Love has many faces; hate is a matter of degree.
Hate is primal and irrational. It doesn't question. It doesn't reason. It sucks in other emotions and then feeds on itself. It's an ugly and insidious thing, and we would do well to exorcize it from our psyche.
The question is how?
Since 1969, there has been a federal law mandating enhanced punishment for "hate crimes," but it has been left to the individual states to expand the law from crimes motivated by race or ethnicity to include crimes based on sexual orientation. Georgia and much of the South still do not consider an attack on a homosexual to be a "hate crime."
There are many kinds of love and many words to define the variations: Eros or physical love; or agape, selfless love.
There are special words for love of family and love of a friend, but hate is one-dimensional. We are told to love the sinner but hate the sin. Don't believe it. Hate isn't an abstraction. Hate wants to smash something. Where there is hate, someone usually gets hurt.
Nevertheless, punishment has never defeated the darker side of human nature. The only defense is education. Just as we teach little children not to fight over a toy, just as we teach young people manners and morals, just as we expect adults to follow the law, (all actions that run counter to instinct) we can teach people not to hate.
Hate isn't instinctive; its components are. Fear and anger are as basic as the fight or flight syndrome, as basic as the urge to defend one's territory, or to mate. And hatred is a great motivator.
Mankind is not a natural killer. A hunter, yes. A defender of home and hearth, of course, but a natural born killer? I don't think so.
This is why a nation at war has to portray the enemy as evil, and while this may help win the war, it becomes a barrier to establishing peace. On a different level, hate makes moving from competition to cooperation difficult, and it's exactly what our nation must do now in this time of economic and environmental crisis.
This is why those who exploit divisions in political philosophy (liberal vs. conservative) or obsess over matters that are better left to the individual conscience (abortion, homosexuality) are undermining our country. It doesn't matter where you find it - on the radio, in Congress, or even in church - when the message incites fear and anger, it engenders hate.
In England, the Home Secretary has just published a list of individuals to be barred from Great Britain based on this kind of inflammatory speech. The list includes a popular U.S. talk-show host and a Topeka, Kan., minister.
Americans take great pride in their right of free speech. We are unlikely to pass any law that limits people's ability to say just about anything they want, but the law isn't an effective way to treat hate. One fights hate by recognizing and rejecting it when it appears.
We are so casual with words, especially with the words "love" and "hate." Listen to yourself. How many times have I said, "I hate the cold." Listen to your children. "I hate homework." Listen to your neighbors. "I hate those people down the street." Each time we say something like this it sets up a negative reaction in the psyche.
No law can change hate, but we can change ourselves. We can change others simply by rejecting the use of hateful words.
Think about this next time you hear some talk-show host firing up his audience. This isn't entertainment. The man is messing with your head.
Individuals who rail against any segment of our population - illegal immigrants, homosexuals who want to marry, abortion doctors or even those who throw trash in our streets (my most likely target) - are only venting anger at their own inability to get others to conform to their personal values.
Hate destroys. On the other hand, understanding and education can change lives.
Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears on alternate Tuesdays and on gainesvilletimes.com.