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.

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