“The Opposite of Love is Not Hatred”
We live in an age defined only by extremes. Best or worst ever. Greatest success or biggest failure. It is an absolutist claim, a cry for recognition. We are all desperate to be remembered for something, no matter what it is. We want to be the most successful singer or athlete or, if that doesn’t pan out, maybe we can kill the most people in the bloodiest mass shooting ever. In this post-religious age, people are more scared than ever of dying with their dreams unfulfilled.
Extreme definitions lead us to extreme emotions, those grinding psychological problems that pass for most people’s everyday behavior. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the worlds of both politics and religion.
In many ways political belief and religious faith are the same thing. We generally hold these ideas very deeply within us, the magnetic center of our moral compass. With thoughts of God and Country we form ourselves into the sort of people we want to believe we really are.
But too much faith, too much belief in the singularity of your soul causes most of the problems society endure. We turn on ourselves over often meaningless things, breaking apart into fierce clans. If you are only capable of seeing reality one specific way, and cannot accept that others may see things differently; if you oppose them on principle because if they are right then your must be wrong, then everyone is at fault and it comes down to who we choose to blame.
Blame is at the heart of these strong emotions. We need to scapegoat, need to generalize and we need to call out (sometimes exaggerate) the flaws we believe that those unlike us possess and perpetuate upon the world. We come to see their influence as pernicious, as intentionally malignant, and we resume our childhood instinct on the notions of what is right and wrong. Of good versus evil.
When we are in love–say with a person who is not someone we personally know–we love the very idea of their existence. We may not truly know their heart. It is likely we will never even meet them in person, regardless of whether we go to see them sing or play or speak. But we love them nevertheless. And without really knowing anything about them other than your admiration, it is easy to take this individual for something they are not. We sometimes believe that they are our salvation.
We deify our idols. We believe in them no matter what. If we are devoted enough, anything negative that anyone claims becomes a ridiculous lie, no matter how much evidence there may be to prove it. This person can do no wrong and, even if they did, it must have been for a very good reason. You can’t fault them for this. Nobody is perfect all the time.
Hatred is the exact same emotion as love, but from an opposing ideology. Hatred is every bit as passionate as love. It is blindly focused on its target and consumes you like a flesh-eating plague, speeding up your heart, making your blood boil. Here you shout instead of coo, but the added depth to your feeling does not change. Often the people we hate the most are the ones we used to love–ex’s, disgraced politicians, anyone we think has betrayed something profound about our deepest beliefs.
Too often people use these terms–“I love” so-and-so or “I HATE THEM!” But most things we neither love nor hate. This is another exaggeration. We dislike some things and are fond of others. Love and hate never enters the picture. We lie to ourselves and to others and pretend that we care about things we will soon forget. Passing fads, a celebrity of the moment, strict political or religious views imposed by your parents that someday you will outgrow.
When I was teaching I wanted the students to know this, that love and hate are the same things. I told them this and they wanted to challenge me with all the passion a teenage kid may have for a teacher they do not care about.
The students would laugh. They called me stupid. They said I didn’t know what the hell I was talking about.
My response was to say nothing and give a little smile. Sometimes I would stand there and look at them, my grin getting deeper, my eyes never wavering. I would do this until the room grew quiet and discomfort seeped in through the walls of the classroom. They went from mocking to nervous. They would all be looking at me.
“What you laughing at Mr. —–?” I would sometimes get. Or “What’s so funny?”
And I would answer with a genuine laugh. “This is what I wanted to teach you.” There was head-scratching, confusion, maybe even some interest. “Do any of you love me?”
“No!” they would shout with enthusiasm, except, maybe, for whichever student may have had a crush on me at that moment, this person looking down, blushing. They might pretend to be working or reading or simply drawing a romantic picture of their wedding to anyone but me. At the moment I was the passing fad. I was something they would soon outgrow.
“What about hate? Do any of you hate me?”
This took a little longer. They sat there. Some shook their heads and muttered quiet ‘no’s.’ One or two of the trouble-makers or class clowns would now be smiling, hoping to take advantage of this question to get a laugh out of everyone in the room. The boldest of them might say, “Yeah! I hate yo ass, Mr. —–!” to the uproarious laughter of his friends, who were not so brave as him. And this kid would smile at me with clear affection. How many other teachers would let him get away with saying this?
“No,” I finally said. “None of you hate me. No one loves me. Most of you–most of you don’t care about me at all. And there is your opposite of both love and hate. Indifference.”
If there was any confusion over this (usually there was not), I would hammer this point home. “With love you obsess over someone or something, and vow to remain loyal and promise to save their life. With hatred you obsess over someone or something, and vow to destroy it and truly wish for them to die.” And here I would pause. The students would nod. They were starting to see my point.
I continued: “With indifference you don’t care one way or another if I live or if I die. It has no impact or interest for you whatsoever. You don’t think about it. You never think about me. Come April, after we’ve been in class together for more than six months, those of you who rarely show up might not even know my name (laughter). Because you don’t care. You don’t care at all.”
And they would sit there and stare at me, perhaps the first and only time one of my lessons would actually sink in. I told them to beware of who they love and what they hate. I told them to not lump groups into the same category, assume that people all think the same way and want the same things as their hated leader, the one person in the world who you honestly hate.
My advice had always been this: Get to know someone. You’ll find a much better reason to hate them. But I don’t say this anymore. I have lost interest if both love and hatred. I think we must all be tired of feeling the way we do.