Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Peace IS Possible

With the media focused on the wars and conflicts in the Middle East, I sometimes wonder if there can ever be world peace. Over and over we see the images of devastation of war and ongoing conflicts. Is peace ever possible?

And then last week I learned about peace in Columbia after more than fifty years of armed conflict there. They have announced the final peace agreement betweeen the Columbian government and the leftist rebels Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbus (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). This conflict has killed more than 200,000 people through the decades.

But even though there are generations of Columbians who have know nothing but brutal armed conflict, the people of Colombian people  never gave up hope for peace. They have negotiated off and on for years. And at long last, with the support of Pope Francis and the United Nations, agreements have been reached and decisions are being made about how rebels will disarm. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this month that the U.N. mission will operate in 40 widely dispersed locations and require about 450 observers and a number of civilians in support of the disarmament and keeping of the peace.

There is much involved in peacemaking and keeping of peace. The people of a country must be in support of peace and must support leaders who are also supporters of peace. The agreement in Columbia is groundbreaking in that it includes women's perspectives, "which are rarely considered in peace negotiations, says Kristian Herbolzheimer, Colombia program director at Conciliation Resources, and international advisory group on conflict resolution. A 2012 United nations analysis of 30 peace processes between 1992 and 2011 shows women make up only 4%of signatories, 2.4% of chief mediators, 3.7% of witnesses and 9 % of negotiators.

"The fact that women are included in the deal at all is largely thanks to demands by women's groups that they be included in the peace talks. Their ultimatum: There won't be sustainable peace unless women are included. They weren't only trying to influence the content of the agreement, but the manner in which peace was built.

 "Men build it with weapons, with their uniform, with vertical power," she says. What we women are telling men is that there are other ways to relate to each other."

"Pressure from women's groups resulted in the creation of a gender subcommission charged with going through the agreement line by line to ensure women's perspectives were represented. LGBTI rights were also considered, likely for the first time ever in any peace process around the world.

"The inclusion shows. Everytime there's a mention of the word 'men' it is followed by 'and women'. 'Women' on its own appears dozens of other times in whole sections devoted to policies designed to work their own land and rural daycare centers to facilitate that; educational programs to promote their political participation, and a special emphasis on bringing justice to those who harmed women."*

War is often built into the economy of a nation. And it must be replaced with an economy of peace at the local level on up through the national level.

An organization called Code Pink has created a daily email newsletter called Growing a Local Peace Economy. You can subscribe at and follow the daily suggestions to create more peace in your neighborhood, community, and world. 

In past blog posts I have noted other organizations working for peace. If more of us become active in creating peace, in becoming true peacemakers, Peace IS possible. Share what you know about peacemaking efforts where you live in the comments below.


Sunday, August 28, 2016

The World Has Become Less Peaceful

It isn't just me saying it. It isn't just that we see more violence and instability on t.v. It is shown in research:

The Global Peace Index Records a Historically Less Peaceful and More Unequal World 

This research shows that the world is less peaceful in 2016, underlying a trend over the past decade.
These results also show a growing global inequality in peace, with the most peaceful countries continuing to improve  and the least peaceful are falling into greater violence and conflict. The world continues to spend enormous resources on creating and containing violence but very little on making and keeping peace.

We need to be building a holistic framework of the key attitudes, institutions and structures which build peace in the long term. The UN has a plan that is critical to focusing the international community onf the goal of creating a more peaceful world. This requires  greater investment and levels of cooperation.

 The "majority of the global deterioration is due to the developments in the Middle East and Africa (MENA), already the least peaceful region in the world.  So intense is the current concentration of violence and conflict in MENA that, when considered separately, the rest of the world’s average peace levels improved. Three of the five biggest country declines in peace occurred in the region: Yemen, Libya and Bahrain."

Worldwide terrorism and political instability have the greatest impact. "Deaths from terrorism increased by 80 per cent from last year’s report with only 69 countries not recording a terrorist incident. The intensity of terrorism also increased with the number of countries suffering more than 500 deaths from terrorist acts more than doubling, up from 5 to 11. The rise in political instability was globally distributed with large changes within many countries spread across many regions. Among the countries with the largest deteriorations were Djibouti, Guinea-Bissau, Poland, Burundi, Kazakhstan and Brazil."

Terrorism around the world accounts for a small percentage of the total number of violent deaths. However, terrorism has grown steadily over the past decade. The number of yearly incidents has almost tripled since 2011 and the number of deaths has increased to over 30,000. "There are signs that terrorism is becoming more common across the globe, with almost every region having an increase in its terrorism impact score from 2008 to 2016."

