Finding Our Shared Humanity

Imagine how much suffering you would have had to endure to allow hatred to permeate your heart—your very being. Not the fleeting indignation extended to the absent-minded driver, but the kind of contempt that compels people to destroy lives. Pause and imagine what your childhood would have been like to make you so fundamentally different from the person you know yourself to be. 

If you’re honest with yourself, you might discover that you are not constitutionally superior to or different than the people who scare you the most. What makes you you and them them is what you and they have experienced in this lifetime. And what you and they have not.

Hatred is a form of suffering. Don’t be fooled into believing it is chosen lightly. It is chosen (or, more commonly, inherited) by those who simply cannot tolerate the dissonance of their suffering. Rather than be engulfed by the rage of relentless torment, they project it onto something outside of themselves (groups of people, ideologies, etc.).

I knew a man many years ago who claimed to have willfully taken human life. He was also a proud racist. He knew hatred well and seemed to find pleasure in creating fear in others. I got to know this man well and cared for him.

In safe moments, he shared the emotional and physical torture he endured as a little boy. He shared how his addiction had changed him. How, because he could not control himself, he attempted to control everything around him. He shared how prison had taught him to hate people of other races. I asked him if he genuinely felt hatred in his heart. He said no. It was all he had known. But, given a chance to set it aside, he did so with heartbreaking ease, if only for a moment. 

One of the many blessings that emerged from that time in my life and the experiences I survived was an understanding that we are all equally human. That does absolve any of us from responsibility for our actions, but, for me, it makes it easier to find the necessary bridge to our shared humanity. I have never met another person who, given the sanctuary of non-judgment and compassion, did not know what it means to love. 

If you had been born to a family that never showed you love, that taught you to fight or be humiliated and beaten, might you also suffer enough to hate?

If ever malevolence were real, it would exist at the moment we respond to hatred with fear. The self-protective metamorphosis of fear into self-righteousness is what hatred yearns for. Like us all, it wants to be known. Hatred and self-righteousness are both defenses against what scares us. They are brothers.

I realize it’s easier said than done, this not responding fearfully when people act like evil shits. It’s going to happen. But, we have to remember what we know as quickly as possible and redirect our efforts toward what we know works. The only remedy for hate is love.

One of the things that make being human so exacting is the realization that it is love for those who challenge us most that can make the most difference for us and the world we live in.

We are living through an era now where those who understand this are called to live it. Explaining how wrong others are while gently massaging each other’s indignation is part of the problem…the part we can control. Preaching (whether it be religious, spiritual, or philosophical) doesn’t help. Nor does teasing and ridicule.

I know being right feels good. I really, really get that. But, the impact of self-righteous judgment and indignation does not differ depending on where you are standing. Its effect is division. When we judge others as hopelessly different, we create the divides we say we want to heal.

We can’t admonish people into being a force for good. We can only demonstrate. We demonstrate by standing for the truth of our common humanity, by listening, by giving space to fail, and minds and hearts to change. We demonstrate by extending love even when it’s scary. We demonstrate by recognizing that we are all in this together, like it or not.