Articles by Claire Guthrie Gastañaga
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Let's Change the Language of Politics -- It's Time to Stop the Hate
Richmond WOMAN, Vol. 2, Issue 13, February/March 2005, pp.16-17

I have trouble understanding why many of my politically passionate friends (regardless of party affiliation) without hesitation describe their disagreement with particular politicians on policy as reasons to "hate" that person.

One institutionalized example of what I am talking about is whywehatebush.com which is dedicated to “exposing and ridiculing” the President.

Now, while the rhetoric of the "reasons why we hate Bush" is pretty overblown, in my opinion, the "reasons" do make a relatively cogent case for disagreeing with President Bush’s policies and actions.

But, are they reasons to "hate" Bush? For example, one reason given on the website to “hate” Bush is that he's "inarticulate.”

Lest you think that this behavior is one-sided, simply Google "hate kerry," and you'll find websites that opine I "hate" Kerry because he "flip flops" or because he "only wants to get elected."

All this makes me want to ask, just what is "hate?”  It’s defined in the dictionary as "obsessive dislike unaccompanied by restraint and character" or as "a feeling of dislike so strong that it demands action."

Both of these definitions seem relatively mild given that, all too often, “hate” provokes not just action but violence.

I believe "hate" is a term that should be reserved for persons whose actions are so antithetical to common decency and civility, such an affront to our common humanity, that they should provoke a visceral, unreasoned antipathy among all people of good heart and right reason.

Should we not "hate" our captors if we were Iraqi prisoners subjected to abuse and torture or the relatives of kidnapped civilians beheaded on video for worldwide consumption?  Should we not "hate" terrorists who purposely kill civilians to make a political point?  Should we not "hate" bigots who maim and kill solely because someone is of another race, religion or sexual orientation?

What troubles me about the almost routine use of the term “hate” to describe people with whom we disagree in our daily discourse on matters of public concern is that it desensitizes us to the real meaning of the term and the emotion and passion that it normally evokes.

Can leaders and parents teach tolerance or expect tolerance from our children when we are so ready to describe objects of mere political disagreements as people we "hate"?

On its website, www.tolerance.org, the Teach Tolerance project of the Southern Poverty Law Center outlines 10 ways to fight hate.  In the section about why we must teach tolerance to our children, the website says:

Bias is learned in childhood. By the age of three, children are aware of racial differences and may have the perception that "white" is desirable. By the age of 12, they hold stereotypes about numerous ethnic, racial and religious groups, according to the Leadership Conference Education Fund. Because stereotypes underlie hate, and almost half of all hate crimes are committed by young men under 20, tolerance education is critical.

It is my understanding, however, that it is difficult to lead others to tolerance or to teach tolerance to our children if we don’t practice it in our own daily lives even down to the level of banishing just one word – “hate”-- from our casual vocabulary.

Before we continue to speak about our political opponents as people we "hate", we should think about the message we are sending to our children about when it is okay to "hate."   We should not be teaching our children that it is okay to “hate” anyone just because they have different beliefs, unless those beliefs are so abhorrent that they shock the conscience.

We should consider the words of President George Washington, and ask ourselves before we speak if our words will live up to his expectation of the "demeanor" of "good citizens":

"Happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction and to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demeanor themselves as good citizens."

We should give bigotry no sanction and persecution no assistance by sending the wrong messages to those we lead or nurture.  As Max DePree says in his book Leadership Jazz, “[w]e are dealing with God’s mix, people made in God’s image, a compelling mystery. … We are all authentic in our own right; no person awards us authenticity; we are born with it.” 

No one is worthy of hate, when that assessment is made only because they  bring to that mix a different point of view, a different tradition of faith or a different political position. (end)

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