In 2014 battle deaths hit a 25 year high, "owing largely to the conflict in Syria but also the increasingly protracted conflict in Yemen, battle deaths hit a 25 year high. This number is likely to increase when 2015 data is released."
And all of this impacts the world in more ways than just the loss of life. The economic burden is enormous. But even greater is the emotional impact on those who witness this violence in person and via the media. The level of fear increases daily. And fear leads to further violence in the homes and communities worldwide.

There are signs of hope in the midst of the negatives. The indicator with the largest improvement is UN peacekeeping funding. This underscores the increasing commitment of the international community to maintaining adequate funding for peacekeeping operations. This needs to be supported with the energy so many utilize to support violence and division. It is through creating unity and connection that peace can be possible. 

And people and organizations are addressing the need for peacemaking. A few of those are listed at the end of this post. Check them out to get ideas of how you can be involved in creating a more peaceful world. 

Please add organizations and/or projects you are aware of  in the comments so that we share resources in our efforts.

The statistics in this post come from the Vision of Humanity Organization web page:


Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Peace Is Less Expensive Than War, Yet We Continue To Fund War

“The budget of the United States for defense is over $1T, for climate change and to save humanity it is $10b, this is shameful.” — President Evo Morales, Bolivia

$13.6 trillion was the cost of war in our world last year. And you and I paid a large share of it. The U.S paid 28.38% of that total. Is that really how we want our money spent? Why not spend more for peace?

The approved budget for UN Peacekeeping operations for the fiscal year 1 July 2015-30 June 2016 is about $8.27 billion [A/C.5/69/24 PDF Document]. * That's a far cry from the cost of war. I wonder what would happen if we spent even half as much on peacekeeping/peacemaking as on war. $6.8 trillion could make big changes in the world. Where should it go? How should it be spent?

A good place to begin is education.  Upgrade education in depressed areas of the U.S, including Native American Indian Reservations. A well-educated public is more likely to support efforts for peace and more likely to improve their economy. Support efforts to educate both girls and boys in third world countries. This improves all other efforts to develop their economy and health initiatives. Educating women increases the likelihood that education of all children will be carried forward. In many of these countries the men have been killed or wounded by war and the women are burdened with supporting their families. This is more possible when they are educated.

Along with improving education, we need to strengthen their infrastructure to make it possible for people to communicate and to travel more quickly and safely. This then makes it possible to establish health clinics that are accessible in areas where there are no medical facilities. And implementation of cell phone and internet capabilities bring the world to otherwise isolated areas. This is true of depressed areas of the U.S. and third world countries. These improvements also create jobs for otherwise unemployed people in these areas.

When people are economically stable, not fearful of the burden of poverty, they are better able to work toward peaceful relationships - as individuals, as countries. Violence erupts when people are feeling trapped, needy, oppressed. We see this when communities riot and where people rebel. Wouldn't our money be better spend addressing the causes of violence than on weapons and containment?

What do you see as opportunities to invest in peacemaking? How would you prefer our tax money be spent to prevent violence and war?


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Halloween Ads. Really?

As if time didn't fly fast enough, merchants start advertising holiday items so far in advance that it feels like it couldn't possibly be time. But, I guess thinking ahead is important. I just don't like seeing time pass so very quickly. Is that because I'm getting old?

Anyway, it is always interesting to see what kind of costumes the kids will wear.

Today most kids buy ready-made costumes of their favorite cartoon or movie characters.

But I'm most entertained by the costumes that are home-made. They are so creative! You can see lots of examples at

In grade school we had costume parties and we went door to door on Beggars Night, what is now called Trick or Treat. My mom usually made me a costume of some sort. She was very good at sewing and making things. We didn't go far from home, though. I don't remember going for more than a block or two. It was about the only time we got a lot of candy at our house. We often got apples in our beggar bags, sometimes even an orange. But the candy was what we most wanted.

Since most of the homes in our neighborhood had kids and we all knew each other, there were no concerns about being harmed. We were cautious about crossing the street, but other than that we never had to worry about poisoned candy or razor blades in anything. It was all just fun. Times were less dangerous then, even though we lived in a city.

I remember there was one house that we kids had always avoided. We never saw the person who lived there and it never had many lights on. We thought it was kind of spooky. One year I decided I'd be brave and go up and ring the bell at that house. The other kids waited on the sidewalk while I went up onto the porch. A guy came to the door and I said the little verse we always recited, "Tonight's beggars night and I've come to beg a bite." He look surprised. Then he went into the house and brought me a bag of potato chips! I thanked him and took off for home. I became a neighborhood hero. :-)

Once I was going to make my own costume. I don't remember how old I was, maybe pre-teen or so. I found a pair of old pants in the basement and cut them up to make my hobo outfit. It wasn't long until I learned that I had cut up my dad's hunting pants, and he was not amused. Wasn't much could be done about it by then. They were quite ruined.

