It recently struck me: I had become a hater. That’s right; I had learned to hate. Life had been my teacher.
As a child, I was prohibited from using the word hate. I had a strong dislike for fried eggs, but was not allowed to hate them. Hate was just too strong a word. Hate expressed feelings that good little Christian boys could not feel. That one word, hate, was strictly eliminated from my vocabulary. My mother, grandmothers and aunts would tolerate an occasional damn or hell, but let the word hate slip out and it was hell to pay. Looking back I suppose I hated their stern, sure correction. After all, most of my friends seemed free enough to hate. Being older now, and supposedly wiser, and possibly because I’m starting to get a bit crotchety, I felt I no longer needed to be reticent about the things I despise, and started using that term hate with alacrity.
Love is a lot easier than hate– at least for me. Love is a natural emotion. I was taught to love everyone and everything. I loved my family, my friends, my neighbors, my preacher, my Sunday school teacher, my barber, my coaches, the man with the watermelons, the men at the gin, the women at the doctor’s office, the men and women at the courthouse, the old lady that gave me hugs, the old men at the jockey yard, and all the folks at the sale barn. I sincerely loved them all, and felt their sincere love for me. I loved everyone, thought everyone loved me and always would.
That pretty-well summed up my approach to life for much of my adult life. I loved everybody and everything, with the exception of fried eggs, of course. I thought everybody loved me, too! I had no enemies! It took many years in life’s school of hard knocks to realize that not everyone shared my naïve world view. Everyone did not love me! Some actually were pretty darned set on harming me! Others would- and did- freely betray me for their temporary pleasures or benefits. Another startling, but humbling, reality: Most really didn’t care one way or the other. Believe it or not, these were major revelations for the little boy within a grown-up body!
I suppose that is how I tried to justify my new-found freedom to vocally express myself as I pleased. I proceeded to elevate a few things many would refer to casually as “pet peeves” to full-blown hatred. It was a new word for me, and damn if I didn’t love using it. And I let it rip, as these samples would suggest!
I hate voicemail. I hate it with a passion. When I was first elected State Auditor, my very first official act was ordering all voicemail removed from the office. I thought the public deserved to speak to a human being when they sought help from their elected public servant. The staff was in full-blown mutiny, but I held firm. And, the damnable machines were removed. The public loved it – and so did I. After all, it was my name that appeared on the ballot; I needed the public’s love. I am absolutely convinced the service we provided the public improved immensely and personal relationships flourished as a result of that one simple act born of hate. Sadly, the day I left office, the dreaded machines found their way back in.
The truth is I hate most modern communication devices. Much of my hatred for this technology stems from my own ineptitude in accessing their magical abilities. But it’s more than my lack of sophistication; it’s the impersonal nature they impose on us. I rarely speak to anyone on the phone anymore. I no longer get mail and letters that come with a stamp on them. When I do, it’s usually not good news. I rarely speak to my children; they prefer text messaging. Emails come at all hours of the night, interrupting whatever solitude I might steal.
I hate the ongoing coarsening of society. I grew up in a time where being “civil” was simply part of being and acting civilized. It is painful and disheartening to observe society’s slow, but sure, retreat from manners, etiquette, and the code of chivalry that was still very much alive in the South of my youth. Como, Mississippi’s Stark Young said in I’ll Take My Stand, “Manners are the mask of decency that we employ at need, the currency of fair communication.” And, Mr. Will Percy insisted in his memoir Lanterns on the Levee that “Manners are essential and are essentially morals.”
Where are the Calvinistic matriarchs who strictly enforced those codes of conduct that enabled us to face any situation with grace and dignity? What happened to the social order of my youth where words such as honor, kind, polite, courteous, gentle, and hospitable reigned supreme? Who is teaching today’s youth to say “yes sir” and “no ma’am,” to protect the weak and helpless, to open doors for ladies and stand when a lady enters the room? When did we stop waiting patiently for grace to be said and everyone to be served before diving into our meal? As my mother calls it, “trashy behavior” has supplanted proper, genteel behavior as the accepted norm. I hate the crass – and often callous – behavior I encounter frequently these days, and I no longer silently tolerate it. My advancing age empowers me to rebuke it in a forceful yet mannerly way that, thus far, has surprisingly received general acceptance.
Well, you get the picture. But thank the Lord that at times of greatest need, inspired revelations can come from unexpected places! I was recently reminded the way we perceive the world is greatly influenced by serendipity. Last week as I was taking a drive when, half-listening to the radio, I heard the strains of a favorite old song, “I Love,” by the fabulous Tom T. Hall. Perhaps you’ll recall how it begins:
“I love little baby ducks, old pick-up trucks
Slow-moving trains, and rain
I love little country streams, sleep without
Sunday school in May, and hay
And I love you, too”
Of course, it is a simple, yet poignant song about love- the sweet and abiding love of the everyday things in life we so often take for granted. And, even after the song ended, I let those smooth lyrics continue gently rolling over in my mind. It was then it suddenly struck me that perhaps there was something much deeper here, something that might transcend all those beautiful small things and moments the song spoke to with such ordinary, yet touchingly elegant words. It was that one line at the end of every stanza: “And I love you, too.”
