You Have To Be Taught
“You’ve got to be taught, to hate and fear. You’ve got to be taught, from year to year. It’s got to be drummed in your dear little head. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
“You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late. Before you are 6 or 7 or 8. To hate all the people your relatives hate. You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
World-renowned lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II wrote these words for the musical South Pacific, which opened in 1949.
Mr. Hammerstein revealed an unassailable truth of humankind: No one is born a bigot or a racist. “You’ve got to be carefully taught.”
In the musical, hatred and fear were taught by adults who were themselves taught from childhood by the previous generation.
Soldiers preparing for war are taught to hate by a disciplined training process that subverts ethical and moral values to enable them to kill the enemy in warfare. The enemy becomes not another human being but a collective evil force that must be destroyed before it destroys.
An individual can teach herself or himself to hate. A child in school is shunned by other students, perhaps made fun of for some stupid issue. It leads to bullying, ridicule, discrimination. The child may first laugh it off, try to fit in, but to no avail. Resentment grows.
When the child is alone, in the quiet places of his thoughts, he pulls out his bundle of slights which his anger and bitterness have transformed into hates, and he gives them names: Brittany. Miles. Jamal. Cheryl. Scott. Mr. Weinstein. I hate then for what they’re doing to me, the child says. And that hatred gives him a perception of importance, power, and control which sometimes ends at the business end of a weapon.
Hatred bears bitter fruit. At first, hatred singles out its targets. The child singles out Brittany, Miles, and the others. But once hatred is let loose, it can’t be limited to the offenders. Hatred spreads like a virus into a fear and loathing of “the other,” seen through the eyes of hatred as the enemy.
Today the United States of America is awash in hatred, fear, and violence. An elderly man is brutally beaten with a hammer in his home by a man who hates the man’s wife, and shouts that he wants to “break her knees” because her political views are not his. She has become “the other.” The reaction of some leaders of “the other” party refused to condemn the attack. A few made crude jokes about it. The attack, and the absence of condemnation by some who call themselves leaders is sinful. To concoct and broadcast nonsensical hateful lies about ‘the other’ is also sinful.
A U.S. Congressman was shot while playing softball by someone who opposed his stance on the economy. The shooter saw him, not as a fellow human being who had a different outlook on politics, but as ‘the other.’ There is no excuse for this. It must be decried by all as unacceptable, wrong. At that time it was denounced by both political parties (June 15, 2017).
That unified condemnation of an attempt to kill a member of Congress isn’t happening today. Threats and acts of violence against a member of the Supreme Court, judges, doctors, school board members and teachers, school children, store clerks, election workers, gays, lesbians, transgender individuals are only some who are targeted daily as ‘the other.’
Muslims, Christians, and Jews have been shot dead in their houses of worship by individuals who have been taught to hate ‘the other.’
Hundreds and hundreds of human beings are killed every year in this nation by other human beings because the shade of their skin color differs from theirs. The killers believe their targets are inferior, a threat to their own way of life, not fit to live. They are ‘the other.’
Hatred, fear, and violence often begin and grow in an environment where there is impersonal contact with other people without knowing them, without an element of companionship or friendship, not even a slight personal acquaintance.
Current living too often is impersonal, individualistic, rather than based on community. How many of us really know the person or family who live next door or across the street? How many of us read a social media post from a stranger and accept it as true without question? Or see a commentary on MSNBC or FOX and neglect to check the facts?
If, during a family get-together, someone offers a hateful comment toward an individual or group, will I voice my opposition or just sit there? If a friend or a stranger expresses a derogatory remark about women, or Jews, or whomever, will I challenge it?
Theologian Howard Thurman wrote, “So much of life today is so impersonal that there is always opportunity for the seeds of hatred to grow unmolested.”
At the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he says, “You have heard it said ‘Love your friends, hate your enemies.’ But now I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you so that you may become the children of God.” Matthew 5:43.
Why did he say this?
Because God is love, and hatred is the antithesis of love. We cannot hate one another and love God. Hatred erects a wall between the one who hates and the loving God.
Jesus knew that hatred kills the human spirit, and destroys ethical values and moral character.
Jesus rejected hatred because it dries up the well of creativity in the life of the hater. The hater’s outlook on life is controlled by hate. He won’t think of any ideas that could reconcile him and ‘the other’ because he can’t. The intensity of his hatred dominates his entire personality.
Jesus rejected hatred because he saw that hatred meant death to the mind, death to love and being loved, death to a right relationship with others and with God. Hatred destroys the life of the hater.
Hatred is no respecter of persons. Hatred treats everyone the same way. Hatred can and does afflict Democrats and Republicans, all races, religions, people on every level of the economy and education.
The terrible truth is that hatred is virulently contagious. You give evidence that you hate individuals that I like, ideas and beliefs that I espouse. Therefore, I in turn must hate you.
We can’t change everybody’s mind. But we can change our minds. We can reach out to ‘the other’ in our families, our circle of friends and acquaintances, strangers in our neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, and community to offer love in the form of listening to them, recognizing that God created them, too.
“My enemy is the person whose story I do not know.” Ancient Jewish saying.