How can delusion and hatred can grow in sensible people?
When events like the shooting in New Zealand occur, my social media feeds are full of people declaring their solidarity with victims, and those of the same vilified group as the victims.
It’s beautiful and it’s a flood of love that boost my hope that evil will not win.
But sometimes, no matter how many memes and posts of prayers for peace we read, it can still leave us wondering whether these events are part of a world that is devolving in to a whole lot of hatred. Will only a war that every side sees as holy end the hate?
Finding Some Hope
Do you ever wonder if hope is in vain? Is it just head-in-the-sand thinking if we’re not worried?
When I read the profile of the shooter from the Christchurch massacre in the newspaper, it was informative enough to reinforce a few key points I’ve learned about positivity, negativity, hope and despair.
And while shooters like this may be mentally ill or may have social acclimation issues, the truth is that hatred isn’t the by-product of mental illness. It’s the logical conclusion of the choices people make – what they focus on, what they feed and what they give energy to.
Lesson One: Good and Evil lie in all of us…so choose well
Alexander Sohlzhenitsyn once wrote: “The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts.”
When I first read this quote, it really moved me. I have choices every day to either entertain hatred, judgement, bitterness and despair or to be compassionate, forgiving, to extend kindness, to be generous, to acknowledge all that I had to be grateful for, and to look for ways I could contribute positively to other people’s lives.
Sohlzhenitsyn goes on to talk about how the line moves in us – where we draw it and what we let in and what we keep out. We grow and mature and learn and we get better at determining where good and evil start and stand within us. We learn from mistakes and we deepen out love as we do so.
TAKE AWAY: Every single day, what we allow to happen inside our heads and our hearts, whether anyone else sees it or not, is supporting love or it’s supporting hate. Choose what is most good, not what leans toward evil. This is what changes the world and we have 100% control over it, because it’s all inside us. Choose good.
Lesson Two: What you focus on grows – science and spiritual traditions agree
It’s a much-spoken of truth in therapeutic and life coaching circles – where your energy goes, grows.
This was something that instantly seemed true to me when I started to see it and hear it spoken about. When I say “Look for red things around you” your mind is focused on red, and suddenly you see red things everywhere that you hadn’t noticed before.
When we tell our mind to focus on something, it finds it. That’s a really useful skill, but it can be used for evil too. Tell yourself the world is scary and you’ll find things to be scared of everywhere (even where there aren’t things).
When I read the profile of the Christchurch shooter, and it talked about his beliefs that “European lands” were being “invaded” and he expressed his fear that this would not stop, that “our culture” would be overrun and lost forever, that this was something we should fear…it all sounded like crazy talk, not to mention a very slanted view of history (I mean, can we really say Europeans didn’t invade, like, the whole world and force their culture onto it???).
My point is that when you look for evidence that you are under threat, that something bad is coming and that, if it does come, it’ll be the worst thing in the world, well, you’re going to find it. Your brain is wired to be good at that.
But you could equally find immense amounts of evidence that life is beautiful, we’re actually very safe, things are getting better and there’s no need to fear.
What you focus on, grows.
In neuroscience, particularly in the area of pain research (which is my area of interest, so I’ve read a bit about research into reducing pain) they’ve found that if you give repeated attention to something, the brain physically gives more space to focusing on it.
This is because the brain thinks that if you’re continually focusing on something, it must be important, and it “overwrites” stuff that isn’t being focused on, assuming that’s less important. Therefore, in the instance of chronic pain, the more someone focuses on their pain, the bigger the physical area of the brain is given over to feeling it. So the pain increases.
Therefore, treatment via exercises to change the focus off the pain literally reduces the physical space in the brain given over to feeling pain, and thus less pain is felt.
My belief is the same principle holds true for fear, hatred, anger, jealousy, bitterness etc. The more you focus on those things, the more your brain gives itself to feeling them, looking for them and therefore, growing them within you.
TAKE AWAY: If you’re feeling anything negative, or what to feel more positive, make a practice out of focusing on what you want to feel…point it out to yourself when you see it, and appreciate it fully when you experience it.
Lesson Three: Why Love is the Answer to Hatred, Cheesy as that Sounds
Love is one of the foundational principles I believe forms and maintains all physical matter. That’s not science, that’s my theory – but stay with me while I flesh this out.
I’ve come to believe this because I’ve experienced and witnessed that the more someone focuses on love the more at peace they become. Focusing on feeling love within yourself for yourself, for others, for the earth, will make you healthier, happier, more at peace and you’ll experience improved relationships.
So it seems to me that it’s pretty fundamental to human existence.
I’ve also done enough therapy myself, along with an inordinate amount of self-help, and I’ve known enough people who’ve done the same, who all experience life as better when they operate from a core place of love.
However, when people operate out of hurt, fear, loneliness, despair and pain, they rarely make the world better. They are unhappy, unhealthy, have poor relationships and on occasion, they take guns, knives, bombs, cars, planes or whatever they can get their hands on, and attack others.
We’ve never heard of a terrorist attack where the manifesto or justification is “I just love humanity so much, and feel so much peace and joy toward people, that I wanted to make the world a better place”.
Love doesn’t motivate hate crimes. Anger, fear, bitterness, judgementalism etc….these motivate hate crimes. Manifestos are full of victimhood, disgust, hurt, mistrust. They use language that presents as powerful and threatening. None of which is love-driven.
So it’s easy (and true) to say we should all focus on love. But that doesn’t quite cut it.
Successfully focusing on love is unlikely if you are is stuck in a mental cycle of anger, fear, bitterness, hurt or negativity. Humans need to experience love to give love.
This is why humans have long childhoods – to have love modelled to us by good parents so we learn how to do it. And this is also why humans gravitate toward living in communities – to love each other and keep loving each other, because we need to experience love to give love.
And because not everyone gets the loving parents or the loving community, the rest of us need to keep loving, to keep choosing love, even in the face of such unlove, in order to change it.
As Martin Luther King Jnr said “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”.
Love is the ONLY way to overcome the hatred. This is true in others and in ourselves.
TAKE AWAY: If you’re feeling anything negative, only love can overcome that – in yourself and in the world.
Our best defence against hatred?
Like the old Wham t-shirts – yes, I do recall owning something similar – choose love.
Choose love over hatred, deliberately and consciously, in a daily practice, will change the world.
Sound like too much wishful rhetoric? If every human did this, don’t you think it really would change the world?