I guess I had always just thought it was a catchy aside, taking it for granted he was speaking to his girlfriend, or wife. But could I have oversimplified it, and, in this instance, greatly short-changed the talent and insight of this beloved singer-songwriter? Could it be that, in that line, he actually was speaking to me- and to you? Perhaps, even to everyone, all of humankind? All those hundreds of times I had listened to the song, had I somehow simply overlooked- or even blocked- that he was actually espousing the broader, universal concept of love for mankind?
I can at times be a sentimental old fool, especially when music and Love are entwined, and this hypothesis immediately began filling me with indelible remembrances of so many of the people and things in life I will love and treasure forever. That neural path took me to the big picture of what Love means to each of us, and the role it has played over the ages, and how it has shaped- and continues shaping- the history of humans on this planet.
And then and there, that word I had been centered on earlier again flashed in my mind: Hate. I somehow immediately began juxtaposing the two, and my mind had never flowed with such rapid acuity: Love and Hate: No two things are more divergent. They are the polar extremes of our existence. Love, from which springs empathy, compassion and benevolence. Love transcends all other emotions. Love builds bridges between cultures, religions, nationalist sentiments, races and most anything else that separates, divides and alienates us. Love is perfected altruism, the unselfish interest for the welfare of others. Love distilled is beauty, truth, hope, forgiveness and grace.
Hate breeds evil acts, malevolent behavior, cruelty, suffering, war and death. Hate coarsens, corrodes and corrupts. Its effects have been the bane of human existence, maiming, taunting, torturing, terrifying and killing untold millions of persons.
Was this episode a type of epiphany? Well, no, I already knew all of this in my heart. I had learned it, taught it, even preached it, practically my whole life. But how often does one actually get to stop and really contrast the two in this fashion? In the rush of living every day we seldom make time or have occasion to examine love and hate in such stark terms. At this point my face self-consciously flashed a bit of red with self-judged shame.
The things I had learned to lash out at as “hated” were really no such thing. They were mostly related to my own personal quirks. They were merely bothersome things- just irritations and inconveniences that I could call out to relieve frustrations. It did hit me that the truism of “my elders continue getting smarter as I become older” amply applies here. Their wise counsel of banishing “Hate” from my childhood vocabulary was spot on. As a child there is no way I could have understood the concept and enormity of Hate. Words matter; they have meaning. It is paramount the term Hate be reserved only for that which is truly heinous and beyond any pale, and deserves to be labeled and treated thusly. Those lines must not be blurred or in any way conflated.
As one might suppose, the most exquisite and penetrating definition of love is found in the Bible, I Corinthians 13, 4-8:
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”
This passage beautifully expresses the pristine and endearing qualities of love. It is aspirational, encapsulating the essence of what we should constantly seek, but will probably never fully achieve. In the trying, we become a better person, and those we love feel fully embraced and in touch with and blessed by our sincerest emotions. Further, these efforts naturally lead us as we contribute to society, and all humanity, in a much richer, fulfilling and meaningful manner. Love is life’s greatest treasure: Knowing it, feeling it and generously sharing it our greatest experience.
The most important thing that separates our race from all else in Creation is a special spirit, a soul capable of empathy, compassion, selflessness, and Love. At its very core is our chamber of conscience. There reside our underpinnings: beliefs, values, ethics and essential goodness, constantly judging us and all our actions, and, too often, tapping us on the shoulder on long restless nights to review our transgressions and remind us to seek penance.
In this troubled, flawed world of sin and sorrow, our life experiences make obvious certain situations, attitudes, and behaviors that are worthy of hatred. We don’t have to have direct personal experience with dastardly acts or despicable attitudes or degenerate behavior to know that they are deserving of unqualified hatred.
There are many things truly worthy of universal righteous hatred – those things to which Plato gave careful consideration. You know: the failings, sins, and conditions that “the gods hate,” such as taking another person’s life, arrogance, conceit, greed, selfishness, lust, anger, lying, cheating, gossiping, slandering, stealing, hypocrisy, betrayal, and misplaced hatred. I am thankful that I have finally and painfully learned not to tolerate those conditions in either myself or others, and am now empowered to rebuke them and cast them out of my life – along with the people who practice them – forever, if necessary, with no regrets. I adamantly still subscribe to the “hate the sin, but never the sinner” approach, but have learned the valuable lesson found in I Timothy 5; 22: “Do not . . . participate in another man’s sins.”
