The Power of Hate and Love
All Soul’s Day
The current events of this past week that made international headlines all had one common thread – hate. Most of us think of hate as the polar opposite of love but it turns out that there are a great many things these two contradictory emotions have in common.
In 2008 a study was conducted in the United Kingdom at the University College London regarding the effect of hate on our bodies, specifically the brain. Test subjects’ brains were mapped with an MRI scanner while they looked at pictures of people they had identified as hating. When they viewed these photos, activity was observed in the regions of the putamen and insular cortex – the very same two brain regions that also light up when a person sees a picture of a loved one. The difference with those they hated, though, was that the frontal cortex remained active as well. When we view a picture of someone we love, the areas of the frontal cortex associated with judgment and critical thinking typically become less active than normal.
The putamen region of the brain is also that section that prepares the body for action. Its involvement with both emotions of love and hate are interesting. Are we ready to protect someone we love? Do we expect to need to defend ourselves or run away from someone we hate? Does the frontal cortex take a break with someone we love because we feel safe? Is the frontal cortex one step ahead with someone we hate, preparing an escape plan if necessary? Apparently hating involves more thinking than loving someone.
Love seems to have been a part of our lives from the initial breath but hate is a fairly new emotion in human evolution. Did it develop as a defense mechanism or to justify doing what was necessary in order to live in harsh circumstances?
This week a mass exodus took place with thousands of people walking in a caravan towards the United States of America. These people, much like the Hebrews in Biblical stories, are seeking a better life. For many of them, it is the only way they feel they can have a life. Such migrations are nothing new in the natural world. Many animals do it every fall and spring. IN the skies over the Mid-Atlantic states, geese are seen and heard migrating to warmer climates in the fall and then again back home to their northern homes in the spring. Butterflies, birds, bison… Nature knows the effects of the harsh weather on itself and seeks survival. Many in the USA, including those in Congress and the White House, are disclaiming those seeking a new life. They feel threatened. Is their hatred simply a defense mechanism in place?
What effect does this hateful rhetoric on have those hearing it? Is it simply one way for politicians to make a name for themselves and garner public attention they feel translates into votes? It is a tactic that has worked in the past. People go to the polls and tend to vote on name recognition rather than stated platforms and experience. Why else would a nation that considers itself more Christian than anything else vote in a leader who has publicly broken at least half of the Ten Commandments?
Hate kills, not only in past examples of lynching and this week’s murders motivated by racism and neo-Nazi rhetoric. Hateful discourse harms everyone who hears it. It raises our blood pressure. Negative comments cause our bodies to have elevated cortisol levels which often inhibits weight loss. It leads to depression which then results in higher suicide rates, consumption of alcohol and greater use of medications, both prescription and by those self-medicating.
Hate is mentioned in the Book of Genesis and in Indian Vedic scripture and ancient Greeks gave much thought to its meaning. The 4th century B.C. philosopher Diogenes Laertius defined hate as “a growing or lasting desire or craving that it should go ill with somebody.” Science now can prove we do indeed go ill with hate.
Rutgers University sociologist Martin Oppenheimer, who with his family fled Nazi persecution in the 1930s, argues that hate is sown among a group by identifying and exploiting their frustrations, insecurities, and/or fear of losing out on things they want or need. The trick is convincing people that the explanation for their problems is someone else who is threatening to take away things that ought to be theirs, or is a menace to their safety. Additionally, he says, organized hatred helps give meaning to the lives of those who feel marginalized. “These are the movements of growing numbers of the insecure, who seek islands of safety in a rapidly changing and increasingly insecure world.”
The written and spoken word has done much to further the cause of hatred in the world. What we often forget, though, is that the power of love can be equally as strong. “Love thy neighbor” is not just a religious saying, one found in almost every religion in the world. It is also a basic tenet of living with someone else. We all live with others on this planet so we need to learn how to do that.
The American bishop, Episcopal Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, invoked the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his homily at the wedding of the U.K.’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle earlier this year. “The late Dr. Martin Luther King once said and I quote: ‘We must discover the power of love, the power, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this whole world a new world. But love, love is the only way,” Bishop Michael Curry said. “There’s power in love. Don’t underestimate it. Don’t even over-sentimentalize it. There is power, power in love.”