Think About It


Think About It

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Ever since the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon I've been thinking about something and I'd like to share it. You see, over and over I keep coming back to the question: what could prompt anyone to do something like that? The answer is both simple and complicated: hate. People with hate in their hearts were motivated to attack what they hated and many people died as a result. Isn't it astonishing how such a travesty and horror can be explained in a single sentence? You know something even more amazing? The same sentence can be used to explain every atrocity in human history. Frightening.

As some of you may be aware, there is a "rule" in writing that says authors should avoid using adverbs if at all possible. When I first heard that rule it disturbed me. I mean, how Orwellian is that? Deleting words from your vocabulary. What's next? The Thought Police and Big Brother? But after I mulled it over, I realized the rule isn't meant to limit an author's word choice; on the contrary, it's meant to broaden it. Adverbs can often be used as a crutch, a shortcut to communicate something without having to bother finding the right word to describe it. A person may have "thought something over slowly", but maybe what they really did was "ponder", "consider", "chew on it", "evaluate", "contemplate", "weigh", "mull", "muse", "meditate", "reflect", "debate", "ruminate", or "deliberate". You see the difference? Eliminating the adverb didn't limit me, it forced me to be more specific and conscientious about which word I chose.

I believe, even though it is not an adverb, the same rule can be applied to the word "hate". Think about it, how often do we use that word even though it's not really what we mean? After all, hate is a powerful thing. To hate something is to go beyond a feeling of loathing or disgust. Hating includes elements of fear and rage that are often born of pain. Hate is a poisonous feeling, as dangerous to those who harbor it as it is to those who are its target. And yet how often do you hear someone say they "hate" a television show, clothing item, or type of food? Are any of those things important enough to hate? Probably not.

Some might argue that's a good thing. That using hate to describe trivialities dilutes its effect and steals some of its power. Looking around at the state of the world, I'd have to disagree. People may fail to be precise in their descriptions of their feelings, but that doesn't stop them from feeling them. In fact, I believe it may do the opposite. It seems to me that an inability to communicate what one is feeling would lead to frustration, which would compound the problem.

So what's the solution? Honestly? I don't know. Obviously, altering word choice won't heal all of the world's ills. But the way I look at it, it also won't hurt and it might help. I've written before about how the words we choose shape our perceptions (June 8, 2015 Positivity Post and June 21, 2015 Positivity Post), so how about we use that to try to reduce, or even eliminate, the "hate" in our lives?

When the word "hate" comes to your mind, evaluate the situation and and try to determine if "hate" is really what you're feeling. Maybe you tell people you "hate" brussels sprouts. Do you actually "hate" brussels sprouts? Are brussels sprouts important enough to your life that they can truly inspire that level of feeling in you? Do you fear they will attack you in the night? Have you lost a family member to brussels sprouts? Or is it more that you don't care for their taste, scent, and/or texture? Disliking a certain aspect of something and hating that thing are two very different emotions. Even if you associate a tragedy with an object, such as if someone you loved died of an allergic reaction to brussels sprouts, do you really hold the object itself responsible? It might make you sad to think of or see brussels sprouts, but in reality doesn't it take a voluntary action for hate to be justified?

Of course, it might be more complicated than that. Maybe it's an abstract concept that you "hate". Do you "hate" prejudice? It's certainly something worthy of hate. After all, how much pain and suffering and injustice have been caused by prejudice? It's an ugly, terrible thing that hurts everyone it touches. And yet, when you think of prejudice what image forms in your mind? Do you picture the abstract, prejudice? Or is it a person or group of people you think of? See, that's where the danger lies. Most human beings, myself included, don't abstract well. We need a concrete focus for our hate, and that means that we start blending generalities with specifics in our minds in ways that don't exist in reality.

Don't misunderstand, I'm not suggesting that an individual human being, or even multiple individual human beings, aren't capable of committing some crime that might justifiably inspire true hatred towards them. But something you need to remember, a group of people is still a group of individuals. No matter how you lump people together in your mind, there is no overarching, monolithic "them." That's something that just doesn't exist. Every person in that group is an individual.

