Many years ago, I read in a child development class that kids who were physically and emotionally abused, if they survived their childhoods, had a better chance of healing than kids who were completely ignored. Being yelled at was better than no communication at all. Infants who were not held and cuddled, often had failure-to-thrive syndrome and many of them died. I thought about this recently, how ironically, the hater maintains a connection with the hated. To actively hate someone or something is to keep in contact with it, to maintain a kind of twisted relationship. Carl Jung would probably describe that as someone dealing with their own shadow.
There has been a lot of talk about hatred lately. And some of the talk has been about how to turn hatred into caring, to give people another perspective about the hated, to humanize them, make them real, and remind people how to connect with love and caring rather than fear and mistrust. We don’t tend to trust that which we hate. But even haters, given the opportunity to listen, to hear other points of view, may ultimately respond to another’s humanity.
I once talked to a gentleman who taught conflict resolution and peacemaking classes all over the world. He would teach government leaders in a room for a week. They had to eat together, were given problems to solve together, and were forced to acknowledge each other’s humanity. He described his experience with a group of Israelis and Palestinians. He said initially, they would barely communicate besides yelling at one another. At the end of the week, they were able to call each other by name, smile, and recognize each other as valuable human beings who had all suffered grave losses. It took a great deal of work and willingness to get to that point, but it was possible.
Racism, hating people because of their ethnicity, has resulted in the annihilation of many peoples throughout history. Humanity’s hatred of itself may ultimately be the cause of extinction of our species. Hatred kills, no question.
But what about indifference? In some communities, those who violate the rules are ignored, shunned, not spoken to or acknowledged in any way. They become non-persons, and without interaction, may choose to leave their community or die. We humans are herd animals, and to be separated from the herd makes it difficult to even want to survive. To live in a community or country that treats citizens with indifference leads to massive mental illness and a high rate of suicide.
Ultimately, indifference towards our own planet will not only lead to an extinction event for humans, but also other forms of life on earth. To simply not care, to not want to improve anything, make anything better, to not want to solve problems, this is the death of creativity, of possibility, of hope. Hatred may wipe humans off the face of the earth, but indifference kills worlds.
What is the antidote? Caring. I am reminded of a Maurice Sendak story about a boy named Pierre, who didn’t care, and well, he learned better. I hope the rest of us do too.