Where we live now we don't have children in the immediate neighborhood. We live on a busy street and most parents won't let their young kids go here. So I don't get to see their costumes like I used to. And fewer kids are going out in neighborhoods because it has become less safe. Churches and organization and businesses are having nights when they have giveaways for kids in costumes. They don't always give out consumables, so it is safer for the kids. It is hard for me to understand the thinking of someone who would do things to harm innocent and random kids by putting stuff in the treats they give out.

Things change. Kids are no longer safe. There must be a remedy for that.

What do you think?

Can we be more connected and care for all children in such a way that our world becomes safer?

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

School's in Session, Already!

I don't remember school starting so early in the past. We got out on Memorial Day and went back after Labor Day. And it was still too hot to be in school clothes without air conditioning. None of the schools had air conditioning then. [I'm old, remember.]

What has happened to summer? The summer break is so short now that I wonder how they have time for summer school for those who need/want it.

For that matter, what happened to school clothes? I see kids going to school in shorts and t-shirts. If a kid showed up in that when I was in school he'd be sent home immediately! I know that some schools have gone to uniforms, which I think is an excellent idea. No competition to have the newest fashion. It has been shown to reduce violence in schools, as well. Reduces distractions and sexualizing because the uniforms are less revealing. Families don't have to spend as much on the latest back-to-school fashions and the uniforms can be passed down when outgrown. Yeah, I know, the kids don't like them much, but they can dress to impress off campus.

Shoes were almost always needed to be new for school, as we outgrew them. And we didn't wear our school shoes to play in when we got home. We had old shoes until we wore them out. The problem was that our feet kept growing all year round!

Image result for saddle oxfords for women black and white I remember saddle oxfords being THE thing to wear in high school. And we had to keep them cleaned. So we had both black and white shoe polish. Gym shoes were required in high school. They were the old fashioned high tops and there weren't many varieties of styles like today. I remember the girls' were white and the boys' were black. No one competed to have the most popular style and they didn't cost anywhere near what they do now.

"Back in the day," as my grand-kids say, girls wore skirts and blouses or sweater sets in high school. Before high school we wore dresses. Jeans or slacks weren't allowed. Back then I had no sense of the expense being such a hardship. But looking back I realize that it must have been hard for my folks and most of the families in our neighborhood.

 Every year at the end of summer we went back-to-school shopping for clothes and school supplies. Are you aware that most families now spend over a hundred dollars for school supplies to start school each fall? That alone must be challenging for many families. I don't remember needing to replace more than just the paper, crayons, and pencils/pens each year. We usually took care of our binders, rulers, and pencil boxes so we could use them for more than one year. No one used backpacks, no one had calculators before high school, nor would they have been allowed to use them. And where I grew up the books were provided by the schools and we turned them in at the end of the school year to be used the next year by someone else. We'd have to pay a fine if they weren't returned or if they were in bad shape. We weren't supposed to write in them and didn't have highlighters.

I remember how uncomfortable the new clothes and shoes would be the first few weeks of school. My clothes were meant for colder weather and my shoes were not yet "broken in." The schools weren't air conditioned but they had large casement windows and sometimes caught a breeze if the hall door was open. I don't remember there being screens on the windows, either. But there might have been. I don't remember being bothered by flying insects in the classroom.

I always liked school. I loved to read and to learn things. I have always had a curious mind and liked new challenges - except for math. I've always had a problem with math. My brain just doesn't seem to work that way. I wonder, though, if I'd had better teachers, ones who could teach in more than one style, if I'd have loved math. I've never been one to click with rote memorization and that seemed to be the only style I was exposed to. I remember asking one of my high school math teachers why theorems were true. He got really frustrated with my why questions and finally told me not to ask why but to "just do it."  I seemed to ask why about a lot of things. And in other classes that was a good thing, it drew me forward to learn more. But not in math, at least not with Mr. Kessel!

In grade school I loved recess. We had a playground with swings, teeter-totter, basketball hoops, and a sliding board. We used to save the waxed paper from our lunch bags and ride down the metal sliding board on the waxed paper. It really made the board slippery! We'd go flying down. We played tag, played on the swings, played games like Upset the Fruit Basket, Red Rover [], Freeze Tag, Simon Says, Dodge Ball, A Tisket a Tasket, jump rope, hopscotch, Mother May I, just to name a few. We all looked forward to recess.

