I am the mother of an out, genderqueer young adult. Since the shootings in Orlando, Florida, I have been having nightmares about running with a child, going through fantastic acrobats to protect them. In my waking hours, I sob and sob about someone gunning down my baby.
What motivates people to hate and then act on hatred? How do I keep from hating the people who hate my child?
Hate is not a straightforward emotion, like anger, fear, grief or joy. Hate is a conglomerate of emotions, probably anger, fear and grief, but with something more. It always seems to include a sense of helplessness leading to entitlement.
We all feel hatred, for little things and big things. Little things are mostly personal quirks; big things can be social conditioning setting us up against groups of people, along with a sense of entitlement to act on that conditioning.
Little thing example: I hate liver. There may well be something about liver that is not good for my particular body. In a reasonable world, I would have tasted liver as a young person, said no thanks, and avoided it from then on. Not complicated.
What happened to me and liver was much more nuanced. My parents thought liver was important for me to eat, plus they felt children should do as they are told. My rejection of liver became a power issue. I was physically punished and forced to eat it against my will. Now liver awakens feelings of powerlessness and fury, but as long as I don’t feel I have a right to force others to eat liver, this is a personal quirk, not a social problem.
What happens when people are forced to do much bigger things against their will? Liver times a thousand. Add to powerlessness and fury any sense of entitlement—say, I’m a guy and I don’t like people who don’t act like the kind of guy I was forced to be, and it just hurts too much to feel that way so I have a right to lash out at gay people. Hate crimes always involve a sense of entitlement, as in I’m entitled to lash out because I don’t like the way I feel.
I don’t have the right to force you to eat liver just because I’m pissed at my parents for forcing me to eat it. That would be entitlement.
The problem with acts of hate is they make us feel powerless, and the cycle continues. I hate hatred, and if I feel entitled as well, then I feel I have to right to act out hatred at the people who acted with hatred. A Muslim guy killed some gay people, I have a gay kid, so I have a right to hate Muslims.
The only antidote to hatred is action. There are many kinds of action, from personal healing to social change, and they are all important. Action means taking responsibility for our own feelings and our own healing so that we don’t blame the hater for their hatred. Action means working for gay rights in solid ways. I read that it is legal in Florida to fire a person from their job because they are gay. That has to change. Many things have to change in the world for both gay people and Muslims. Until all people are free, none of us are.
The Dalai Lama was asked to pray for the victims of the Orlando shooting at a press conference. He took a long moment to pray in silence. Then, smiling his Dalai Lama smile, he commented that he was skeptical about the effect of prayer. “Real change comes through action, serious and continuous action in spite of difficulties and obstacles, without losing our determination and courage. On top of that, prayer is okay, no harm.”