Are you disturbed by the political landscape that has changed so rapidly over the last 4 years? As more and more authoritarian parties come into power around the world, we see that hatred towards others – immigrants, refugees, women, minorities – seems to be at an all-time high. In these troubled times, we need to take a look at ourselves and be sure that we don’t fall into the trap of hatred and blaming others for the disappointments in our lives.
When we look at today’s news, we can see that there seems to be an uptick in political violence. We see leaders being elected that openly advocate violence towards others. Why is this? Why do people feel the need to hate other groups?
I think it comes from people feeling disappointed with not getting what they think they deserve in life. And when that disappointment happens, people look for someone or something to blame. Rather than taking the time to think about why they didn’t get what they wanted like most of us, we find it’s easier to blame something outside of ourselves because our egos don’t want the uncomfortable reality that we are in charge of our lives and that there are things that we did or didn’t do.
When reality doesn’t live up to our dreams, when we don’t get the things that we think we deserve, we look to someone to tell us why. Politicians and leader exploit this need and provide us with easy targets as to why we didn’t get what we wanted. They give people someone to blame, and usually, it’s those that even less fortunate than the ones that they’re appealing to, such as getting the declining middle class to turn against the poor by taking away
Is there ever a time when it’s okay to hate another group based on race, nationality, gender, sex?
“Never in reply to the question, to what country you belong, say that you are an Athenian or a Corinthian, but that you are a citizen of the world.”
— Epictetus, Discourses
The Stoics held that we are all part of the same human family, that we are all very much like each other and that we are here as to help each other. When others try to act as though their group, their culture, their skin color is so much better than someone else’s, they’re really quite delusional. The thing is, we are all basically the same with some minor variations. And it’s this mix of difference, the variety that helps us all as human beings. How many of us have been touched by inventions and ideas that came from other cultures? Science and math had strong origins from the Arab world and from India as well as Europe.
I know I used this quote a few episodes ago, but I really think it’s work repeating.
“One cannot pursue one’s own highest good without at the same time necessarily promoting the good of others. A life based on narrow self-interest cannot be esteemed by any honorable measurement. Seeking the very best in ourselves means actively caring for the welfare of other human beings. Our human contract is not with the few people with whom our affairs are most immediately intertwined, nor to the prominent, rich, or well educated, but to all our human brethren.”
When we fail to help our fellow humans, when we think only of our group, our tribe, we are not contributing to the world. We are making the world a worse place.
One of the first things that I ever read from Epictetus was the first chapter of the Enchiridion. :
“To achieve freedom and happiness, you need to grasp this basic truth: some things in life are under your control, and others are not. What things are under your total control? What you believe, what you desire or hate, and what you are attracted to or avoid. You have complete control over these, so they are free, not subject to restraint or hindrance. They concern you because they are under your control. What things are not under your total control? Your body, property, reputation, status, and the like. Because they are not under your total control they are weak, slavish, subject to restraint, and in the power of others. They do not concern you because they are outside your control. If you think you can control things over which you have no control, then you will be hindered and disturbed. You will start complaining and become a fault-finding person.”
— Epictetus, Enchiridion
Here we see clearly that one of the things that are outside of our control is our bodies. That means that we and everyone else has no control over where they were born, what color their skin is, what gender or sex they are. When we hate someone for something that is outside of their control, there is nothing that they can do about it. If someone hated me because I was born in Salt Lake, there’s nothing that I can do to change that. I can’t change that I have light skin, that I have blue eyes, that I don’t have much hair.
But the thing is, that when we hate, we do more damage to ourselves.
“Whoever does wrong, wrongs himself; whoever does injustice, does it to himself, making himself evil.”
― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
When we give into blame, hate, and violence, then we damage ourselves. We become just as bad, if not worse than what we accuse others of being. We are no longer people that we strive to be. We become the monsters.
“Events don’t disturb people; the way they think about events does. Even death is not frightening by itself. But our view of death, that it is something we should be afraid of, frightens us. So when we are frustrated, angry or unhappy, let’s hold ourselves responsible for these emotions because they are the result of our judgments. No one else is responsible for them. When you blame others for your negative feelings, you are being ignorant. When you blame yourself for your negative feelings, you are making progress. You are being wise when you stop blaming yourself or others.”
— Epictetus, Enchiridion
Why is this so hard for us to do? It really comes down to our egos. We like to think of ourselves as being smart, hardworking, kind, gracious, etc. and when we do things that might contradict this, we will gloss over and even ignore some pretty bad behaviors. We try to fool ourselves because we don’t want to see that we’re not as great as we think we are. Our ego, our identity may also feel threatened as well. When we have an idea of ourselves that we present to the outside world when we do things that are out of character, we will ignore them because we want to maintain this identity.
So how can combat this hatred and violence? This is always a tough question. The person that can work on most is ourselves. We need to exemplify the kind of people we want to see in the world. Gandhi talked about this when he said, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Because we can’t change other people, we can only change ourselves, we need to act like the kind of people that we think should be in the world.
So what can we do to inoculate ourselves against this kind of thinking?
“No soul is willingly deprived of the truth; and the same applies to justice too, and temperance, and benevolence, and everything of the kind. It is most necessary that you should constantly keep this in mind, for you will then be gentler towards everyone.”
— Marcus Aurelius
When we can recognize that people are acting out of what they think is their best interest, we can be compassionate towards those that think differently than us. And this includes people who may have different political views than we do. And it’s not easy. We may see them as irrational and intolerant, and they may be. But if we counter that with irrationality and intolerance, then we are just the same as them. We may be on the opposite side, but we need to set the example of how to be inclusive.
One of the best ways to do this is developing a sense of empathy. Each of us likes to think that our way of living is well thought out, well-reasoned, and the best way of living. The person on the other side probably thinks the same thing. When you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see the world through their eyes, even as distasteful as we might find their worldview, it helps us to understand why they think as they do and helps us to possibly find ways to help them see their own irrational behavior. When we try to understand the influences that they had in their lives – their culture, family, education – we can begin to see why they hold their worldview.
This is not easy and it takes much more effort. Anger is easy. Hate is intoxicating.
“Convince your enemy, convince him that he’s wrong
To win a bloodless battle, the victory is long
A simple act of faith, of reason over might
To blow up his children will only prove him right”
There’s a lot of hate going on in the world, and it’s easy to be angry at those advocating violence. But that’s all the more reason to do our best to take the high road. We need to make sure that we create a culture where violence and bigotry and misogyny are not acceptable. Where people see every other person as just another person with their own thoughts, opinions, and ideas about how to live their lives, but to do so in peace.
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