Most people have no idea what they stand for, but they know very clearly who and what they hate. That makes me very uneasy, because I feel it from people of every political position — and this isn’t the way things ought to be.
When George W. Bush was president, most Democrats hated him far more than they liked any Democrat who might take his place. Since Barack Obama has been president, most Republicans hate him with a passion, but only a tiny percentage of them actually like Mitt Romney, who won the GOP contest to be their standard-bearer. Why is this?
I think part of it is a modern form of tribalism. We like to think of ourselves as past such crude ways of acting, but that’s wishful thinking. If you arbitrarily divide people into a Purple Party and a Yellow Party, both groups will soon develop all sorts of “reasons” why their sides is wonderful and the other is evil and wrong. (And they’ll each declare that their reasons are rational.)
Beyond that, though, I suspect there’s another very important reason. It’s simply easier to feel and express hate than it is to articulate something good and find the character to stand for that instead of the hate.
Anybody who’s ever done anything politically related has pandered to this hatred at times, even if they’d rather not admit it. Campaigns pander to partisan hate all the time, but in ways that make it seem safe and reasonable. When I was working in politics, that was the real basis of what I did. Yes, there were times when we talked about positive things — and I actually liked doing that — but I knew that those things didn’t get the votes.
The things that got votes were the things that reminded people of the things they hate — and connected that to the candidate on the other side. In general, the candidate who most successfully paints his opponent with the things the voters hate is going to win.
Those of us who write about anything political end up pandering to hatred — and I’m guilty of the same thing. Honestly, writing about things that you know are going to anger people and push their buttons is a much better way to get readership than it is to talk about positive things that matter. People are excited to talk about tearing down what they hate, because that’s not hard. They can see how to do that. What’s they’re not so willing to do is the difficult thinking about how to build the world they prefer.
I have more than 3,000 Facebook friends now, and I like to browse through the opinions being expressed there because it gives me an idea of what people are thinking and feeling. I have people of all sorts of political beliefs among my friends. When I scroll through what they’re saying, I find that most are yelling about how terrible “the other side” is. Every group seems to hate another group (or two).
As long as we’re hating, we don’t really have much room to have passion for the things we love. Hate pushes out love, and vice versa.
It’s a good thing to know what you’re opposed to, because it provides a contrast so you can know what’s off-course. But if you let yourself get bogged down in hating what already is, you’re not building a replacement. Your eyes are pretty much totally on the object of your hatred. Your passion and time and money go toward defeating what you hate. You have nothing left over for building positive things.
I’m not going to tell you what you should stand for. We all have things we believe in — things that we believe are good and worth living for. But what I am going to tell you is that standing for something good will make you a happier person than fighting with the things you hate.
Try making a shift in your thinking and feeling — from hate to something positive. I think you’ll be surprised. It might or might not make a difference in the world around you, but it will certainly make a difference on the inside of you.