There’s a particular family member I have who, ever since I was a little child, I never liked. Of course, when you’re seven-years-old you don’t think in those terms, but I’d still give him a wide berth whenever I could. He was a hulking man, blue-collar, worked hard, provided well, but mean in spirit and unpleasant in nature. He teased me constantly back then and though I never saw it personally, I have heard from my mother and some of his own children that he was a bit more than just mean to others. I’m pretty sure that if he’d ever raised a hand to me my mom would’ve taken his eyes out with a melon baller anyway. As I got older, that general wariness but childlike trust, based on nothing but familiarity, evolved into genuine dislike and ambiguous fear. At this point, when I’m a middle-aged man and he, not so big anymore, has become unworthy of that fear, I’ve come to think of him as the biggest asshole I’ve ever met and would gladly say it to his face if I actually bothered with him anymore.
But do I hate him, though?
This past US presidential election has found me thinking on the nature of hate, so prominent as it now seems to be. In a past entry, I touched on this briefly and described it as a learned behaviour, not a natural human state, and an unhealthy thing to let wander unchecked around our innards. How can I reconcile that with my feelings for this man, and other people I am not just unfond of but seriously dislike? To be honest, I don’t believe it’s that hard to do, but first I need to try to define what both an emotional state and a state of mind is, and highlight the differences.
When you experience an emotion – happiness, lust, anger – it’s naturally transitory, and an emotional state is simply the state of experiencing a particular feeling; we’re in one all the time, and they normally morph pretty easily without any real effort from us. A state of being, however, for my purposes anyway, is more fixed, and generally requires some conscious inner effort to both achieve and maintain. I tend to believe we’re in one of those all the time too, and good or bad, one can have an effect on the other.
I read The Tao of Pooh once, but I’m not a Buddhist. Stop asking me that.
As someone who’s suffered the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder for years, I’m intimately familiar with the fight or flight response when faced with a threat. (Or fold – someone added that one to the mix without sending me the memo.) That too is an emotional state, and one with immediate, real-world, physical manifestations. It’s a reaction to an external stimulus, real or perceived. Even my whacky, OTT version goes away eventually, though, unless I dwell on it, let it simmer and feed on itself, and then it steamrolls into a state of being. There really is a conscious effort there, whether we see it or not, and I’ve been as guilty of that as anyone.
Threats come in all forms: to a personal worldview, a value system, economic stability, belief structures or philosophies. The more abstract a threat, the more nonconcrete it is, the easier our reaction to it can leapfrog emotion and become a lasting behavioural pattern that is not natural, not healthy, and not particularly pleasant to watch on YouTube. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Westboro Baptist Church.
The term I hate has become synonymous with I don’t like, and though the former is wordier and takes longer to say (lazy bastards), I believe they do not mean the same thing. I love the evolution of language that finds Merriam-Webster validating words like cisgender and genderqueer and adding them to the global English lexicon. This is a wonderful thing. Hate, however, with all the violence it inspires, needs to be more tightly defined and not used as arbitrarily as it is now. Do you really hate spaghetti or just not like it? Do you really hate drivers who don’t use their turn signals or only get scared when they cut into your lane? I imagine the Westboro Baptist Church really does hate fags, but they’ve lost the plot anyway so that’s probably a bad example.
For the same reason that fighting intolerance, bigotry, and discrimination isn’t in itself intolerance, bigotry, or discrimination, we can dislike something fairly deeply but it’s not a state of being we settle ourselves into for the long haul. An emotional state may pop up when we’re faced with the thing we don’t like, but don’t ring that bell and those of us in a healthy state of being won’t start salivating (Pavlov’s dogs metaphor – me am smart).
It’s a shame we can’t say that for all of us.
Anger is not hatred. Fear is not hatred. Standing up against hatred is definitely not hatred.
So no, I don’t hate this particular family member, and I wouldn’t punch him in the face unless he swung first and even then probably not because he’s just a grumpy old man now. I don’t like him, though. And I do not have to put up with his crap anymore, either.