So, this is about a person, a t-shirt, and a difference in attitudes.
There’s this person I know. I’ve known them for years. I’m not going to say who it is, or even drop any hints about their gender, age, or relationship to me in any way. Because this daily think is about me, and only tangentially about them. I need to call them something, so for the duration of this post, I’ll refer to them by the wonderfully androgynous name Storm.
I’m not going to bandy about here. Storm is conservative, and more than just conservative: hatefully so. I’ve heard Storm refer to liberals as snowflakes, express glee over getting into arguments with them, say hateful, essentialist, reductive things about women, black people, and transgender people.
Over the many years I’ve known Storm, I’ve seen these attitudes go from just peeking above the surface, a little glimpse, to full on hate-iceberg floating above the water, ready to crash into my boat. (It’s not a great metaphor, work with me here.)
As this hateberg has made itself more apparent, I’ve gradually distanced myself from Storm, as well as some of Storm’s family and friends. I just don’t have the space in my life for that sort of toxic hatred, irrationality, and anger.
Recently, I bumped into them again. They were very proud of a new t-shirt they’d bought.
This isn’t the exact t-shirt, the slogan isn’t the same, nor the color. But the sentiment is very similar.
When I saw this thing, it really bothered the heck out of me.
I got a look on my face, that surely conveyed how unthrilled I was by it. I heard Storm comment to a friend, “Some people just aren’t gonna like it. Too bad for them.”
I didn’t confront them directly. I did stew about it.
Hence, this blog post.
I have this daily practice. Each day, I spend some amount of time in meditation and contemplation about some aspect of my life, human consciousness, emotional intelligence, and our relationship to one another. I study, for lack of a better term, being. This is something I’ve done for about 17 years or so now. Sometimes, I will ponder the same thing for many days, weeks, months, even years. (Compassion was one of my longest ones - I spent a good 18 months on it, several years ago.)
Lately, hate has been on my mind. What is it? Why do people do it? What can and should I do about other people’s hate?
I’ve been working on this latest contemplation for several days now. A few things have jumped out at me.
That shirt, and the sort of attitude it espouses is inherently paradoxical. “Hey,” it says, “pay attention to me not paying attention to you!” The very thing it protests, it also demands. Ridiculous.
For a long time now, I’ve held the belief that negative action is both more expensive and less useful than positive action. It’s human and natural to get angry. But to go out of one’s way to be negative costs a lot of energy. And it doesn’t really yield worthwhile results. Whereas positive action is the very opposite.
I’ll use an example from my own life. I used to have this very negative boss at an old job of mine. He was horrible. Racist, judgmental, snarky and dishonest. I tried over the course of a year or so, to point out to him what an insensitive jerk he was, and to get him to do better. Eventually, I realized it was fruitless. So I found myself a new job, and quit. That was more than a decade ago. My career has blossomed since then. He’s a distant memory.
I think hatred is a manifestation of a form of discomfort, or perhaps fear. “I don’t like this thing that is happening, so I’m going to react to it in this way.” It’s reactionary.
Whether they realize it or not, hateful people serve a purpose that they themselves cannot avoid. They’re instructive. Every time I hear Storm open their mouth to say some terrible thing, it furthers my own resolve to be as little like them as possible. Not just that I want to be kind and compassionate, but also that I strive to be self-aware, self improving, and not blind to the ways I might harm others through my own actions and beliefs.
There’s a taoist precept, wu-wei, the “action of inaction.” It’s not passivity. Rather, it’s a form of detachment. Do that which is necessary, and only that.
There’s a particular verse from the Tao te Ching, #2, that describes this very well. (Stephen Mitchell translation)
When people see some things as beautiful,
other things become ugly.
When people see some things as good,
other things become bad.
Being and non-being create each other.
Difficult and easy support each other.
Long and short define each other.
High and low depend on each other.
Before and after follow each other.
Therefore the Master
acts without doing anything
and teaches without saying anything.
Things arise and she lets them come;
things disappear and she lets them go.
She has but doesn't possess,
acts but doesn't expect.
When her work is done, she forgets it.
That is why it lasts forever.
Kindness and hatred also define each other. So, Storm’s attitudes, and actions have furthered my resolve in some very important ways. More than ever, I’m committed to my default position of being kind to others. More than ever, I look for opportunities to help other people. In my voting, politics, charitable giving, I’m committed to pass laws to minimize the ability of hateful people to harm others, and to help out the little guy when and where I can.
On a personal level, I can see that, as has been my previous course, I’m steering clear of Storm. If the occasion arises for me to compassionately tell them why, I will. But I’m going to do my best to not fret about it, because it’s not necessary.