On January 8, 2011, there was a tragic massacre in Tucson, Arizona. A young man tried to assassinate Arizona Representative Gabrielle Giffords and killed, maimed, scared and shocked many others in the process.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, many have been talking about the “hate speech” that has been rampant for some time in our politics and our media. While this may or may not have impacted the shooter in this incident, 22 year old Jared Loughner, talk filled with hate and violence does have an impact on people – and impact greater than we realize. It is crucial that we educate ourselves about this impact as one of the steps toward healing the hatred and violence in our country and world today.
I apologize in advance for anything violent and painful in the following article. But how are we going to talk honestly about this subject, without “saying” and “hearing” the truth about what has occurred? I hope you’ll stay the course and read through to the end of the article…a metaphor for our passage through the darkness into the light…both within ourselves and in the world outside and all around us.
Sometimes it seems hate is rampant in our world. From suicide bombers and pirates acting out their hate with violence, to well known news commentators and public figures coming under fire for making vitriolic comments calling for the blood of their opponents, to graffiti found on walls in Orange County, California, threatening the assassination of Governor Jerry Brown, it seems like hate is all around us.
Do we have to just tolerate and live with this hate? Do we have to punish the haters and hate them back? Are we going to pretend the hate isn’t even there? Are we going to try to “sneak” our way around the hate, and not deal with it at all…only to find it haunts us and creeps back up to the surface? Or can we utilize this hatred to heal our own inner hate, the river of hate each of us has within us …and truly find the love and compassion within that so many of us are looking for? And in so doing, help to create a truly more loving outer world, too?
For right now, let’s think of “hate speech” as the practice – by those in public life and in the media – of saying hateful and hurtful things, and of urging participants, viewers, listeners and readers to violent action, directly or subtly, purposefully or inadvertently.
Is “hate speech” a recent phenomenon? Sadly, no! “Hate speech” has been with us for a very long time. Perhaps since the beginning of time. An example from over a century ago: During President McKinley’s presidency, there were columnists like Ambrose Bierce and Arthur Brisbane who seemed to be calling, seriously or not, for presidential assassination. Bierce wrote, that a bullet “is speeding here to stretch McKinley on his bier.” And Brisbane wrote “If bad institutions and bad men can be got rid of only by killing, then the killing must be done.” McKinley was assassinated in September 1901. And no…hate speech knows no political boundary or affiliation. It’s not a “conservative thing” or a “liberal thing.” Here are some recent examples:
- Sarah Palin posted a tweet on Twitter saying “Don’t Retreat, Instead – RELOAD!” referring to a “target” map on her Facebook which showed the districts of House Democrats in a rifle’s cross hairs.
- Liberal commentator Dave Weigel, in an off-the-record blog post, stated: “This would be a vastly better world to live in if Matt Drudge decided to handle his emotional problems more responsibly, and set himself on fire.”
- Conservative commentator Glenn Beck, in reference to his opponents, routinely tells his listeners things like “Grab a torch” and “Drive a stake through the heart of the bloodsuckers.”
- Former MSNBC liberal commentator Keith Olbermann, even as long ago as 2006, was speaking violence and hate under the guise of confronting hate. In response to emails to him from adversaries, he wrote: “Hey, save the oxygen for somebody whose brain can use it. Kill yourself.”
And sadly…even some of those who decry the hate speech that they tie into the Arizona shootings are calling for the death penalty…calling for the blood of the shooter…in another use of hate speech.
Where does hate speech come from?
What are the roots in the individual psyche of those who spout hate?
Often, when we are under stress or in tense emotional situations, we regress to the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors of children. Intense feelings we had in childhood, feelings possibly directed at authority figures from back then – parents, teachers, and other adults – get evoked in us. Often, these feelings are painful – fear, insecurity, sadness, anger, and even hatred.
Rather than safely feeling and exploring these feelings, we may consciously or unconsciously justify them and justify acting on them, as though the current situation warrants them . . . when the feelings are actually from a childhood experience. This unaware justification is one of the roots of “hate speech.” Or, rather than feeling and exploring these feelings, we may unconsciously defend against the feelings. One way we try to defend against these feelings is by lashing out…in some cases, physically, in some cases verbally. This defense is one of the roots of “hate speech.”
In addition …often the feelings that are beneath the defenses – hatred, anger, sadness, fear from our childhood – “bleed through” the defenses we have built….and help form the root of “hate speech,” as well. If we are not aware we are being evoked, these feelings often get entangled with current feelings and experiences. If we cannot tease apart the long ago feelings from the here-and-now feelings, we may feel intense hatred directed at someone in our present lives – that is really what we felt toward someone long ago. And we may even act out on these feelings, if we are unaware this is going on inside us.
