When Hate Becomes Habit

I’ve got news for you.  All people are not created equal, even in these great United States of America. This founding ideal is how it should be, but often Americans fall far short of this Divine standard (among many others). In America today, no man (or woman) is born “equal.”  From the moment we arrive kicking and screaming on the planet, the ONLY advantage we possess is that we are born in America.  America provides opportunities no other country can.

Even if you are a “fortunate son”–born into wealth, power or fame–no one escapes prejudice.  We all naturally face bias, discrimination and dismissal. Some of us have the wrong skin color or last name or address.  Some of us are too fat or too skinny, too short or too tall, too much hair or not enough. Some of us are under-educated while others are over-educated. Some of us lack experience while others hold too much experience. And even “fortunate sons” grow up to face prejudice. Celebrity has its own critics and haters. Money can buy time but not love, and riches eventually fade or fail, erode or end.

Prejudice happens every day in many ways.  Who hasn’t lost a job to someone less qualified? Or been unjustly detained? Or mocked, insulted or hated for a biological, cultural or emotional blemish? Who hasn’t felt the sting of prejudice when a teacher decides you aren’t smart enough? Or a girl/boy you “like” doesn’t “like” you back? Or an employer chooses another more capable? We all get rejected, shut down, turned away, let go or refused. It’s a part of life and love and making a living.  I’ve faced my share of discrimination for being too short, too poor, bald or pudgy.  A few years ago, out of work and on my last dime, I applied at Wal-Mart and McDonalds.  Both looked at my resume and refused to hire me.  Why?  I was over-educated. Shoot, some of you will stop reading these words when I confess I’m a political conservative. Or a Christian. Or white.  Or male. Or heterosexual.  Sometimes the most open-minded people can be very close-minded. Including myself.

Where does prejudice (pre-judging) originate?  Why does hate happen?  It’s a simple cycle that starts with a negative experience:

  1. Somebody hurts or hates us FIRST.  We experience refusal, resistance or outright rejection (or are injected with a narrative by others who’ve experienced these negative moments).
  2. We interpret the experience into feelings.  We conclude or interpret we’re not liked, wanted or valued.
  3. Our feelings are reinforced by additional negative experiences of refusal, resistance or rejection.
  4. Multiple negative experiences produce negative beliefs, attitudes and value systems (i.e.., hate).
  5. We act out and act upon these negative beliefs, attitudes and value systems (i.e., do hateful things).
  6. Our behaviors (producing new experiences) influence others to hurt or hate. And the cycle starts again.

It’s very clear that refusals, resistance and rejections produce a counter prejudice. Our societal dismissals can eventually conceive attitudes against an ethnic group, certain lifestyle, economic status, biological condition or educational/life achievement. Some of the most hateful racial rhetoric today comes from black America.  The civil dialogue and inspirational call to a dream is now replaced by hateful, profane demands, accusations and warrants. Consequently, ALL hate (like love) is learned. We are born equal but learn to despise, denigrate and divide. Every bully has been bullied. Every hater has been hated. Just look in their eyes.  You can see the pain.

The irony is America’s beauty is its FREEDOM.  We are a free country.  We were also founded upon a FAITH that God “created all men equal.”  When we lose the unity and love of Faith, we reap dissonance and hate. Finally, the most basic and essential component of the American fabric is the FAMILY.  As the family goes, so goes a neighborhood.  As a neighborhood goes, so goes a community.  As a community goes, so goes a state.  As a state goes, there goes the American nation.

And America ain’t doing so well these days.

Our freedoms create chains.  Our vices create victims.  Our lusts create lifestyles. Our pride creates prejudice. In contemporary America, we are FREE to explore “life, liberty and happiness” but unless we remain moored to the Divine standards as “a nation under God,” we risk falling into disrepair, economically, socially and politically.  Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. We hate because we choose to hate.  We hurt because we choose to hurt.

Consequently, I suspect America will continue to struggle against racism, discrimination, hate and other social evils.  It may possibly destroy this great nation. We may be “created equal” but few men (and women) honor this Divine standard, an ideal that even the Founding Fathers recognized was open to flaw, fault and failure. What makes America strong (freedom, faith, family) is also America’s greatest weakness, for when freedom, faith and family fails, America fails.

And when USAmerica fails, the world feels it.

So here’s three simple things you can do today to break the habit of hate and hurt and create a better America for the children of today and tomorrow:

  1. Watch your words. Prejudice comes from the heart and out of the heart comes our attitudes. Words have meanings.  Just because it seems “innocent” doesn’t mean it is.  For example, as one who grew up among Native Americans, I can tell you that “redskin” is an offensive word to this people group.  “Indian” isn’t offensive. “Seminole” isn’t offensive.  But “redskin” is. I even hate to type it! It’s time to change that NFL nickname.  Words matter.
  2. Watch your traditions.  Until recently, I was completely unaware how offensive the confederate flag was to the African American.  And did you know many southern capitals didn’t even fly that flag until the early 1960s as a direct response to the emerging civil rights movement?  Is the confederate flag a part of American history?  Yes. But like the Nazi swastika (also a historical symbol) its a projection of hate.  It’s good to see the confederate flag finally coming down. Some symbols need to be retired. Traditions matter.
  3. Initiate a conversation. Most Americans rarely talk about controversial issues with someone other than their own “group.” I believe inter-dialogue is the only solution to the racial divide. Honest talk. Respectful talk. Forgiving talk. Productive talk. Recently, in an airport van, I struck a conversation about racial issues with a sixty-five year old black preacher from Mississippi. We both learned from that dialogue…and we both agreed to change. I’ve also had substantial conversations with gays, lesbians and transgender individuals (several of whom are good friends). We may disagree on points but that doesn’t mean something can’t be learned.

The bottom line is hate is a habit only when we let the seeds sprout.  For hate isn’t safe, benign or weak. It’s a killer. It scars a soul. It’s fractures families. It cripples communities. And it strangles the state.

America is too grand and great to lose the race race. It’s the defining issue of our age.


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