Think about it. Let's say the group of people you're talking about are brown-haired people. And let's pick just one attribute about that group, the very attribute that defines those people as a group: the color of their hair. But even with that narrow focus, we still can't pick a word that will accurately describe every person in that group. After all, brown hair comes in thousands of different shades. Where do you draw the line? What if someone you designate as a brown-haired person, someone else would argue has black hair? Another person in the group might consider themselves to be a dark blonde. And that doesn't even consider people who had brown hair in their youth, but whose hair has turned white or gray with age. Are they still brown-haired people? What about people who dye their hair other colors?

Look at all of the questions and complications! You know the really scary thing? We haven't even considered anything else about these people, just the one, small aspect of them. All we've talked about here is the color of their hair, the one characteristic that we defined the group by, and we can't even find a universally applicable descriptor for it. What makes this even more dangerous is that people tend to extrapolate from one point of perceived commonality to ascribing all manner of shared traits to the group. Traits that may exist in some individual members of the group, but not all of them, and which also exist in many individuals who aren't included in the group. You know what this is? Prejudice. You see why "hating" an abstract is a problem?

Okay, what about hating people who have included themselves in a group by their actions, such as terrorists? First of all, I can't say that I personally know any terrorists, but I have to kind of doubt that many of the people who have been labeled such by others consider themselves to be terrorists. Everyone has a reason for what they do, whether it be a good reason or a bad reason, a well-considered reason or an impulsive reason, the reason still exists. Even if the person is unable to understand their own reason, it's still there. That's why we have psychological professionals, they help us figure these things out.

So once again we're left with an abstract: terrorists. Can you name any of them? Other than Timothy McVeigh and Osama Bin Laden, who are dead, I can't. And I don't see much point in wasting the energy required for hate on dead people. They can't hurt anyone anymore. Maybe you're better informed than me and you can name other specific terrorists. Can you point to specific acts of terror they have personally been involved in? Have you spoken to them? Do you understand what experiences in their lives led them to do what they have done? Has something they have done affected you or someone you know in a personal way? How close is your connection to them?

Once again don't misunderstand, I'm not suggesting that it's never justified to hate a specific person or specific people who have committed some heinous act where innocent people were killed. All I'm saying is, know who you're hating and why. If you can't do that much, maybe it isn't really hate you're feeling.

So what is my point here? My point is that I'd like to ask everyone to be more mindful of the words they use and more analytical of their own feelings. If you start thinking that you hate someone or something, ask yourself if hate is really the right word. Is it truly hate that you feel? Or is it anger or fear? If it's anger or fear, what is the source of those feelings? I mean, you hear phrases like "road-rage" all the time, but I have to kind of doubt that being cut off in traffic is actually enough to inspire a person to homicide. There has to be some other, bigger, underlying factor there.

When you feel something strongly, figure out what you're actually feeling. Give it a name and then analyze it to make sure the name you chose actually fits. Then, when you're certain of the identity of the feeling, ask yourself where it came from. I'm not suggesting that the reason for every emotion will be rational. I'm terrified of spiders, even though I'm much larger than any spider and fully capable of ending the existence of any spider I come across. It's not a rational feeling, but it does have a source: evolutionary history. I understand the source and its connection to me, and I also comprehend that my feeling is not at all logical. But is still exists. There are many feelings like that, but it's important for you to be able to recognize them for what they are or you might start thinking they are hate when they aren't. After all, are spiders really capable of the kind of reasoned, voluntary action that would justify hatred? Even this confirmed arachnophobe has to admit, probably not.

What's the benefit of this? Well, for one thing I think you'll probably be happier and less stressed out. Once you think your feelings through, you may be able to determine a way to mitigate or eliminate their cause. Even if you can't, understanding what is happening often has a calming effect on people. Human beings generally don't like to feel they are being manipulated by forces beyond their control. Accurate identification and increased understanding are ways of bringing some order to chaos and so exerting some control. Even if only in our minds. Another thing you might discover is that by better understanding your own emotions, you might also improve your ability to recognize them in others. That type of empathy often breeds compassion, and a greater willingness to consider other points of view. For anyone interested in reducing hate and the violence it breeds, can a greater appreciation of our shared humanity ever be a bad thing? Think about it. ;-)

See more of Mistral Dawn at Mistral Dawn Blogspot

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Ever since the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon I have been thinking about something and I would like to share it. You see, over and over I keep coming back to the...

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