Why would we tolerate our media using “hate speech”? Why do we buy into it?
Let’s go from the individual to the communal. “Hate speech” is often normalized in our world. Sadly, many think expressions of hatred and violence are simply the truth. Many justify such expressions distortedly with “this is what I feel!” And others justify it with “freedom of speech.” There is a delicate balance between these justifications and undistorted, healthy expression of feeling and free speech. We need to find that balance. We will only truly find that balance when we have healed the root of the “hate speech.”
While many believe expressions of hatred and violence are appropriate expressions of feeling and appropriate responses to many occurrences, including tragic news…they are not! But there are healthy expressions of feeling and healthy responses to events, even to tragic news. And I’ll talk about that later when we talk about how to heal this.
So…we are all wounded in some way…every single one of us. Even if we don’t know it. Even if we don’t want to know it. And sometimes, we encounter others whose wounds seem to “connect” with our own. That connection may feed the feelings that live within our wound from long, long ago. So if we connect with others’ wounds in the feeling of fear, their fear will feed ours, and vice versa. If we connect with their wounds in the feelings of hate and violence, it “feeds” the expression of hatred in each of us. Once fed, we use the connection – whether consciously or unconsciously – to defend against our own uncomfortable feelings or to justify (unconsciously) our acting out those feelings
This connecting of wounds and feeding of fear or hatred …is at the root of what people call “mob mentality.”
Unfortunately, many view this as something only the “unstable” or the “mentally ill” are susceptible to. But this is not at all the case. All of us, each and every one of us is susceptible on some level to the mob-like effects of hate speech.
If we think of talk radio shows, TV talk shows, TV news (which is often commentary rather than news), and online stories combined with blogs (meaning stories asking for responses) . . .
In today’s world they create very similar circumstances to an in-person mob created in days long ago (or even today). You can see, hear, and read that when you partake of the media forms above.
Listeners call in and say irrational and violent things. For example, the Monday after the Tucson shooting, on a local station near me, the host was insisting that “we” can’t let the insane dictate what we say in the media. After he went on about this for a while, he took a call. The caller said she thought there should be a public lynching of Jared Loughner …making him watch the gallows being built. The host just responded that she must have seen True Grit. He didn’t label her as one of the “insane” he had mentioned earlier; he didn’t ask her if she was “sane,” why was she spouting off with such hatred; he didn’t question the woundedness and distortion of the hatred she was expressing!
To see even more examples of this…look at the irrational and violent things people post in response to articles on the Internet! Not even more private blogs, but rather very public media articles.
The media today offers an environment similar to that of a mob in that people can hear or read each other’s inflammatory, destructive thoughts and one spark lights another…and since we each have an irrational, violent aspect of us, we never know what comment will light a fire in that part of us! It fans the flames of our own conscious and unconscious hate and violent feelings from long, long ago…which can lead to disastrous consequences.
Think of the classic movie, “The Oxbow Incident”…two men were hanged to death for a crime that never actually occurred, because one person sparked another and the growing group inflamed another and another. In his last letter to his wife, one of the hanged men wrote that some of the men were good men.
Even good men have a current of hate and violence within them. We don’t like to know this about ourselves…But someplace within us, whether conscious or unconscious, known or unknown to us, there is a river of anger and hate waiting to be tapped into, waiting to be discovered, and waiting to be truly healed.
If, in truth, you want to become aware of this…watch how people are, yourself included, at a sporting event (like a football game) or on the highway in a traffic jam.
Let’s look at another example. Let’s say you are watching a news report about the shootings in Arizona. You feel sadness for those who lost their lives, and their families, for those who were wounded, and for our world. You may feel anger at the shooter, or at the society that seemed to ignore the wounding within this young man rather than help him heal. In addition, this event evokes feelings from long ago in your childhood … feelings you have been defending against since you were a child…perhaps feelings about someone hating or being violent with you or with someone you loved. Then you hear a news commentator calling for him to die…calling him a “sick monster” who deserves to be shot. Unconsciously, you agree, maybe you even begin to say the same things. You use the hatred – the commentator’s and your own – to defend against your own sadness, anger, and even fear…rather than feeling them safely, committing not to act out on them, and committing to explore and heal them.
© Copyright 2011 by Judith Barr, MS, LMHC. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.