Have you ever hated someone? If so, did you feel it consume or distract you? Did it eat away at your thoughts in the hours before falling asleep or as you daydreamed in class? Did you avoid going to certain places or partaking in certain activities because you knew that person would be present? 

Most of us have or will hate someone else in our lives. Hate appears in many forms, from hating entire groups of people down to individuals. It is an intense and raw emotional state that requires focus, energy and dedication. If you actively choose to say you hate someone, you have to really concentrate on how and where your hate is being directed. 

The strange, fluid nature of human hatred leads me to frequently wonder if anyone out in the world is brooding around, hating me. It’s an unhealthy concept to dwell upon, but I’m a curious person by nature. 

The only story of substance I ever received about being truly hated by someone was told to me from a friend in middle school. In the seventh grade, her friend started hating me because I did not apologize after letting a loose basketball hit her in the face. I distinctly remember asking if she was OK, but I guess I didn’t say “sorry.”

Hindsight is 20/20, and I definitely should’ve been smarter and apologized. Children can be petty, but was that one moment of being unapologetic enough for me to be perceived as the villain in another’s eyes? Can a single moment of neglect forever define how you can be viewed by someone? Surely, there are countless times where I was painfully singled out in middle school dodgeball, but I can’t claim that those who threw those rubber balls at my own head were my enemies. Though childhood hatred is a natural aspect of growing up, feelings of contempt can permeate into adulthood.

Looking back, I’ve definitely disliked people before. A physics teacher who never called me by my full first name. An ex-girlfriend who didn’t like it when I danced in public. Some colleagues after a fallout about work. A family member, maybe for a day or two. Individuals in college with whom I desperately wanted to be friends, only they didn’t give me the time of day only because I didn’t go to the same church as them. 

Over time, I questioned whether outright avoiding confrontation with those whom I dislike would eventually just lead me down a deep road to truly hating them. If you spend enough time with someone, you eventually realize they’re not really so terrible, and it’s harder to full-heartedly hate them. But if you actively choose not to encounter them, it’s easier to let your mind run wild, creating feelings and ideas and memories that might make it easier to hate the person.

Despite all these experiences, I can’t honestly say I’ve ever “hated” anyone. But it would be unfair to myself and my experienced emotions to move these people from the “dislike” side of my brain to the “like” side as if it were nothing. I’m fighting against a human instinct to want to separate individuals into mental boxes of good and bad. I definitely have friends who have no problem separating individuals into categories with varying degrees of hate: This person is on my side, but this person did me wrong. This friend from graduate school can come to the wedding. This family member can’t see my baby. 

When we initially see someone as different than us, the amygdala region of the brain affiliated with fear begins to spike. Our emotions can be unknowingly validated by our brain if those fears are substantiated by a negative interaction. As negative feelings toward someone increase, our fight-or-flight instincts become the only way to deal with such a large irritant. But people’s actions are more gray and less two-sided than what our primal social instincts want to let on. Everyone has someone who loves them, but everyone has their own faults. Most people claim to be for civil rights, but nobody is born woke. People contain multitudes.

Whether you’re an ideological extremist or just a normal person learning how to navigate the world, learning how to un-hate — or recognize hate in the first place — can be a difficult process. I feel the bumps of this journey myself: I know I have to learn to accept that no matter how hard I might try to appease everyone, some people in my own life will just dislike me. But what about the people who claim to hate me? What about my actions caused them to cross the line between general distaste to focused, meaningful hate? Was it a moment of carelessness that they chose to remember? Was it a habit that I didn’t have the perspective to correct? Was I sexist? Too political? Flat-out annoying? 

Learning to let go of those worries is a difficult commitment. In time, you may begin to realize how letting go of anger makes it easier to embrace love; not necessarily the romantic kind of love, but the fraternal kind as well.

There’s a similar relationship with hate that exists with the concept of love. The two emotional states, love and hate, rest on placing people, objects and ideas into subjective categories — black and white binaries of good and bad. Both hate and love requires care and some sort of reasoning for why you choose to treat that person, thing or abstract thought differently than others. Does the sight of your grandmother’s empty rocking chair bring up intense, confusing emotions? Even if your feelings are mixed, you might have to resort to either “loving” it or “hating” it due to colloquial constraints. In the end, the only difference in how strongly one feels regarding their love versus their hate is that hatred is much easier to practice.

Another aspect that links love and hate is how their usage in the English language has evolved superficially. From an idiomatic standpoint, “hate” is a word that is thrown around pretty loosely among young people. It has become so entrenched in our hyperbolic descriptions of the world that after a while, it kind of loses its meaning. I hate kale. I hate going to the gym. I hate Donald Trump. The word’s own substance dissipates when it’s used to equally describe one’s feelings toward a bitter salad base and the leader of the free world. 

The blurred lines of defining our distaste for petty misdeeds come in tandem with the limitations of the English language. There are very few ways to express a strong dislike without coming across as explicit or serious. If you look up the word “hate” on thesaurus.com, chances are you’ll find that the synonyms that come up come across as far too pompous and bombastic for daily usage. Hate becomes one of the softest words in its own category. You could mention that you dislike something. You dislike school. You dislike a particular restaurant. But if you dislike something more than normal, how do you articulate that feeling? You’d prefer not to eat at Quiznos? That sounds even weirder. Your resentment has to come across as stronger if you want to make a point. Would you tell others that you loathe hummus? Do you hold hummus in animosity? No, you simply resort to telling people you hate hummus out of the simplicity that we’ve associated with the word.

There will never be a time in life where you won’t have to deal with difficult people. It’s a truth most will have to learn the hard way by virtue of simply growing up, through first heartbreaks, being on the e-board of a club or trying to start out at a job. However, there lies trouble with how we use the word “hate” in our vernacular and usage: If we use such a powerful word so frequently, it will only diminish its meaning where it’s needed most. In addition to lessening our fundamental understandings of hate speech and hate crimes, we numb ourselves to the emotional weight that a word like “hate” carries. If our perception of hate becomes so skewed, we’ll be unable to recognize the truly perverse and evil kinds of hate that seek to pull us apart. 

The most important concept to grasp in learning to let go of anger is learning to acknowledge your ego. Hatred often arises when we have been wronged in a way that lowers our self-esteem. We want to protect ourselves by projecting emotions on others. What steps can I take to ensure there are no “me versus them” mentalities lingering along in my subconscious? 

I don’t intend to proclaim I’ve figured out how to stop hating; nobody has. Even though I’m able to boast about not personally hating anyone, I desperately crave the mental capacity to open up and become aware of what I may still be overlooking. I think we can all take small steps forward to improve our understanding of hatred and how our casualization of language might end up hurting it.

We come to college to challenge our ideas and assumptions, and more importantly, to grow through thought. But how do we begin to recognize when we might find ourselves putting groups into boxes? How can I work harder to extend myself beyond the communities in which I’ve been brought up and confined to? What clubs haven’t I explored? What events might help me meet new people? Through consistent engagement with social settings that we might individually deem uncomfortable, the hard path to letting go of hate just might become easier. 

Maxwell Barnes is studying Communication and Media in LSA and is a Daily Staff Writer for Arts. He can be reached at mxwell@umich.edu.

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