Our worth goes with who we are and is not something earned or added on. In this light, the notion of hatred is the denial or rejection of that worth or the limiting of that to one’s own “tribe” or group. In contrast, love springs from an acknowledgment and honouring of that worth in self and others. In those closest to us, there are additional qualities, a greater sharing of ourselves. These build upon the recognition of the worth of ourselves and those with whom we are more immediately connected. This recognition can then be extended in wider and wider circles. At its greatest extension, it includes an awareness that the universe it not a collection of objects to dominate but a community of beings to reverence

May you come more and more to experience in a deeply felt way your own sacred worth; may you experience as well the response of another or others to that worth; and may you learn to extend that recognition of worth in wider and wider circles. Put a little differently, may you become more and more at home, really a home, to yourself. And may you become increasingly a home for others as well.

Norman King, January 09, 2022