Fact: I hate math. Ask any math teacher I’ve ever had and they’ll probably be able to vividly relay the struggles I had with the simplest of problems. Give me a formula and I still seem to get the problem wrong. (Good thing I have other skills).
Hating math does very little harm to me or anyone else. It doesn’t hurt me–I just avoid it like the plague. It doesn’t hurt others–they may just question my intelligence (rude). But there’s a much less harmless kind of hate that we all tend to indulge in–hating others.
A while back, I wrote an article for a magazine based on the following quote from E. Stanley Jones:
“A rattlesnake, if cornered will become so angry it will bite itself. That is exactly what the harboring of hate and resentment against others is – a biting of oneself.”
When I first came across this quote, I was in a place where hatred had become a natural extension of frustration and anger. Simultaneously, I was seeing how hatred was destroying the life of a friend. Very few times did I ever verbalize my hatred for someone, but the hatred was definitely internal. I was harboring it, like the cornered rattlesnake.
I realized, around this time, how much harm my hatred and the hatred my friend harbored was doing to us. Our hatred was hardly hurting others. We were the only ones it truly affected. We were biting ourselves.
I decided then to make an effort to get rid of the hatred within me. It wasn’t easy, but here are some of the things I learned about hatred and about living with out it:
1. No one else cared.
The funny thing about hatred is that it is so internal, it’s rarely seen by the victims. The fact that I disliked someone hardly affected them at all. Instead, it left me frustrated, easily irritated and angry while the other person went on with their lives, unfazed.
There are times when we act on our hatred, but even so, it’s easier for others to get over a harsh word or a mean glance than it is for us to get over the hatred in our hearts. So, like the rattlesnake, we end up biting ourselves instead of the ones we set out to bite. No one else cares about your own hatred as much as you do.
2. I was poisoning myself.
If you’ve ever been bitten by a snake or any other poisonous creature, you know that the wounds tend to fester if they’re not treated. Even the smallest mosquito bite can just get worse and worse if you keep scratching. The longer we sit with hatred in our hearts, the worse it gets and the worse we get… not only in that specific area but in our lives as a whole.
Looking back, I realize how miserable I was in all areas of life when I was letting hatred fester. It spreads and spreads and spreads until it very literally takes over all areas of your life in covert ways. Before I knew it, my hatred was no longer specific to one person or group, but all-consuming to the point where I hardly felt anything else.
3. It didn’t make anything better.
This one should be obvious but it wasn’t to me at the time: hatred doesn’t change anything. I’ll admit there is some temporary satisfaction found in letting your dislike for someone overflow. For some reason, humanity has this strange idea that an internal emotion makes some external difference. It doesn’t unless it’s acted upon. I hardly ever acted upon my hatred–I just let it sit inside. Hating someone is not therapeutic; it’s not helpful or comforting. It only makes things worse–externally, if you act on your hate, or internally, if it’s passive.
4. Ending hatred didn’t eliminate other emotions.
There’s nothing wrong with getting angry. Anger is a natural emotion and sometimes very justified. Frustration is the same way. I had a misconception that if I stopped being hateful I would have to stop all negative emotion. But anger can be fuel for passions. Social injustice and inequality make me angry. That anger is what spurs me to take action against such things.
Eliminating hatred doesn’t eliminate the emotions necessary for living an active life, for following passions, and fighting against injustices. Eliminating hatred doesn’t mean you can’t be angry at the school bully and work to help his victims. Eliminating hatred doesn’t mean you can’t hate what the bully does. What eliminating hatred does do is clear your mind and allow room for rational and critical thinking. Hatred clouds judgment. Without it, anger and frustration and other emotions can much more easily be channeled into good and helpful actions.
5. It’s exhausting.
It’s easy to fall into hate. It’s a lot harder to keep it up. There are very few times in my life when I’ve been so fatigued as I was when I was letting hatred consume me. No one likes feeling as though their emotions are unjustified so when we hate, we have a subconscious desire for our hatred to make sense. Finding justification is exhausting. And if we ever get to the point where we accept that our hatred isn’t justified, it’s still hard to let go and admit we were wrong. I’ve noticed that much of the time, we’d rather spend our energy feeding an unjustified emotion than letting it go and admitting we were wrong.
I don’t think any of us would like to be considered a hateful person, and yet this doesn’t make it any easier to avoid biting ourselves like that rattlesnake.
Avoiding hatred is an active decision, one that requires effort and the conscious admission that our natural reaction to someone is unjustified. When we realize the uselessness of our own hatred, it becomes easier to let it go. When we realize we are affecting ourselves more than anyone else, it becomes easier to move on.
When we realize our hatred for someone doesn’t change their actions (even if we’re hating the school bully) it becomes easier to grab hold of more helpful emotions like anger and frustration–emotions that spur us to action, emotions that can change things for the better rather than fester in our own hearts, destroying us from the inside out. In the end, hatred is useless, so why waste our time?