Nearly everyone carried their lunch to school. There were no cafeterias in grade school where I grew up. If you lived nearby you could walk home for lunch, and I did the first couple of grades. But my mom went to work when I was nine so I carried my lunch. I lived on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch for years. I still love peanut butter and jelly. There was no way to refrigerate our lunches, so our sandwich choices were limited. I remember what a big deal it was when I started carrying a thermos with milk or sometimes with soup. The problem was that I'd dropped my thermos too many times. They were glass inside and shattered when dropped. Having a lunchbox helped protect the thermos and by fourth grade nearly everyone had one. They were metal and some were more decorated than others. I remember having a red and black plaid one for a long time. One year I had a Hopalong Cassedy lunchbox and matching thermos. I was a big fan of his. []

Back then, when school didn't start until after Labor Day,summer still had a couple of weeks to go - to go barefoot, to go swimming, to go out and play. I'm sorry that the kids now are stuck indoors so early and the teachers have such short summer breaks to prepare for the school year.

What did you like best about summertime when you were a kid? What games did you play at recess? What do you remember about getting ready for school in the Fall? Did you like school? Who was your favorite teacher?

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Are We In This Together?

You and I aren't the only ones who want to curb hate and create peace. There are many people and groups and ways to make a positive difference in the world. Individually we are like drops of water. Together we can be a powerful river for change, positive change. The more drops of water the greater the flow.

I’ve been looking around the internet so see what else is out there. I’m noting just a few. Check some of them out. Find others on your own and share in the comments. Join forces with those that resonate with you. Encourage others to join in.

The time to diminish the "Us vs Them" perspective is now! 

When you think the world is getting worse instead of better, watch this TED Talk that’s very encouraging. 

Look around for where you can be a positive influence. Check these out:

Give it forward.

And, if you prefer books to the Internet,

The more the merrier!

Ultimately, however, our goal must be to change people’s perspective to see that we are all “Us”. There really is no “They” who are less valuable or important than we are.

What will you do toward that end? 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Further Reading on the Subject of Hate

There are lots of books on hate, hate crimes, hate speech, hate groups, groups against hate. Some are more from a sociological perspective, some from scientific perspective, some are about addressing the problems in the community.

The one I have referenced the most is Why We Hate: Understanding, Curbing, and Eliminating Hate in Ourselves and Our World by Rush W. Dozier, Jr  I’ve also skimmed Considering Hate: Violence, Goodness, and Justice in American Culture and Politics by Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski and read much of The Harm in Hate Speech by Jeremy Waldron. I got these from our local library. Check your library for these and other titles.

The first one, by Dozier, explores hate and ways to curb it from the perspective of anthropology, evolutionary psychology, cultural history, sociology, biology, and neuroscience. It looks at the evolution of the brain and the role hate plays in human behavior. And it goes on to lay out strategies to change the role of hate in our lives today. Dozier is a Harvard-educated Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and science writer and the author of several critically acclaimed books on a variety of topics.

The book Considering Hate by Whitlock and Bronski argues that hate violence “reflects existing cultural norms.” They draw on social science, philosophy, theology, film, and literature to examine how hate and common, even ordinary, forms of individual and group violence are excused and normalized in popular culture and political discussion, which warps society’s ides about goodness and justice. Whitlock is a writer and activist who has been involved with racial, gender, queer, and economic justice movements since 1968. She is cofounder and contributing editor for the weekly Criminal Injustice series at Bronski has been involved in gay liberation as a political organizer, writer, and editor for more than four decades. Author of several award-winning books. He is Professor of the Practice of Activism and Media in the Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard university.

I found The Harm in Hate Speech by Waldron very interesting as it addresses the serious consequences of hate speech in our lives, our countries, and the world. He explores the costs of hate speech and questions where the line should be drawn the Second Amendment right to free speech. He asks how we should protect people from the harm of hate speech. Waldron is University Professor, NYU School of Law, and Chichele Professor of Social and Political Theory at All Souls College, University of Oxford.

There are, of course, many more you may consider.

Search “hate crimes” in Amazon

Search “hate groups” in Amazon

Search “hate speech” in Amazon

Search “groups against hate” on Bing.

Let me know what you found that answers your questions about hate. Hopefully we can work together to curb hate and create peace in our homes, communities, and world.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Tell Me About It!

The first seven steps of the strategy for curbing hate have been explored in the previous posts. The final three may not be as simple. Let's see if we can make our way through them.

The eighth step is to avoid being/feeling trapped. It is when we are trapped or powerless and our fear is highest that we easily slip into hating that which has you trapped. Maybe you feel trapped in a relationship, a job, a situation, a conflict. In order to avoid this feeling you'll need to use all of the previous steps, particularly communication and negotiation. You may feel trapped in a job, for instance, start hating to go to work, hating your boss, or hating the organization. To change that you might start by letting people know in a constructive way what specifically you are unhappy with. If possible negotiate some changes. If there really is nothing you can do to change things you might start exploring opportunities elsewhere. Or you might try to put things in a different perspective by viewing your frustrations as creative challenges that can lead to a new level of personal growth.

