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It has been said that indifference, not hate, is the opposite of love. If so, then what is hate? Like love, one knows it when one feels it but when trying to explain hate it seems at times beyond words. Poets sing, smile, and weep about love but rarely emote about hate. 

When kids say, “I hate you!” it is a harmless throwaway, usually having a lifespan of no more than minutes. But when adults live with hate, it becomes far more than a child’s faux muscle. In adults, hate is more than a feeling; it is a mindset, toxic thinking that can fester into rage and violence. 

Webster defines hate as “Intense hostility or aversion, usually derived from fear, anger or a sense of injury.” Hate is essentially fear-based; it is as much a judgment as it is a feeling; it is resentment that, when it becomes anger too predictably turns into rage, then violence. Unlike many emotions, hate is a choice one makes, a mindset one lives with that poisons one’s perceptions and soul. 

Nelson Mandela said, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate…” His words bring to memory the long ago impact of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s song in “South Pacific:”

You’ve got to be taught

To hate and fear,

You’ve got to be taught

From year to year,

It’s got to be drummed

In your dear little ear

You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught to be afraid

Of people whose eyes are oddly made,

And people whose skin is a diff’rent


You’ve got to be carefully taught.

You’ve got to be taught before it’s too


Before you are six or seven or eight,

To hate all the people your relatives


You’ve got to be carefully taught!

I have hummed that tune like a hymn for more than fifty-five years, realizing relatives are not the only teachers of hate, that hate can be contagious in an unjust world. It is painful imagining that the ugliest of terrorists was once a beautiful, innocent baby, oohed and aahed over, embodying the love and dreams of its parents. It is even more painful trying to unravel a prehistoric mindset, even in clerics, that uses God to justify hate, violence and killing.

Living with hate in one’s mind and heart distorts the meaning and value of human life. Those who teach hate must live in a fear-filled world and feel very unloved. I weep for them…and those they touch.