I was drinking recently with a group of people from a range of ethnic backgrounds, and I was amazed by how many of our conversations included a narrative of past crimes committed against “their” people.
Each could name friends and relatives who still speak with deeply held passion about past atrocities, and have burning hatred of the aggressor’s entire race. This is despite the fact that these events occurred long before any of these people were born.
Almost every group – be it a nation, a religious group, a culture – has some historic reason to hate another group. Catholic/Protestant, English/Irish, Croatia/Serbia, Muslim/Hindu, Chinese/Japanese, Black/White, East/West. The list goes on and on.
So what is it about hatred that allows it to not only endure, but sometimes magnify, over time?
Hatred endures because it is being passed down from generation to generation through stories of past hostility. These stories are often embellished along the way with great emotional impact, and result is a never-ending suspicion of “those people”.
Often this passed-down hatred leads to future violence, and the cycle of hate continues.
I am not saying that we need to forget the past. There is truth in the old saying “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” But it is also true that those who remember the past too vividly are likewise doomed.
Some Googling finally turned up a Facebook group called We “Pass” on Passing on the Hate. Sounds like a great idea, right?…it has a mere 20 members. Sad, but true.
But I feel strongly about this issue. This poison of hatred is being passed from generation to generation, and it is time for the hatred to stop. Or, to put it another way, we need a “Statute of Limitations” on hatred.
Bloggers are acutely aware of the power of the written word, and how small changes can completely alter the perception of the reader. To give a simple example, media reports of motorcycle accidents are often phrased as “A motorcycle collided with a car that was turning left…” But think about that – the car was turning left, therefore invading the motorcycles right of way, so who exactly was to blame here? We need to be acutely aware of the unspoken messages we are sending, even in innocent sounds words.
When talking with your children it is not just what you say, but how you say it, that defines their perception of a group going forwards. Here are some simple rules:
- First, decide whether there is good reason to tell them about horrific past events. Are they too young to fully understand yet?
- Use words that put the timing of events in context, so phrases such as “when times were different” or “a long time ago” will help ensure your children understand that this is not how things are today.
- Avoid using slang. Use Black or African-American instead of Nigger, Japanese instead of Jap, American instead of Yank, British instead of Limy.
- Don’t generalize negative traits to an entire group – such as groups being called stupid, or thieves. Individuals have “good” or “bad” behavior, not the group. Oh…that reminds me…Did I tell you the difference between a Blonde and a shopping cart?…”
- As with most things, start in your own home. Forgive other people for their past crimes. The bigger the atrocity, the longer the time, but it should never extend beyond the memory of the person wronged. Here are some suggestions:
- Didn’t make the bed – A maximum of 10 minutes
- Had an affair? A maximum of 10 years.
- Mass murder – A maximum of 1 generation
There have been many tragedies through the ages, but what would be truly tragic would be to lose more sons and daughters because we couldn’t leave the past in the past.
Take the advice of Gandhi, a man we could all learn from, and be the change you want to see in the world. The power is within us to make the world a better place for our children, and our children’s children. I hope we all choose to use that power wisely.
If you like this idea – please pass it along.