We are all lifelong witnesses to the battles between Love and Hate, and how their proxies Good and Evil join in every day at every level, large and small, overtly and covertly, whether in nuanced or raucous fashion. They are at play in all our daily lives in our local communities, just as they surely are in every other place in the world. We must identify Hate in all its forms and iterations, and in all the places and ways it manifests itself. We must help everyone to recognize and expose it, and implore them to defend decency, denounce decadence, and fight to defeat it at every turn.
There are two things I want to single out as particularly pernicious, as they may not on their face seem to fit the typical profile of Hate. They have struck my family and my closest friends, and so many other families. The first is addiction. Not all addictions are bad. I confess I have a somewhat addictive personality. I am addicted to some things that are good for me, and some not so good. I am addicted to giving and receiving love. I am addicted to the certainty of the sure grace of a loving God. I am also addicted to cigars, fried foods – eggs being the exception, of course – and leisure. No doubt cigars and fried foods are bad for my health and my Calvinist upbringing would insist that my love for leisure time is nothing more that the devil’s handiwork and pure laziness.
There are many addictions that, by spawning pain and devastation, are truly worthy of hate and strict intolerance. Addictions to alcohol, drugs, pornography, sex, and gambling are among the most common. Behavioral scientists teach that these addictions are actually diseases that can be treated. I believe that to be true; professional help and tough-love can be of great help, but, unfortunately, aren’t always successful- these types of addictions are especially nasty. To effectively counter these addictions, there must be change effected in certain elements of today’s society that tend to encourage and even glorify such abusive behavior. Self-destructive addictions must be hated, and a conscious decision made not to tolerate them, but rather to rebuke them.
Among the greatest regrets of my life is tolerating an addiction that several years ago ultimately took the life of one of my dearest friends. My best friend at the time had an addiction to sex and alcohol. He took extreme measures to try to conceal his disease from everyone in his life – especially me. His deceit never worked. I knew he had serious problems, yet I stood by, tolerated his behavior and never once rebuked the disease that destroyed him. In the end, the emotional pain and torture created by his addictions led this otherwise brilliant man to take his own life.Yes, I hate addictions because I know they kill, steal, and destroy. Perhaps drug- and alcohol- addicted gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson said it best, “When a jack rabbit gets addicted to running on the roads sooner or later it gets smushed!”
But my most vehement hatred is reserved not for a sin, nor an attitude, nor any failing of man, but rather a sinister, insidious disease: Cancer. All diseases are deserving of hatred – the kind of constructive hatred that demands scientific research resources be targeted and coordinated and focused toward their elimination or cure. Public policy should have as its primary goal cancer’s total annihilation. My prayer is that cancer will one day enjoy the same fate as polio, yellow fever, and smallpox!
There are over one-hundred types of cancer, and everyone reading this essay has approximately a fifteen percent chance of facing one or more of these killers. Cancer robbed me of my father. It denied him the pleasure and pride he would have had in seeing the fine young gentlemen his grandsons have become.
Likewise, it left my two boys without the love of a grandfather they would have treasured so much in their adult years. Cancer continues to take so many friends, acquaintances and associates. Last year, I again too closely witnessed cancer’s destruction, as it painfully took the life of the finest old school southern gentleman I have ever known in only a matter of a few weeks.
And just last week my entire family was brought to our knees in prayer as word came of the wife of one of my youngest son’s best friends having received this dreaded diagnosis. Hearts open wider and prayers flow freely when a young mother of two small children must battle this disease.
Cancer is worthy of hate. It destroys dreams, smashes hopes and breaks hearts. It is an indiscriminate killer. I do hate it so!
Our worldviews are developed over a lifetime of widely-varying experiences. It is through this prism of experience that our unique perspectives evolve and the things we view as worthy of the enormity of hate are forged. Our lifeviews are inextricably tied to how we process and assimilate information regarding events, issues and situations of all natures. I am not a hawk or pacifist, and certainly not an egghead, socialist, or Utopian. I am most assuredly a hard-boiled pragmatist and an over-seasoned realist. I have quite actively involved myself in politics, and been a strong advocate for human rights and civil rights.
My “first principles” that reflect my values and go to the heart of ALL my decision making can be articulated neatly and clearly: I am a believer in the human race, the power of good will, and the Creator who placed us here. I believe there exists in each of us the enduring ability and will to always aspire to help our fellow human beings. It pains me we continue squandering not only the remarkable achievements and advancements of mankind, but our material resources, and most importantly, our greatest treasure, our fellow brothers and sisters, as we fight and re-fight the recurring battles of the ages. If there is a single great hope for humanity to reach its potential, it will be through the power of Love. And that path will wind treacherously through the ongoing battle with Hate. It will not be easily won, but we are resolute warriors when right is on our side.
