The other day I was wearing a shirt put out by the great folks over at Mental Health America. The shirt says, ‘Hate Is Not A Mental Illness.’ The purpose of this simple statement is to counter the narrative heard all too often that mass shootings and other acts of senseless violence are just the result of mental illness. Statistically, mental illness is rarely the culprit. All that narrative does is feed the stigma that those with a mental illness are dangerous. We need to remind people that fear, hate, and a lack of mutual understanding drive our divisions and our violence, not mental illness. Yet as I was wearing this shirt, someone asked me what hate is if it isn’t a mental illness.
This presented two problems for me. First, I had the problem of interacting with a stranger, which is always hit or miss for me because of my social anxiety. The second problem, which was perhaps more pressing, was that I didn’t have a good answer ready. And since then I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it.
My first comment was that it was an emotion, but that isn’t quite right. You might feel anger or frustration, but that is reactionary, and those feelings are likely to ebb once the catalyst has gone away. Hatred is something more permanent and dangerously less reactive.
And so I have been left kicking this question around in my head for the last few days and I think I finally have an answer. If mental illness is a failure of brain chemistry, hatred is a failure of the heart, a hijacking of human nature.
I believe that we are fundamentally a good species, designed to love one another and defend one another against threats. I believe that we are a social species that evolved to rely on one another and distrust those who aren’t a part of our tribe. The failure of the heart comes when we start seeing those who are different than us as threats, when we start blaming our faults on them. Why this happens is complex, encompassing a variety of socioeconomic issues. Yet it is not a mental illness.
And sure, this answer might not be pithy. It might not be an easy answer to pull out the next time I have that shirt on and am asked about it. But that is what I believe hate is.
However, I do think that it has one thing in common with mental illness. I believe that hate, like the stigma surrounding mental illness, is fueled by entrenched ways of thinking, and that just like with mental illness, we can change that narrative. And we must. Because if we can end the stigma surrounding mental illness than there is no reason we can’t also end hate. We just have to step outside our comfort zones and try.
But these are just my thoughts on the matter. I’d love to hear yours. Because the first step to ending stigma or hatred is to have conversations about it. And I hope that this post is the first step.
And thank you, as always, for reading.