We are all human and we are all capable of ugly emotions. One of the ugliest emotions that drives unimaginable behavior is hate. The past year (globally) and the past election cycle (in the United States) have highlighted how much hate is in our hearts.
As a group, we were quick to abandon the early days of the pandemic where we were quarantined in solidarity, painting hearts on our windows and full of optimism. We became fearful of our neighbors, disgusted with those who held different beliefs, and just plain hateful to ourselves and to those around us.
We perpetuated ideas that if you supported law enforcement, you were a racist. We said if you didn't wear a mask, you were an enemy of public health - and killing your grandma! We praised some groups for their free speech while scolding and suppressing others if they didn't align with what we wanted to hear. Every day and in every way the ugliest sides of humanity came to light this past year.
How Can Hate Co-exist with Happiness?
Hate and happiness seem to be polarizing emotions. It is hard to understand how the two can exist in the same person at the same time. But the University of Cambridge is challenging the way that we think about happiness.
One 2017 study found that people are happier when they are able to feel the emotions that they want to feel - even if those emotions are negative. Some participants even reported a desire to feel more anger and negative emotion.
Happiness may be more than a balance of our positive and negative experiences. Similar to findings in research by popular social scientist Brene Brown, our happiness is tied to our authenticity. Life isn't always smiles and sunshine and feeling negative or positive emotions at appropriate times is important for our authenticity and therefore it is also important to our happiness.
Most people are able to distinguish between the causes for positive and negative emotions. Authentic expression means that we are processing and not suppressing.
Is Experiencing Hate Healthy?
We have all seen a hateful heart do ugly things. It offends, destroys relationships and at its worse, it causes suffering. Hate is a strong emotional representation of dislike, contempt, or sometimes even fear. While it is an extreme, it is important that it exists because it allows us to put our feelings and judgments on a scale and prioritize what is important to us.
The distinguishing factor is that most healthy people never allow their hateful feelings to influence their actions. But we are all flawed humans, some more than others. And many of us with varying degrees of emotional intelligence - or the ability to recognize, understand and navigate our emotions.
Sometimes because we have a low emotional IQ and sometimes because we have a weak moment, we are all capable of acting out of hate. Harsh words spoken or an angry look is not the sign of a broken person. It is a normal expression of emotion.
But for others, the hate is allowed to build and amplify. The hate grows stronger and finds common allies. The lines of morality between right and wrong become less clear and the actions of these individuals become more aggressive.
Hate can be a healthy emotion that reminds you where your moral boundaries lie. But it is important to effectively diffuse the hatred using healthy outlets so that it doesn't cross the line to unhealthy expression.
How Hate Leads to Dehumanization
Hate is a powerful emotion. While it is important to experience it and to recognize it. It is equally important to deal with it. Hate that is allowed to manifest in unhealthy ways is like a disease that infects our personality.
Hate can disguise our true feelings -- fear, confusion, inferiority, and disgust. But it is not pure hatred that fuels the level of dehumanization that drives groups of people to put others in concentration camps. The level of dehumanization that it takes to embrace a terrorist group or commit a hate crime. The truth is that fear often masquerades as hatred.
Hatred can become the vehicle by which we express our fear. Fear makes us vulnerable and rather than admit our vulnerability, most of us would rather project hate in an attempt to hide our vulnerability from the world. Psychologically we are protecting ourselves. But hate is so powerful and so lasting that it often causes irreparable damage in our lives.
When we are unable to face our fears, we find false strength in numbers with those who share our common fears. Seeking out this false strength can make us feel powerful and in control, calming our internal fear. It is how individuals fall in with terrorist groups or become bullies.
The collective dehumanization that occurs in these groups is terrifying. Individual members place little or no importance on the human life of those who represent the target of the fear (hatred). This dehumanization leads to justification for treating these people as 'less-than.'
How to Stop Hate in Its Tracks
Hatefulness is an important, but damaging emotion. It has a lingering effect that can stick around for a long time and do a lot of damage in your life. While you cannot eliminate it, you can learn to recognize it and its causes.
Educating yourself is the single most important thing that you can do to stop the cycle of hate. This means, to stop all of the hate in the world, everyone would need to learn how to recognize their emotions and be willing to do something about it. That seems like an insurmountable task!
But you can do something about you. You are responsible for your own actions and behaviors and you can learn to be a better human. Somewhere along that journey, you will likely discover a happier person buried under your existing feelings of hate, fear, contempt, or disgust.
If you are looking for a starting point, this past year has provided no shortages of emotion-evoking issues. Explore your feelings on what is happening in the world.
How do you feel about the US immigration crises?
You might have heard about a global pandemic, how do you feel about the mitigation efforts? Wearing masks, closing schools, vaccinations?
What do you think about the movement to defund the police?
What are your thoughts on the climate crises and global warming?
What is your initial reaction to the phrase 'anti-racism training' in the workplace or classroom?
If any of these topics put a lump in your throat, raised your blood pressure or caused a spike in anxiety, these are normal fear-based reactions. If any of these topics cause you to jump to defend yourself, engage in name-calling or foul-mouthed language, or evoke what you recognize is the emotion of hate, here is where your work begins.
Journal on your feelings about the topic that is causing you to feel anger, rage or resentment. Keep asking yourself why until you get down to the root cause of your fear. Then, seek to educate yourself on the issue.
In your search for knowledge, you may begin and end in the same stance -- as strongly for or against the issue. But the difference is that, when equipped with knowledge, you will understand why you are for or against it. You will dismantle the fear of the unknown and replace with a confident position - unswayed by the opinions of others.
There are always going to be two sides of the fence when it comes to hot-button societal issues. The difference between hate-fueled action that seeks to harm and destroy and peaceful resistance that seeks to stand strong and be resilient in the face of adversity is knowing which side you are on -- and why.
Happiness isn't always about endless positivity. Happiness is about authenticity and nothing is more authentic than standing up for your beliefs because they are your own and not because the media, a politician or an influencer told you what they are.