Does Hatred Have the Upper Hand?

By Maya Pressnall. Maya resides in Berlin, and is a lifelong nomad and dreamer, who has married and settled in Germany and currently teaches English, translates, and writes. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

Many years ago, I had what some might call a moment of enlightenment, in which I was briefly touched by what I can only call, for lack of better terminology, a feeling of universal love. For the first time, existence, both in general as well as mine in particular, appeared to be endowed with a sense of incomprehensibly but tangibly deep meaning, and during the period of time that the feeling of this experience lingered, every person I came into contact with seemed to be a long-lost connection, as if we had agreed, on another plane, to meet in this moment for the specific purpose of helping each other discover our own all-powerful divinity. I suppose that a psychiatrist would swiftly label this as having been some kind of manic or psychotic episode, but if that is what it was, it is one that I would gladly repeat. Alas, it never happened to me again, and I doubt that it ever will. While it lasted, though, life seemed unutterably beautiful, and my appreciation for all around me seemed to draw others to me like a magnet. For all too short a time, I felt capable of loving the entire world.

About one year later, I decided to leave the United States and move to Germany, having decided (admittedly not in an entirely sane state of mind) that because of the Second World War, the Germans had also, as a society, learned something about the importance of universal love, and could offer me a better future than what I had found in the competitive and money-oriented United States. I traipsed off with a savings of $1000 which was quickly depleted, and ended up in a squat house in Berlin, where my ideas about sharing all that I had and being loving to everyone were met first with suspicion, then with derision. I was cleaning to survive and beginning to spiral into a long-term depression. Humanity had lost the rosy glow I had previously managed to cast over it. Once, after drinking with some Eastern European punks who had moved into the squat, I was nearly raped. The others had left me, passed out, with this older man, locked inside the squat bar. When I asked them why they had done such a thing, they blamed me for having gotten drunk, and when I went to the police to report the incident I started a war, an army of one small woman against an entire clan.  I should have known better than to stay in that situation, but I did, and in the end I got my face kicked in, leaving me with a lip split in two and a scar in the middle of my face that I carry to this day.

Fifteen years later, I am still dealing with the smouldering remains of the hatred that this incident ignited in me.  A few months of thinking that I had discovered how to love like a saint were traded in for the last decades of my youth, which were spent wallowing in a dark pit of self-hatred, of mistrust of others, and a seething anger towards those who had hurt me. For the first time in my life, I wished harm on people. The way I perceived the world changed drastically – I no longer saw it as a place for growth and for forming loving relationships. People no longer seemed beautiful to me. Not only that, but the deep sense of anger I felt, along with the lack of love for myself that had pushed itself to the surface, affected the way people reacted to me. Where once I had felt I was full of light, a magnet of sorts for others, it seemed that now people avoided me, or looked at me with disgust. I felt that I had been pushed outside of the land of the living. The sound of laughter became abhorrent – to my ears it rang out forced, mocking, ugly. I felt resentment towards those who seemed happy, beautiful, content with themselves and with life. I was sure that they must have had unfair advantages that I had been deprived of.

Having been once consumed by hate, one sees only darkness in everything, and finds every reason to refuse to believe that one is worthy of love, or simply comes to the conclusion that love is irrelevant, and not necessary for survival. It has taken me many, many years to rid myself of that pestilent feeling of hateful resentment, not only towards my attackers, but towards myself.

When I look back, I can clearly remember how difficult that feeling of love was to maintain, although it felt so amazingly real and powerful. It was too much to bear; it was too strong, too intense. I felt as if I didn’t have the strength to contain it and carry it, and in the end, I was right. How strange that hate, on the other hand, has been so hard to get away from. Hate is like a cancer that feeds on everything around it, growing voraciously, while love is like a plant that must – just like a close relationship – be carefully tended so that it will not die; so that it will thrive. The problem is, I think, that people just don’t know how to deal with love – with real, unasked-for, ‘unearned’ love.  For whatever reason, this world is much more comfortable with anger, bitterness, and hatred. Love also attracts love, but the magnetic power of hate is much stronger. People are, in general, simply not attuned to love. They react to unsought, unwarranted gestures of love as one would to a threat. We have been conditioned to believe that we have to constantly be on our guard; to be prepared for attack. Hate, in the end, is simply fear. It is, in essence, a kind of self-protection.

One only has to look at examples from recent history to see how hate breeds hate within societies. The formation of the nation of Israel, beautiful and noble as it was in idea, has led a people who had known the worst form of victimization imaginable to become perpetrators of daily acts of injustice and cruelty.  Thanks to that bit of geo-political dealing by the powers-that-be, hatred of Muslims has reached hysterical peaks in the western world, leading to acts of violence, retaliation, terrorism, unending war.  There is no question that the Jews of Europe deserved some recompense for what they had been through; the least the West could do was to offer them, finally, and sadly far too late, some safety.  Those who chose to emigrate to Palestine were determined to never be victims again.  They wanted to once again rise as a nation of warriors. This they have done, but at the price of mirroring, to some degree, the racism and brutality that they suffered at the hands of Europe. Look at Liberia, or Sierra Leone, both of which were ‘founded’ by former slaves, along with influential traders and policymakers from the countries in which these slaves had been exploited, apparently in a bid to get newly-freed slaves as far away from their former masters as possible. Once free, these ex-slaves proceeded to create caste systems in their newly acquired lands, enslaving and brutalizing the local people, trampling them underfoot, subjugating the native people just as they themselves had once been subjugated.

We can look at the high likelihood that those who were abused in childhood will, in turn, become abusers. There is no question that hate feeds on itself, reproduces itself, grows at a nearly exponential rate. If we are to believe the Bible, that book of violence with its one little tale of love, hate swallows up and destroys those who try to show that love could possibly be stronger. Why is the world so afraid of love, so afraid of deserving gentleness, kindness, care? We are all in this together; why can we not feel it? Despite the years of struggle and spiritual pain that have clouded my memory of that time so long ago, I will never forget how beautiful it felt to sense that we are all here, utterly connected, for a beautiful purpose. I wish that I had been strong enough to pass that feeling on. For now, I can only be grateful that I am free of that terrible, long-festering wound of anger, and hope that we are all, somehow, quietly evolving toward the realization that we are as capable of radiating and empowering the forces of love as we have proven ourselves to be adept at amplifying the terrible abomination of  hatred.

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