When a Society Falls Madly in Love with Hating Enemies
Never hate your enemies. It affects your judgment. The Godfather
Enemy: it is the ascending relationship of our time. Terrorism, a Presidential election, and racial strife are but some of the forces that propel “enemy” as today’s hot stock in a turbulent relationship marketplace. The list of enemies seems to grow endlessly: Radical Muslims, hypocritical Christians, brutal police, entitled blacks, racist whites, environmental-wackos, climate-change deniers – not to mention Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump. Increasingly we are defined by the enemies we hate. We express love by how much we hate our common enemy.
Where does this hate come from? Hate emanates from our hurt – past, present and projected future. Today’s technology and media have brought scale to our hate- and enemy-creating capacity. While we fear the hate-filled messages coming out of Muslim Mosques, the supply of hate coming from numerous secular internet sites, social media, talk radio, and cable TV is also scary. As technology has enabled us to communicate our thoughts and feelings immediately, emotionally, anonymously and globally, we hurl arrows of hate that inflict the world with perpetual wounds.
Donald Trump adds to the chaos with his proposal to block Muslims from entering our country. And the hate goes on. As Mollie Hemingway laments, the result is more hate from all sides – hate Donald, hate those who hate Donald, hate those who love Donald, hate the media who illuminate Donald. Politics and media have become businesses ever-more funded by hate, rewarding leaders in the currencies of money and power. Meanwhile we drown in a pool of enemies.
We risk becoming an enemy-mongering culture as our ability to wound overwhelms our ability to heal. When our political engagement is primarily animated by our disdain for enemies, civil communities transform into angry tribes driven by endless conflict.
Tribal hate is a one-way street with little ability for turnaround or auto-correct. The enemy does bad things that we hate. Or, it does “good things” that we condemn as done for awful, hate-filled reasons. Anyone on our side who acknowledges a hint of virtue in the other side is ruthlessly vilified. There is no path for redemption from this vile passage. It is like we are caught in one of those old TV western shows where the good guys wearing white are 100 percent good and the bad guys in black are 100 percent bad. We used to poke fun at the simplicity of all that. Now it passes for enlightened belief. In fact, research shows that those most educated and informed are the ones most staunchly divided and least susceptible to influence. It seems enlightenment has been hijacked for the cause of division. Hate always carries this risk: that we become what we disdain in others. A recent post on Facebook asked everyone who supported The Donald to de-friend her adding “we have nothing to talk about.” In the name of wanting more love and inclusion of other religions such as Islam, this post expressed contempt and exclusion of supporters of Trump. Hating haters is still hate.
We struggle with how to respond to hate and a hater? Perhaps it is why some religions warn starkly about hating our neighbor. Aside from the damage done to others, is the all-consuming, self-imposed destruction it wreaks inside of us.
Hate seldom settles for getting even, it is about getting ahead – hurting others even more than we have been hurt. This has a name: escalation. Both sides feel wounded and wronged. We double our efforts to show them. They triple their efforts to show us. Both sides distort reality by emphasizing the 20 or 30 percent where we disagree while ignoring the 70 or 80 percent where we agree. Our greatest risk is no longer harm from external enemies but the risk from self-inflicted hate-wounds from within. Let me suggest three keys to reversing our course.
New Language We need language that outs those who mass-produce hate and enemies. Let’s invent a word that captures what is going on. ‘Enemiation’ (enemy+ation): the process of transforming differences into hate, objects of our differences into enemies, and the wounded into victims by blaming those enemies for all that is wrong.
‘Enemiating’ leaders probe wounds and seize power by trading on victimization. History provides many examples: Hitler blamed Jews and Russians as the source of Germany’s ills. ‘Enemiating’ leaders are dependent upon wounded followers as emotional fuel for their own empowerment. Time to call them out.
New Intention The decision to disagree is a completely different decision than to hate. To reverse our state of hate requires a new intention regarding our differences. It is simple: we don’t condemn the color red because it is not blue. We don’t hate one of our children because he is different from his sister. We don’t criticize our hand because it is not like our foot. Differences have the potential for great synergy – hybrid mostly outperforms in-bred. A culture that espouses love of racial and ethnic diversity must apply it also to political and religious thought. If boxers, football players, and basketball players can physically battle for a couple of hours and then hug afterward, surely we can embrace our differences without making bitter enemies.
New Leadership Model A new direction will require new leadership. We must upgrade our broken ‘enemiation’ leadership model to Relational Leadership – intent on engaging diverse groups/stakeholders to build productive relationships and outcomes. Relational Leaders prioritize bringing people together versus being wedge-merchants promoting issues designed to produce division, victimhood and dubious outcomes. Oracle’s Meg Bear calls empathy – standing in another’s shoes, acknowledging their perspective even if you disagree – the critical skill of the 21st century. Unfortunately empathy scores among college kids has declined 10 percent since 1979. As voters we can start by electing a President with Relational Leadership skills including empathy and rejecting ‘enemiating’ leaders who use leadership as a weapon to grow hate.
We must lose our love for hate and find our love for productive relationships and leaders who help produce them.