Unlearning Hatred in the Face of Angering Headlines
Hate, while learned, can be transcended
We have never had this much free time. Ironically, I’ve spent less time on social media many thanks to my newfound obsession: E-Books. It’s fairly easy to spiral down to the deep black hole of exasperating headlines and opinions crammed into 280 characters, and nobody is left unscathed. From personalities and brands using the #BlackLivesMatter movement for personal clout to billionaires broadcasting how coronavirus is the “great equalizer,” it seems that headlines nowadays trigger anger, even hatred.
Anger is a knee-jerk reaction, and most of the time, it’s uncontrollable. I’m guilty of retaliating when I participate in heated online exchanges with those I disagree with. I am not proud of it. I hate knowing that I’m capable of this kind of response, which is why I distance myself from being in these kinds of situations. I’ve abstained from looking at my Twitter feed and reading Facebook comments—well, I try.
Please don’t mistake me from being apathetic nor am I advocating some form of toxic positivity. In the past weeks, relentless criticism bore tangible action; demanding accountability from people in position is our right. I just know myself well enough and have done measures to protect my mental wellness. Esther Perel writes in The State of Affairs: “To be clear, not condemning does not mean condoning, and there is a world of difference between understanding and justifying. But when we reduce the conversation to simply passing judgment, we are left with no conversation at all.”
Conversations with People Who Hate Me
Social justice activist and digital creator Dylan Marron is the host of Conversations with People Who Hate Me. Here, he explores what happens “when online feuders step out from behind the keyboard and get to know the human on the other side of the screen.” He reaches out to his critics by saying, “Do you want to move this online conversation offline?” He has established this safe space for dialogue when it’s usually easy to dismiss others when one’s identity is hidden. His latest episode features two longtime friends who have an altercation on Facebook over the virus.
In Dylan’s TEDx talk, he shares an exchange he had with a stranger who called him a “talentless propaganda hack.” In their dialogue, Doug reveals, “I didn’t know anything really about you. And I think that a lot of times that’s what the comment sections really are, it’s really a way to get your anger at the world out on random profiles of strangers, pretty much.” From collecting conversations with strangers, Dylan shares, ”Sometimes, the most subversive thing you could do [is] to actually speak with people you disagree with, not at them.” He adds, “Empathy is not endorsement. Empathizing with someone you profoundly disagree with does not suddenly compromise your own deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs.”
Getting our points across may mean being open to the possibility of not changing someone else’s mind. The end goal is not a common opinion, it’s actually engaging in a conversation and, ultimately, humanizing each other. We need to foster open-ended communication when we’re used to shrugging off or worse, demeaning, those we disagree with. It’s too easy to forget this when we’re livid with rage.
Can Hatred Be Unlearned?
A few weeks back, I decided to rewatch American History X. I had to write a paper on it during my freshman year but I never quite felt its weight. A young Edward Norton (Fight Club) stars in the 1998 Neo-Nazi crime drama, which remains relevant two decades after its release. He plays Derek Vinyard, a young leader of a white supremacist and Neo-Nazi movement who goes through a transformation after he goes to prison. It’s a heavy yet important film. Hate is baggage; you learn it and you can unlearn it, too.
Not everything merits a response but when it does, it sure makes a difference to engage in a conversation—and practice empathy—instead of simply mounting walls. Simply put, hate, while learned, can be transcended.
Art Matthew Ian Fetalver