The Poisonous Prison of Hate.

This week on Channel 4, I watched a documentary detailing the life-story of television presenter Caroline Flack, who sadly took her own life in 2020. The deeply poignant programme was part eulogy and part discussion concerning the reasons why Caroline was driven to such an extreme. My inevitable response to the moving programme was an abundance of tears. However, as the feeling of sadness waned, I began to consider if there were any lessons that could be learned from the death of such a vibrant and beautiful woman given that the media and social media were clearly guilty of pushing her to absolute breaking point by publishing hateful articles and comments concerning her private life.

Following Caroline’s death in February 2020, there was an enormous outpouring of grief. On social media the hash tag, Be Kind was repeated over and again, as if that alone was a guarantee against future tragic events. People naively believed that this sweeping generalisation was the answer. But based upon the depiction of Caroline’s life, I consider a more appropriate one would have been, Stop the Hate. The words used are crucial.

From my experience of teaching, I have come to believe strongly that the mind is a powerful tool. The words we use in our thoughts and what we say about ourselves in our internal dialogue, define us. If a child has no self-belief and is constantly saying that they cannot do something, then their thoughts become their reality. The key to developing a child’s ability is to make them believe that they can achieve something by telling them and getting them to say that they can.  Similarly, in our daily lives, it is unsettling how many times we use the word hate. “I hate fish.” “I hate going on buses.” “I hate the morning commute.” I hate him.”  “I hate her.” These throw away remarks normalise hatred and erroneously portray it as an acceptable emotion. But hatred is far more powerful than that. A definition of hatred reveals it to be “an angry or resentful emotional response to certain people or ideas.” Furthermore, it is frequently associated with feelings of rage, disgust, and resentment. It cannot be denied that hatred leads to more hate. Once the seeds of hatred have been sown, they intensify, and hatred can lead to obsessions, neurosis, and judgement that is damaging. If we fail to stop this, then we alone are responsible for what follows.

Crimes such as discrimination and racism and some of the most dreadful events in the world’s history such as the Holocaust are all examples of what can happen to unchecked hatred. Recently an episode of “24 Hours in Police Custody” further illustrated this point. Victoria Breedon became so consumed by hatred for her ex-husband after losing custody of their child, that she tried to persuade three men to murder him and at one point arranged an arson attack at his home.  Her hatred for Rob Parkes was so immense that she was eventually found guilty of three counts of soliciting murder and sentenced to nine and a half years in prison. Her motivation had been to regain access of her child but her unbridled hatred of someone has meant that she will probably never see her child again. There must have been a point in her life when she had a choice between whether to allow herself to be consumed by such vitriol or not. The self-destruction caused by hatred is often compared to the analogy of holding a burning hot coal with the intention of throwing it to harm someone else. Ultimately, it is the person holding the coal who will be burned and therefore hurt the most.

Of course, it is all very well to say this but what practical steps can be taken to ensure that we do not become victims to hate ourselves?  I find that the best way to deal with this is that as soon as I start to feel hatred towards something, I stop and deliberately take a breath. I try to challenge those irrational thoughts regarding hating something. I tell myself that there is no point in these negative thoughts as I shall only cause myself greater stress and anxiety. I make a conscious decision to file this away and not dwell further on the matter.  If you have ever experienced targeted hate yourself, you will know how distressing and frightening this can be. It can also destroy feelings of self-worth. Frequently the person directing their hatred is desperate for a response. Just as in dealing with your own feelings of hatred you can choose to sink to the hater’s level and throw equal hatred back, or you can ignore it and feel sorry for the person instead.

We may never manage to end hatred in the media or even social media, but I do believe that it is time that we started to challenge those who spread it. If we each do our bit, then it may mean less people suffer with mental-health problems. For if we feed hatred, then it will grow. But if we confront it, understand it, and disassemble it, we shall undoubtedly flourish.

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