A famous person from the Middle East famously said, “Love thy neighbor.” A very simple, short, direct statement. A very profound and long-reaching clear instruction. There was no “except for” clause that came thereafter. No except for Group X. No except for Religion Y. No except for any Place or Culture. Just “love thy neighbor.” All of the everyones in the neighborhood of this global earth.
Given the brevity, clarity, and limitless scope of that instruction, why is it so hard to enact it in our daily thoughts and actions? In far too many instances, directed to far too many people, we in fact practice the opposite command: “Hate thy neighbor.” Humanity has a consistent track record over millennia of living in hate. Certainly we have regularly done so over the 2000 years since we were counseled to do otherwise. We live within the oscillating waves of noble acts of love alternating with extreme, if not incomprehensible, barbarian acts of hate. It is a back and forth dance in which neither always dominates.
Of course we never attribute hatred coming from ourselves versus others. Hate is such a strong, repulsive word that we invariably couch it in softer, more socially acceptable or patriotic terminology. Very few act on that hate in blatantly destructive ways – war and genocide being the frightening exceptions. Instead, we simply ridicule that which we hate. We talk about other people who are “not like us.” We discount other perspectives and opinions as being from ill-advised if not stupid or immoral people. In American society, for years many White Americans belittled Black Americans as being “uneducable” even as we stripped them of their cultural heritage and refused to send them to be taught a meaningful education. We label groups as “shiftless” or “lazy” even as we fail to offer them worthwhile employment or economic / creative opportunity. We ridicule the cultures and judge the religious beliefs of others as being “primitive,” or socially unacceptable, or not-with-the-times, even as we brag about our own superiority – a case built on little basis of substance. We falsely insist that “our values” are the only true values, ignoring the vastly diverse possibilities of human life. The same scenarios permeate across the globe, adapted to local cultures and histories, a reverse mirror reflecting back our own conduct. Yet is there any realistic expectation that a 12-year-old child living today in Syria will grow up thinking and acting the same as a 12-year old child growing up in a small town in rural Iowa?
In a substitute for physical violence against those we hate, we perfect forms of social and mental violence into a community-acceptable juggernaut of disguised hate. We live in enclaves protected by invisible walls of similarity, a sameness of race, economic class, religion, culture, upbringing, ideas and opinions. That sameness leads us to believe that all others should live and think as we do, thereby losing recognition that, on the map of earth’s 7+ billion people, our community is but a tiny, infinitesimal blip barely visible to God.
We hate what we fear. We fear that which is different. “Different” separates us, alienates us, from that which we cannot know firsthand, from that which is beyond our control and therefore can threaten our safety. So we hunker down in our enclaves, protected by the invisible but very real boundaries of our common community, defending ourselves against the various inevitable forces of Change – even though we intuitively know that our hate simply creates a vicious cycle of hate in return. We choose to hate others even though, at our core, all human beings share the same fundamental concerns, aspirations, values and needs.
We can instead choose to confront our masked hatreds. Not to self-flagellate, not to despise or disparage ourselves. We do so to reveal and acknowledge the hidden unacknowledged thoughts that live within all of us, and the subtle actions unseen by us that unconsciously flow from our thinking. It is only when we acknowledge the truth of what is that we can change what is. The real danger to us lies in our blindness, our loudly proclaimed wonderfulness which allows little room for acknowledging our less honorable side. Yet it is in that very acknowledgment of our insecurities, in admitting our fears, that we are allowed to see their unintended and unwarranted consequences towards others. From that recognition, we can truly choose to let the hatred go, fully and forever. To then let our goodness become purified and true. To resist bad actions when necessary without losing our better Self into that bad actor. To do as we were originally told: “Love Thy Neighbor.” Even when that neighbor is different from us.
“Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.”
(Martin Luther King, Jr.)