Why We Choose Hate

Recently the tragedies have felt non-stop, right?

We've been hit from the left and the right, at home and abroad. And I've been amazed at how difficult it is for our society to offer a humane response. Someone dies and there are shouts of "He deserved it!" People are hurt and others respond, "Told you so!"

The week that Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, and the Dallas police officers were killed, I felt an overwhelming desire to light candles, to gather with others and grieve. But I didn't. I felt somewhat uncertain about how to proceed, how to enter in to a collective mourning.

I think a lot of people feel this way. Or at least that's my assumption based on social media rants.

When I worked with college students in L.A., we visited worship centers for major religions every semester. I accompanied these trips half a dozen times, and one takeaway has always stayed with me. I was intrigued by the ways physicality was a player in so many of these services.

With the Buddhist monk, we sat on small cushions on the floor for the duration of his entire talk. (I was always inwardly very dramatic about my inability to sustain this posture.) There was genuflecting at Catholic mass, and I watched women in brightly colored clothes bow on their rugs at the Islamic center prayer service.  

I tried to find similar physical rituals in my own Christian tradition and couldn't land on any. Sure, we might raise our hands during a worship song or stand and sit when asked by the pastor. But overall, rituals do not seem to play a major role.

I see our lack of ritual emerge again when our country or our world experiences tragedy. There does not seem to be a collective outlets for grief and sorrow. So when left to our individuals devices, we turn to anger and hate.

Why? This quote from James Baldwin hit me square between the eyes: “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

Who really likes dealing with pain? No one I know. So when we can avoid it, we do. And so we ignore grief and sadness and stay in our camps, clinging to hate and anger. It feels easier sometimes. But the pain is still there.

No doubt more tragedies will find their way to our doorsteps or to our news feeds. And while anger and outrage can certainly be justified, may we also pay attention to the pain and sorrow present in our hearts. May we allow ourselves to grieve together as one step on our way to healing.

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