I was in a job once that I came to hate. I was frustrated that I was not being given the kind of work experiences that I had been promised and there was little chance that it would ever be resolved. There was no chance for me to use the job to get the experience I needed to advance my career. The reason I'd taken that job was no longer there. So I set a different goal. I decided I'd work that job until I had saved three month's worth of living expenses and I would quit. While I was working toward that goal I would look for other employment that would benefit my career. I no longer dreaded going to work because I no longer felt trapped in a dead-end job.

The ninth step is to immerse yourself in a positive way with the source of your hate. Working together on a mutually beneficial goal builds trust and erodes the divisions we create between Us and Them. Find ways to create opportunities to know more positive qualities of the source of your hate. Create an environment free as possible of prejudice, bigotry, hatred, abuse, and violence. Not easy in our present contentious environment. But seek out positives about that which is hated. Balance the negative news with positive examples.

We are just now beginning to see stories on the news and on the internet about various faith communities working for the good of those of other faiths. We hear about police departments getting to know the citizens of their communities and neighborhoods by doing positive activities. We watch various segments of the community reaching out to other segments to solve mutual problems. When we create balance in what we experience we can be less and less likely to see others in stereotypical ways.

And finally, seek justice and not revenge. Now here's the hard part. Most people just want to "get even." The reality is, however, that seeking revenge puts you farther behind in the whole situation. Vengeful hatred anchors you in the past. Where hate dominates, grievances are never forgotten. The cycle of revenge and retaliation goes on and on, sometimes for centuries. No one wins!

Where do you start to break the cycle? Apologizing is a step in the right direction. It takes a big person to apologize. Many seem to find it impossible. In long-standing cycles of revenge and retaliation, individual leaders need to offer specific, heartfelt apologies as a beginning toward reconciling and developing mutual empathy. Recently Pope Francis apologized to victims of sexual abuse by clerics and is cooperating in bringing religious leaders to court. The only path to peace in the Middle East is through reconciliation. Both sides must come together, acknowledge the specific wrongdoings and mistakes to the other, and negotiate compromises to reconcile their differences.

But the apology must be perceived as sincere, which isn't easy in a suspicious and cynical atmosphere. Forgiveness does not come easily. However, there is no peace without moving on to justice through forgiveness. The conviction in the courts of those guilty of crime helps bring a fresh start to healing of warring or disputing factions.However, lingering prejudice and hated make these kinds of problems intractable. Moving through the steps of this strategy to curb hate with constant focus on the common humanity and unique individuality of adversaries and a sincere attempt to understand their positons and feelings, is far more likely to lead to genuine solutions. Protest signs that say "No Justice, No Peace" are right. But the justice must come through forgiveness and empathy on both sides.

Peace comes at a price. We often think the price is war. But that isn't so. The price is giving up hatred and working for common goals. War has yet to result in true peace with justice.

So, what do you think? Can we reduce hate? Is peace possible? Tell me about it.

What examples of hate have you seen recently? What was the harm?

What do you find hardest to forgive? What apology would you most want to hear?

Tell me about it!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

How to keep Hate from Disrupting Life

We are continuing to address ways to curb hate. Let's look at the next few steps as ways to prevent hate from disrupting your life.

If you have worked through the previous steps (outlined in the previous few posts) you may now be able to find the opportunity to negotiate constructively and specifically to resolve sources of conflict and anger. After discovering what it is specifically that distresses you about the other and you are communicating rationally, it is time to look at where changes can be made by both parties. Perhaps when you understand more about them you can realize that only a change in your perspective is necessary to resolve the hate and anger. Or each of you can discuss how compromise may be made in the situation. Perhaps your hate comes from fear of the other, fear they will harm you in some way.

  • Once that is examined there may be ways you can resolve that fear with more knowledge about the other. Educate yourself and others with more specific knowledge about the individual, group, or culture. The more specifics you have the less likely you are to fall into stereotypes that breed hate by dehumanizing the other.  Education must incorporate empathy, specificity, and the other elements of this strategy to curb hate. The information you acquire needs to come from various perspectives, not just from others who are steeped in hate-speech and stereotypical thinking. The United States of America is one of the best educated country in the world, yet hate and hate-speech abound. Stereotyping is lazy thinking. And even educated people can be lazy. You need to go beyond the labels and stereotypes.

