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Who taught you to hate?

Many of us seem to hate – not even dislike, but hate – whole groups of ‘others’. Who teaches us this?

It’s an important question to consider. When I was a boy, some of my elders would fill my head with tales about Muslims. The horrific partition of the Indian subcontinent had occurred across the ocean decades earlier, and I was told of the slaughter of ‘our’ people by ‘their’ people.

Please note: the folks telling me these tales were East Africans; they had never personally experienced the events they referred to. And they were generally amiable and gentle people in their ordinary lives; only these stories about outrages would get them worked up.

I mistrusted and stayed away from all Muslims for all my tender years. It was only as a teenager that I tentatively made a friend from the Islamic faith in school, and it was only then that I discovered he had been told the exact same stories about ‘my’ people. In reverse, though: in his version, my people were the villains; his were the victims and heroes.

That was an awakening. After that I made sure I sought out friends of all faiths and backgrounds, and have never again taken anyone else’s word on whom I should love or hate in my life. I avoid all participation in institutions based on exclusion and parochialism.

Think about it. Do you detest a group of people based on their faith, their tribe, or their colour? Where does this hatred come from? Is it from personal experience of bad deeds committed against you, or in your presence? I am willing to wager in that in most cases it is not. Most of us are taught to hate. By elders and parents; by teachers and role models; by politicians and rabble-rousers. By weak minds and twisted ones.

Let’s say someone is next to you right now, in person or on digital media. You are being told why ‘our’ people must rise up to protect themselves against those other evil savages. Ask yourself three questions. First, does the person telling you this have any personal experience of misdeeds by the group being demonised? Or is he or she just propagating second- and third-hand myths? Are you listening to facts, or exaggerated concoctions?

Second, what is the person’s intention in telling you this? Is it genuine concern for your wellbeing, or is it to serve a personal or religious or political agenda? Are you being enrolled in a programme of hate, because it suits someone’s ambitions? Are you part of bankrolled brainwashing, so that a clever few can enjoy wealth and power?

Third: what exactly is the history of the problem? Have you swallowed the mythology of one side, hook, line and sinker? Or have you made any attempt to uncover the true occurrences? Have you understood that there are always two sides to the story in any long-standing grievance? Have you wondered what it is like to be one of ‘the others’, living in their history?

If more of us could stay calm, reflective and open to debate, we would not be in the current situation: of deeply divided, hate-filled armies of ordinary people facing each other down.

If you are seething with hate for entire groups of people, do you realise that it tells us more about you than the targets of your ire? Ask yourself: are you being strong in your resolve, or weak of mind and open to manipulation? Are you guilty of the intellectual failings of confirmation bias and of generalising from the one to the many? Are those around you angry desperadoes looking for purpose and meaning through the suppression of others?

Collectives do not naturally have hatred for others. Certainly, personal experience of an atrocity can cause lifelong trauma and ill-will. But even then we have to guard against stereotyping. Was this actually done to you by an entire community, or just a bad or misguided individual? When we find entire societies persisting with bigotry, there are always toxic individuals at work, playing with weak and malleable minds and introducing poison into the daily discourse.

Take off the coverings of religion and race and tribe and language, and you see something very clearly. Most human lives are virtually the same. We undergo the same struggles; we find joy in the same things; we are wired to respond in similar ways. There is an essence at work. If we prefer to focus on difference, it is only because we drank from the poison stream.

(Sunday Nation, 22 October 2017)

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