Dissecting the Enemy

I know that everyone is probably anxious to start jumping in and doing something. After all, we have stated again and again that #unitecloud is about “actionable steps”. However, the other important part of this journey, this movement, is education. Educating ourselves is one of the primary steps. I believe that before we can really start making any type of difference here we need to first describe and examine who or what the enemy is. Seems easy, right? We are fighting bigots, bias, prejudice, racism, xenophobia, slander, hate crimes, homophobia… Whoa! Lets’ simplify it.

We are fighting HATE.

There, that’s better. Sounds simple, right? Sounds simple, but it’s not. Hate is a complex organism, folks.

Hate is not a solid, stand alone thing but rather the left-over energy of something else. It is the waste product of something active. Bear with me here. Hate doesn’t just pop out of nowhere. You don’t just look at something and say, “I really hate that thing!” but rather you look at something, process it as either “good” or “bad”; that reaction then travels down another conveyor belt to another processing plant where you take that reaction, pull it apart, and then are left with a byproduct of indifference, like, or hate.

The_interior_of_a_dissecting_room;_Wellcome_L0039195Not getting it? Let’s dissect it then, shall we?

Here are some examples of what hate stems from:

  • FEAR– this is a big one folks.
    • It can be a simple fight or flight survival instinct that triggers fear. This is essential to us- friend or foe. We need to be able to make instantaneous judgements.
    • It may be that the subject in question triggers a memory of a previous hurt or scary situation. If you’ve been assaulted by a large, tattooed man in the past it may cause you to make unfair judgements of all tattooed men in the future.
    • It may be a general xenophobia (fear of things foreign or strange)- you fear what you don’t know or what you don’t understand.
    • Fear can be ingrained in us because of what we experienced, saw or learned in our childhoods, what we hear and see through the media, stories from friends, co-workers, etc.
  • LACK OF EMPATHY – empathy is not an intrinsic or inborn characteristic of all people. Some people are truly incapable of putting themselves in the shoes of another.
    • Again, you hate or dislike that which you don’t understand.
    • An inability to empathize makes you less likely to understand peoples’ motives and instead help to create generalizations or stereotypes.
    • Lacking empathy dehumanizes people. If you cannot understand someone’s situation you cannot understand their motives and actions. You boil it down to something you know, “dumb”, “lazy”, “clumsy”, etc.
  • SELF ESTEEM– both low or high
    • People with low self esteem may belittle or put down others as a way to make themselves feel better. This feeling can be intoxicating and lead to more and more hateful behavior.
    • Rallying against something (or someone) can give a sense of purpose and thereby increase self-esteem.
    • An overly high sense of self esteem (or pride) can lead to self-righteous behavior and thoughts. “My way or the highway” type of thinking.
    • A need to avoid shame or simply keep our self esteem intact can cause someone to develop hateful feelings of another if they feel threatened.
    • Need to show dominance.
    • Positive distinctiveness is a component of Social Identity Theory and is when one group is made to appear more positive and valued by using verbal and non-verbal cues. Essentially it creates an “us vs. them” atmosphere with “us” always the better of the two.
    • A common example can be seen with sports teams. Fans often compare themselves to rivals and use positive distinctiveness to elevate the esteem of their team.
  • MISATTRIBUTING BENIGN BEHAVIOR– a lack of understanding can lead to fear or anger if a normal but different behavior is misunderstood.
    • My favorite examples are in relation to eye contact.  For many cultures prolonged eye contact can be uncomfortable, anxiety producing and even offensive while  here in the USA it is a sign of respect. For someone of another culture not to make direct eye contact with you may be a way for them to show you their respect and even abide by their religious beliefs only for you to take it offensively because it is outside your norm & understanding.
  • CERTAINTY & RIGID BELIEF SYSTEMS– Some people have a strong need for certainty, predictability, & hold very rigid belief systems. Changes or challenges to this can produce anger and even hatred to the offender(s). Many people also find a need to “sort” things in extremes: good or bad, color or neutral, etc.  They attribute things to a hierarchy; things lower on the totem are seen as less desirable or bad.
  • NEED TO BLAME– It is something that is ingrained in us and for some of us, even knee-jerk. We need some one, some group, some thing to blame when something goes wrong because we know it’s not us…

That’s probably only a tip of the iceberg, really.  Honestly, it could all probably be whittled down to FEAR being the primary response and HATE being just one possible byproduct. All of the other stuff is really just fear dressed or masked as something else.

Now that I’ve run through that you might be asking yourself, “Kelly, that’s great and all but who cares?” You should. You see, you can’t really begin the process of healing or repairing a heart filled with hate until you understand where that hatred has grown out of. I could spend an entire day educating someone about immigration benefits & financial assistance, Islam and the like, but if that person is filled with contempt because a Muslim woman once refused a hand shake and made little eye contact then I’m not going to get anywhere. They feel disrespected and all the other crap they are ranting about isn’t the real cause of their hatred.

The other thing we have to remember is that hatred isn’t just US against THEM with THEM as the bad guy. There are plenty of bad guys on OUR side, too. People who have offended our rigid belief system so we retaliate in hatred. Guess what? Not okay. Hatred takes away the ability to teach, to change minds, to make a difference. It just stomps, destroys, and separates. There has never, NEVER been anyone who has received a hate laced message and said to themselves, “You know what? I have been a total #@*$! and it’s about time I’ve changed.”  Nope, not happening. You know what else? Hate on OUR side dehumanizes those we are trying to reach. It turns them all into a bunch of uneducated, redneck, a-holes (at least that’s how my brain pictures them) driving around with confederate flags in their pickup trucks.  It stops asking what has them feeling this way; what has caused them such fear & pain and generalizes them and takes away their humanness. Doesn’t make us any better than them, huh?

Meet hatred with hatred and you degrade yourself. Meet hatred with love

As we move forward I am gonna need you to put on your empathetic shoes, you know, the nice comfy ones that look like old nurses’ shoes, your big kid panties, and your thinking cap. You’re gonna have to be strong so that when someone says something unkind, hurtful, or just plain ignorant, and you know they will, instead of jumping down their throats, shouting or just spewing information at them, I want you to try to think about where their hate is growing from. I want you to put yourself in their shoes. I want you to remember to empathize with the hater. I know it’s hard, but you’re here after all so I know you can do it.