I was a young child when I first learned about hate. The memory, like those that make up our core, is vivid. To this day, it is the callous laughter of the girls who stood around me in a circle that I can still hear. It is the joy in their eyes as they yelled a derogatory term in unison that I can still see. And it is the tears that welled up that I desperately tried to stop as I watched all the other kids look on in silence, that I can still feel.
It has been many years since the days of being bullied at school but only recently did hate show up again in my life. While cleaning up our medical office after a patient, I noticed that in between our magazines and in our bathroom were several small note cards. On each note card were messages of hate, condemning religions and entire groups of people. When I saw them, my heart filled with anger. I was flabbergasted that a person would come into our healing space and poison it with messages of intolerance.
I began to wonder, "What causes people to hate?"
The news recently has been filled with stories like the Hungarian camerawoman who purposely tripped refugees crossing the border, including a man who was carrying a child. And then there is the story of Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old Muslim boy that brought a homemade clock to school to impress his teacher. He was instead arrested and and led out of the school in handcuffs for what the teacher assumed was a bomb.
What makes people react from a place of fear? And what is the motivation behind demeaning another to lift yourself up?
In my quest to figure out the origins of hate, I actually discovered a lot about love. So I redirected my energy and decided instead that if I wanted it to expand, I would need to highlight the beauty of what I know about love:
1) Love comes from feeling connected.
Those who feel genuine love and compassion towards others feel a deep connection to every living being. My first real experience with connection was when I was doing a hospice rotation in medical school. Every day, I would accompany the nurse to take care of various patients in their homes. One of them was an older man who was dying of pancreatic cancer. I had only been to this man's home three times and yet I felt a tremendous connection with him. Throughout his house were pictures of his family, his children and his grandchildren. The pictures depicted scenes from most of our adult lives... those of accomplishments, family gatherings and life events.
I could see myself in so many of the pictures from his younger days when he was eager to learn and exploring the beauty of the world. And yet I could also see myself as he got older, had children, lost friends and family and came into his last days. He depicted to me the universal cycle of human life. Through his pictures, I saw myself. On the fourth day, I laid his head on my lap to make him comfortable. And as he took his last breath to return to the source of all being, I told him that I loved him. This is connection.
Some of us are lucky to be born into safe neighborhoods, with food to eat and plenty of luxuries. Others spend their lives trying to find safety, fleeing from their own countries, and fighting hunger and poverty. Connection comes from seeing yourself in every person.
It is the woman in the fancy car who reaches out to the homeless man on the street because she understands that at one point in her life, she struggled too. It is the teacher who marvels at the invention of an eager young boy because at one time in his life, he too needed encouragement. And it is the camerawoman who is compassionate to a young father trying to provide a better life for his child because she too would have done the same for her children.
What I have come to understand is that every act of hate, intolerance or injustice arises from a lack of connection. Love comes from feeling connected. And every small act of love sends quivers through the universe.
As the poet Stanley Kunitz said:
The universe is a continuous web. Touch it at any point and the whole web quivers.
2) Love sees hate as a teacher
Had it not been for the bullies at school, I would not have compassion for those who are hurting. Had it not been for the person who left hateful notes in our office, I would not have been stronger in my resolve to spread the message of love and acceptance.
It is those who have been deprived of compassion that understand how deeply another may need it. It is those who have been told that they are not wanted that know how to make others feel heard and validated.
Oprah Winfrey not only survived a brutal rape at the age of nine, but repeated episodes of abuse as a child. She explains that these experiences fueled her ability to connect and empathize with others. "I know what it feels like to be not wanted... you can use it as a stepping stone to build great empathy for people," she said.
The love that resides in beautiful people is often born through struggle. Psychiatrist and humanitarian Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross explained this so eloquently when she wrote:
The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.
3) Love is not silent through the injustices of hate
What I have learned from the story of Ahmed Mohamed and the Hungarian camerawoman is that there is a lot of love in this world. Because others spoke up, a young boy was invited to the White House, to tour the headquarters of Facebook and received an invitation from MIT. What the world showed this young man, is that love is an incredibly powerful force. This same force inspired Spain's national soccer coaching academy to reach out to the desperate father that was tripped by the camerawoman and offer him a job and a place to live.
While injustice can be loud, I know that love is not silent. When you feel connected to everything, you understand that another person's suffering is your own. As author Brene Brown wrote:
If you want to make a difference, the next time you see someone being cruel to another human being, take it personally. Take it personally because it is personal!
The web of the universe is a delicate one. Some make it quiver with messages of hate. But it is those people who feel connected, that grow from their experiences and are not silent against injustice that will calm the quiver and in return will fill the web with the peaceful stillness of love.
Smita blogs at DrB and DrM
You can follow Smita on Facebook here.