There are currently events and trends afoot that ultimately may well lead to our best opportunity ever to dramatically upgrade human rights, set in place the most peace-loving and harmony-seeking civilization that has ever existed. Today much is made of how our world is rapidly “shrinking” and becoming “flattened” in this era of “Globalization.” Those terms no longer apply solely, or even primarily, to the areas of manufacturing, trade and finance. Lower costs and ease of air travel have done much to facilitate travel to explore different cultures. Our country has more university students than ever from abroad, who will return home, not only with a degree, but also with visions of lifting up the people of their country.
More importantly, the advent of the internet was a major breakthrough in communication with persons in countries where censorship and government controlled media had let little light, and virtually no truth, filter to their people. Unfortunately, many of these countries blocked access to their population. But today’s technology will allow those curtains to be torn down.
Consider that advances in technology now allow hundreds of millions of people around the world to, just like us, casually walk around with super-computers in their palms, able to converse with all these other folks, access unlimited information, and, through social media, establish personal linkages to persons where they can learn what life is like in enlightened societies. What will communication tools look like in five years?
This along with future technological advances will eventually make it impossible to forever hide the free world and how it differs from the life of populations subjugated by dictators, despots, crackpots, terrorists, religious extremists and a host of other “bad actors.” The most sadistic and brutal “leaders” cannot forever hold their “subjects.” Who predicted the American or French revolutions? The end of colonialism?
This will take some time, but human progress can only be slowed, not halted. These types of things could likely lead to the greatest breakthrough in human rights and egalitarian efforts in history, and to lasting peace in areas that have seldom seen a placid day.
Perhaps the greatest threat to these opportunities for a safer, fairer and freer life for all people is religious extremists of every ilk, who so narrowly define their faith in ways that render the concept of a brotherhood of man impossible. Too often, Hate then becomes the guiding principle. When religious-inspired Hate is allowed to fester and virulently spew its venom across ever-larger segments of God’s children, violence is usually its natural consequence. Terrorism’s birthright is the perversion of God’s will by hate-filled fanatics of every stripe. Throughout the ages, Hatred has been the patriarch of the royal lineage of terror. Tragically, the family crest has always included religious symbolism, perfected to disguise its evil intentions.
As God’s creation we were conceived in love and must learn to live in peace and harmony as our creator intended. I have grown impatient with and rebuke the use of religion as a mask for meanness, whether it is practiced by Christian, Muslim, or Jew. I come into daily contact with many Christians who have so much to say about what the scriptures say so little, but far too little to say about what the scriptures say so much!
I think the kingdom of Christ would be much better served if we followed those red-letter words denoting the words of Jesus Christ found in our new covenant, that ALWAYS admonishes us to Love one another. My bible teaches me to be quick to love and slow to condemn; those who use it to camouflage their own biases do a disservice to the essential message of the word. Let us do as the sacred Christian scriptures command and engage in a little self-examination before we quickly condemn others. Mercy makes for a better world.
Let me close with the timeless wisdom of the Dalai Lama, long an inspiring symbol of the endless struggle for peace, love and harmony:
“Infinite altruism is the basis of peace and happiness. If you want altruism, you must control hate and you must practice patience. The main teachers of patience are our enemies.”
This message seems especially appropriate here. It is also particularly fitting as the change of seasons is already upon us, signaling the coming string of festive holidays: Day by day cooler and then colder weather, leaves turning and falling, fireplaces and bonfires lit, festivities and celebrations, the excited astonishment and smiles on the faces of children, family traditions and rituals, tearful reunions, and the splendid lights, cheerful sounds and familiar, fancy fragrances of the holidays all rushing upon us, as gratitude and goodness and specialness consume us.
Spirits are at their highest, as Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah bring gatherings of families large and small, friends and neighbors, many reaching out to those without families, or to those whose families and friends are far away. All these assorted groups congregating to share joy and good cheer, enjoy special meals and treats, and express gratitude for blessings of all varieties. There will be prayers for our military and others abroad, as well as for ceasefires in the most war-torn areas around the globe.
Then comes New Year’s Day, parades and pageantry, with reflections on the year just passed, and plans and goals for the one just started. Some will treat these resolutions a bit more formally, with lists, others will simply, but resolutely, tuck these thoughts into their heads and hearts, while a shy or daring few will breathe these dreams into the ear of a loved one.
I believe throughout this season, hundreds of millions of people will be thinking, and many among them saying aloud, “I wish we could maintain all these special, close thoughts and warm feelings, and sustain these splendid expressions of Love, throughout the year.”
Then, within a blink, we are again a nation knowing there is work to be done, with everyone settling in for a new year. It is within this swirl of challenges, hopes, dreams and expectations- and yes, concerns, angst and fears- that we must reconcile and resolve within our hearts our best way forward. We will, once again, earnestly pray for Peace on Earth for all. Let us all go forward with renewed faith, and with spirits further heartened, let Love cradle, inspire and protect us all.