  • Having raised your awareness about the many facets of the individual, group, or culture, you can more easily cooperate with the other in mutually beneficial ways wherever possible. Working together on something positive builds trust. Trust can replace feelings of hate. It isn't necessary to trust them completely with everything. Build it a bit at a time. It is great to see police departments working with neighborhoods to build trust. Some are handing out ice cream. Some are building playgrounds and recreation opportunities. Some are visiting schools for extracurricular activities. I've seen where groups of different faiths are building worship spaces for them to share and groups of one faith are reaching out to help people in need who are of a different faith. These are all building trust and lowering anger and hate.

  • When you find yourself feeling hate, try to put things into perspective instead of overreacting. Ask yourself if you fear is based on reality and if it is as important as you think. Is the anger from that fear worth the level of hate you are experiencing? Exploring your feelings rationally often can resolve those that distress you unduly. We can get addicted to the rush of Adrenalin from anger, but addiction costs us the ability to think clearly and act reasonably. Relationships suffer and opportunities are missed. Ask yourself honestly, how important is it? What could you do to deal with the situation without feeding the anger?

You are on the way toward curbing anger. In my next post we will explore the final steps in the strategy. We can make our lives and our world better when we have curbed hatred. You are well on your way.

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Empathy and Communication: The Dynamic Duo

After fully identifying the specifics of what you hate (as discussed in the previous post), you are ready to move into the next two steps. Time to develop an us-us approach.

This requires you to empathize with others, even those you have no sympathy for. The dictionary defines empathy as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of others.” This goes deeper than sympathy, which acknowledges the other person’s pain and, perhaps, even providing comfort. With empathy you acknowledge the other person’s pain because you have experienced similar feelings or can put yourself in the other person’s shoes.

With an “Us and Them” perspective you can only sympathize because you are separating yourself, your experience from the other. With an “Us-Us” perspective you are acknowledging the connection to another at a personal level. Only when you can do this can you fully understand the other.

Before I retired I was a sex-offender therapist in the prison system. Many people couldn’t understand how I could possibly work with such “monsters.” And if I saw them as “monsters” there would have been no way I could have made a difference. I’d have believed that once a monster, always a monster and therapy couldn’t change anything. I had to be able to see them as human beings with much in common with the rest of us. They have feelings, strengths, weaknesses, dreams, and goals. They are not “bad through and through”, as someone put it.

When I got to know them as human beings and learned their stories, their histories, their failures and successes I could relate to them on a “us-us” level. That didn’t mean I had been a sex offender or that I condoned any of what they had done. But I could understand how they got to that point and I could work with them to make the changes they needed to make in order to live healthier and happier lives. They had a lot of work to do to change their thoughts and beliefs in order to make better choices. The hardest of which, for some, was developing empathy. Because as long as they didn’t recognize the harm they had done to their victims they really didn’t have any desire to change. Developing empathy helped them acknowledge the pain they had caused in others and led them to feel remorse. Only then were they motivated to do the hard work necessary to change.

With major conflicts between countries, or groups of people, if there is no empathy they can believe that the “other” is less than human and their hate can turn quickly to violence without feeling any regret for the atrocities they commit. The Germans thought the Jews were less than human, or at least a lower form of human. Their treatment of the people in the concentration camps was unimaginably atrocious. One religion defines another as evil and they are then free to destroy them with pride. One group of people demonizes another group of people because they are different in some way and can then violently attack them. Some of the crimes against blacks in America are only possible if you refuse to acknowledge the pain they cause.

As long as we choose to separate from others who are different we can avoid acknowledging the pain caused by our hate.

When we choose to see others as equals as humans, as long as we acknowledge that we have similar feelings and flaws, we can then successfully communicate. Communication requires that understanding we listen. By listening we can learn what the other is thinking and feeling and when we can identify what is really going on. We can communicate the specific reasons we feel angry or threatened and can begin to dissipate negative emotions. We can discuss the issues more rationally. We have a better chance of reaching a good compromise, finding win-win solutions,  and curb the feelings of hate and fear. If we talk about our hate only using the generalizations and stereotypes the anger can intensify and the hatred becomes inflamed. This is the effect of “hate speech”, the name-calling and demonization of the “other.”

We can see this played out in the media these days. One side calling the other insulting names and avoiding any rational discussion. There seems to be no room for compromise or even real exploration of the specifics of what they hate, beyond the labels and stereotypes. So, of course, the hate gets bigger and violence erupts.

Attending to these two steps – empathy and communication – can go a long way in curbing hate in the individual and personal level and on the national and public level.

What are some examples of how you have used these two steps to improve relationships?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Rooting Out Hate,. Where to Start

We're talking about the kind of hate that leads to violence and can infect large groups of vulnerable people. This is the hate that we are hearing and seeing in our communities and the world today.

