When I was a child, my siblings and I sometimes fought like savages. "I hate you," one of us would yell at another. Our mother rarely intervened in the fighting, unless someone was crying, but an expression of hatred always drew her attention. "I don't think you really mean that," she would admonish. "You should think before you use the word hate." And so I grew up a careful user of both the word and the emotion. I tried to reserve hatred for those few things that I could truly define as evil.
I passed this lesson on to my son, and many other parents I know say something similar to their children. Yet lately we are surrounded by expressions of hate--not from children, but from adults. And not just from the professional hatemongers (and leaders) who revel in the emotional chaos they sow, but from friends and family members, both on the left and right, be it religious or political. I know far too many people who proudly declare their hatred of public figures or one group or another. Often, they are mindlessly repeating what others have said, joining the echo chamber in their social and political circles. Even when the word itself isn't used, the hate is easy to detect, wrapped in self-righteousness and smugness. Words alone don't express hatred: It's the tone that is unmistakable--and makes it so hard for us to hear one another.
Our hate wars are waged on many battlefields, including online, in particular Facebook and Twitter and in the often sickening comment sections of publications. But while technology now allows each of us to immediately disseminate our thoughts on the internet, "hate talk" is not new. It ravaged the country during the McCarthy era, and throughout the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War, Watergate, the Contract with America and Whitewater. It was impossible to miss after 9/11. Later, at Moment, my email overflowed with vicious missives spitting out the name Barack "Hussein" Obama, as if the claim that he was a Muslim meant that he was evil. Since the 2016 presidential election, the hateful tone of discourse has gone from bad to worse. Now my inbox is flooded with Trump hysteria from all directions. To be honest, Clinton and Trump haters fill me with equal discomfort: Hate should not be confused with political engagement or "telling it like it is." Hate should not be a part of our civil discourse. Period.
Dipping into the hate within us can give us an intense buzz that may make us feel more alive, but hating is also an...