[Editor’s note: Every week, New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose, or — no surprise here — a party.]
All my friends and acquaintances claim to “hate people.” Why is this a trend? Why is it considered cool to “hate people”?
I Think People Are Alright
Dear I Think People Are Alright,
I was just thinking about this the other day. I was feeling angry toward a group of people who were needlessly attacking another group in the media. It got me pondering the idea of a person who hates another person because of that other person’s hatreds. For example, if a person came along and said, “I hate tall people!” and then another person stepped up and said, “Well, I hate short people!” and finally a third person came along and said, “You should both be ashamed of yourselves for hating people! I hate people like you!” — well, with that one statement, however righteous it may seem at first, the third speaker has now become the exact kind of person he claims to hate — the kind that hates other kinds of people. By hating the kind of people who hate other kinds of people, he automatically becomes the very thing he hates, and in turn, hates himself.
The lesson here is that we must be very careful with our emotions, especially that tyrant of all negative and lower feelings: hatred. In our efforts to eliminate what we see as bad in the world, it takes extreme discipline and self-awareness not to lose our way in the midst of the battle, and end up contributing even more bad to the bad we’re so intent on wiping out. As we’re aware, war can never really achieve peace, no matter how badly we want peace, or how badly we want to believe that by fighting, we can eliminate fighting. It’s common sense, but we usually go to great lengths to convince ourselves that this time it’s different, or that in this case violence really is the only answer. But it never works. Hating hate does not end hate. It just helps it grow.
It is worth examining why the word “hate” does seem to be used so frequently. With a moment of honest reflection, most of us will probably admit to saying we “hate” things all the time. But we also probably don’t really mean it. We are sort of exaggerating, and it’s common to do so. It could be largely due to the dramatic impact exaggerated speech has on the listener. With so much noise out in the world, we often end up unknowingly exaggerating what we mean in order to amplify our voice and cut through the chaos.
Look at your letter. You started out by saying that ALL your friends and acquaintances claim to hate people. Now, is it possible that every single friend and acquaintance of yours really does claim this? Sure. More likely, you were just using the word “all” for impact — or out of habit — or just because that’s something people say and it just sounded right. I’m guessing you do have plenty of people in your life who don’t actually claim to hate people. So maybe you were engaging in the same exact type of exaggeration as the others were when they used the word “hate.”
Other common exaggerations are using words like “everyone” and “always,” such as, “Everyone is always saying how great that flavored-crust pizza is.” Now, again, as much as I love pizza, and literally millions of other people do, too, we clearly realize that there are probably some people on earth who don’t think pizza is that great, flavored crust or not. Even if all the people in the world who do like flavored-crust pizza were frequently expressing their love for it, it would be nearly impossible for them to always be saying it, 24 hours a day, forever and ever.
These sorts of exaggerations have been used so frequently that we barely even notice them, and they just sound like the way people talk. But we should notice them. And we should especially notice when we say them. Even more so, we should make an effort to notice when we think them. How clear are our own thoughts? How exaggerated is the voice in our head? Why are we feeling the need to overstate and exaggerate our feelings and ideas? These are questions that each of us can only answer for ourselves.
As far as the people around you actually “hating people,” it is probably another understandable exaggeration. People are intense. There is a cheap satisfaction in hating things and saying so. It seems to release a type of internal emotional pressure. But it’s a short-lived and deceptive release. It actually builds up a worse and leads to a more sickening kind of tension in your soul. You can feel your chest tighten and your breathing shorten when you focus on that kind of hate. The more bitter and pointed the hate becomes, the more painful and inflamed the physical feeling gets. Medical and spiritual experts have agreed that harboring hatreds and resentment does cause actual illness, and you can really feel how that’s possible when those sensations take hold of you.
Ultimately, in order to find true peace and live a truly good life, we can’t hate anything. This doesn’t mean we have to support and endorse everyone and everything. It also doesn’t mean we have to agree with every viewpoint or enjoy every experience. It just means that in order to improve as a human race, we must eliminate hate. No more “hating” certain songs. No more “hating” certain movies. No more “hating” certain places, or foods, or cars, or clothing, or books, or anything. And absolutely no more “hating” people.
We must catch ourselves when we allow these lower emotional impulses to get the better of us. At times, it can be hard to see them coming. But hopefully, with enough dedication and desire, we can shorten the distance between our experience, our reaction, and our emotions and get some control over them. We can put in their place the higher and more noble attitudes we possess. Instead of our irritation, our impatience, our cynicism, and our hatred, we can focus on goodness. It’s not easy to do this. In fact, mastering emotions in this way is possibly the most difficult challenge in life. But it is also the most noble effort we can make as a human being — to try and truly become a better person.
Every day is full of opportunities to do this — chances for us to become more or to remain less. Can we meet these tests head on? Will we bring out the best in ourselves, or give in to weakness and falter? And though we might not always succeed, and though we may often feel like it’s too hard and that we’re simply not strong enough, we still decide to keep trying. We must never stop trying to live a better life.
With all the efforts we make trying to be better than other people, the only person we should really try to be better than is ourselves. This is the most important effort we can make with our precious time. Keep making this effort in your own life, and keep supporting the people around you in their efforts, too. We can do this!
More:Ask Andrew W.K.