In my last post I wrote about this kind of hate and the damage it has and does cause. In that post I ten ways to root it out, as discussed in Why We Hate by Rush W. Dozier Jr. Over the next few weeks I'll be exploring this subject with the goal of helping us create more peace in individuals, in families, communities, and beyond. I'll be exploring each of the ten steps Dozier listed, beginning with the first today, be specific.

What or who do you hate? Be specific. Examine what it is, specifically, about someone or something that distresses you.  Is it current or past? For instance, is your reaction a result of something from the past - history- or from today. Do you hate someone's appearance because they remind you of a past experience that still has strong emotions connected to it? Or do you hate something because your parents or teachers taught you it was dangerous, even though you have no personal experience of it?

Or is your hate based on current fears of what might happen or might threaten you, even though there is little basis of fact of that likelihood. You hear about an event on the news and, while there is very little chance it could happen to you, you fear it intensely enough to hate the person, group, or thing involved.

Then explore how someone or something that distresses you is specific to that individual or thing, rather than to lumping them into a category to hate. For instance, the current tendency seems to be to lump all persons of a specific religion or race to hate because a few of those in that category have created the situations that distress you.

Categorizing people dehumanizes them and separates us. When we buy into "us vs. them" thinking, it becmes easy to hate and/or wish them harm. For instance, as GLBT people began to "come out of the closet" and people got to know them as individuals, it became more difficult to demonize them. We knew them as individuals with more in common with "us" than as "others' who were less than human.

Us vs. them thinking is not always bad, of course. WE often need to differentiate between objects or ideas in order to make swift decisions on how to react. The problem is when we tend to see everything as black or white, good or bad, friend or enemy. We must be wary of the lazy habit of this kind of thinking as, in reality, it is quite possible - even probable - that "both-and" is true. Nature AND nurture shape us. There are both safe AND dangerous snakes. There are peaceful AND violent people in every country.

Even with "enemies" it is important that we know more about them than the label we affix to them if we intend to protect ourselves. We need to know the specifics that are real facts and not just stereotypes of a category.

Being specific about that which you hate can moderate your thinking to be more rational and make healthier behavior choices. Hate can be a dangerous thing.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hate at First Sight? Ten Ways to Break the Cycle of Hate

Hate seems to be popping up everywhere these days. What is hate, anyway? And why do we react to it so strongly? Can hate be useful? Is it harmful? Can it be neutralized?

The dictionary defines hate as "to dislike intensely or passionately; feel extreme aversion for or extreme hostility toward; detest: to hate the enemy; to hate bigotry." While hate is always around, somehow the current intensity is extreme. Is it contagious? Where does it come from?

I think it comes from a society that has become more and more separate. We have become more disconnected, which makes it harder to see others as people just like us. Hate dehumanizes its victims. 

Hate can be in a number of forms - religious hatred, racial hatret, national hatred, ethnic hatred, class hatred, political hatred, and on and on. And it threatens the well-being of all of us. With the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, unbridled hatred can result in horrendous tragedy.

Neuroscience has studied the structures and chemicals in the human brain generating negative emotions, such as hate and fear, with the hope of curbing its terrible influence in the world. This is important because, as we have seen, blasts of hate sweep away civility and tolerance, spurring individuals to commit acts of savagery and pitting group against group in combat that can become vicious and deadly. 911, Orlando's club Pulse, terrorism around the world are examples that are all too fresh in our minds.

Nazi Germany was caught up in it and committed unspeakable acts of torture and genocide. The slaughter of Native Americans in the 19th Century and the oppression and terrorism in the Middle East today are all part of this madness.A history filled with hatred fueled violence is long and bloody: The wars of religion that ripped Europe apart, the Napoleonic Wars, the 75 years of ferocious hot and cold world wars begun in Sarajevo in 1914 through the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. And the cycle of violence may be starting again. It must be rooted out of not only the caves of Afghanistan but also out of the human mind.

Our brains don't come pre-programmed to hate. However, certain fears appear to be innate forms of survival. Fear and hate are closely related, however. When fear becomes chronic we develop hate for that which we fear. Hate becomes an instant response to the feared object. We develop a severe aversion to it. We learn to hate.

Research also suggests that hate develops when people are feeling trapped, overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness. And the more separate we become the less power we seem to have and the easier it becomes to feel trapped.

And how do we approach the task of rooting hate out of our minds? We certainly don't do it by stoking the fires of hatred with hate speech and fear-mongering. We don't do it by dividing people into categories. We don't do it by limiting choices and reducing personal power over one's life. We don't do it by looking at people as "other", as "not us." 

Rush W. Dozier, Jr. in Why We Hate, Understanding, Curbing, and Eliminating Hate in Ourselves and Our World suggests ten strategies "that, when used in tandem, could prevent hate from ever developing and minimize or eliminate hate where it has taken hold." These strategies are: be specific, empathize, communicate, negotiate, educate, cooperate, put things in perspective, avoid feeling trapped, immerse yourself, and seek justice not revenge. He writes that "each of these strategies is designed to maintain the advanced neural system's control over the darker forces of the primitive neural system and end the vicious cycle of hate."

Let's look at how this might work. 

  1. Be specific. Identify any source of anger, pain,or threat specifically. This keeps it rational. This is especially important with children. Rather than a general negative comment help the child see what specifically is involved, with the focus on that rather than labeling the child as deficient in some way. So what is it about someone or something that distresses you and how is that specific to that person or thing rather than lumping into a category that dehumanizes and separates.
  2. Empathize. Look at the "other" as "us". Seek to understand the other's thoughts and feelings. Put yourself in their shooes. If you can understand what specifically motivates them, you stand a better chance of reaching accord with them, or at least coming up with the best strategy for outwitting them. Recognize  our common humanity. Refuse to ostracize, stigmatize or demonize the object of your hatred. When we empathize we are not likely to fall into mindless hostility and demonization. The more you exercise empathy the the stronger it becomes. The brain is programmed to learn.
  3. Communicate. Simply communicating the specific reasons that you feel angry or threatened can help dissipate negative emotions. Again, it is important to be specific in your communication. If you only talk about your negative feelings in generalities and streotypes [hate speech], anger can be intensified and hatred fueled.
  4. Negotiate. Seek to negotiate constructively and specifically toward a resolution of confict and anger. Good two-way communication can help bring about healthy compromise. 
  5. Educate - yourself and others. So much of hate and prejudice comes from sheer ignorance. The more specific knowledge about an individual group, or culture you have the less likely you are to buy into stereotypes - the breeding ground of hate. Sophisticated and rigorous education tends to be good for the brain, allowing it to serve as a defense against primitive urges and impulses of violent responses. Education must, however, include empathy, specificity, and other elements of this strategy.
  6. Cooperate. Whenever possible, work with others in beneficial ways. This builds bonds of trust to replace feelings of hate. Working with others to achieve a common goal can erase the us-them divisions. 
  7. Put things in perspective rather than overreacting. Evaluate if your anger is really worth it or if the threat is really that important. Going thourgh this analytical exercise engages the advanced neural centers of the brain and suppresses the primitive neural system, reducing the "knee jerk" reactivity.
  8. Avoid feeling trapped.  Use all the previous steps in this strategy. If you are unhappy in a situation, let people know in a constructive way and negotiate some changes. If you discover there is nothing you can do tho change things, start exploring opportunities elsewhere or put things in a different perspective by redefining the frustrations you feel as creative challenges that could lead you to a new level of personal growth. Exploring frustrations a challenges rather than problems helps you use creative problem-solving skills and your personal power to change.
  9. Immerse yourself. Make every effort to seek out opportunities to immerse yourself in a positive way with the source of your hate. Positive immersion, like cooperation and working toward a common goal, tends to activate subconscious mechanisms that erode us-them divisions and primitive emotions. Children tend to quickly absorb bigotry and hatred in their environment, creating lifelong biological consequences of immersion in a negative environment. This can result in neurochemical abnormalities in their limbic systems, leaving them with a permanent tendency to overreact to threats.
  10. Seek justice, not revenge. Vengeance tends to lock us into the past. Grievances are never forgotten and the cycle of revenge and retaliation go on for centuries. Nelson Mandela knew this and created a justice system of forgiveness and restitution for his nation to create peace and greater harmony.
Hate is, of course, irrational and quickly becomes habitual. It is resistant to change. Unlike other habits it is often linked to elaborate rationalizations produced by the advanced neural system. People come to believe passionately the warped meaning systems, fooling themselves into thinking they are being completely reasonable when they aren't. Hate can be delusional. People may honestly believe they are doing the right thing. 

As you can see, reducing and eliminating hate isn't easy. It takes focused and persistent effort. However, if we want a world at peace we will need to work diligently at it.

Consider what you hate, what threatens you, what you fear. Look at it with this strategy and see if it makes a difference. Which step worked best for you?

Well explore these steps in the upcoming posts. Be sure to check back. Or subscribe to my blog and follow as they are published.

*Why We Hate: Understanding, Curbing, and Eliminating Hate in Ourselves and Our World by Rush W. Dozier, Jr.