Hatred. Anger. Jealousy. These are all forms of suffering. These are all mental defilements. It is in your own interest to banish these demons from your mind. Even from a purely selfish point of view, it can be said that there are some emotions we would truly be better off without. It’s simply not fun to feel them, or be at the receiving end of their expression. Even if emotions like anger or hatred can seemingly feel good temporarily, they’re eating you from within, not so close introspection reveals that they are forms of misery.

You need to learn to love everyone. This may sound like an exercise in naïveté, but it really is not. It does not require you to delude yourself about the intentions or abilities of others. It does not require you to pretend people are better than they are, but rather to see them as they actually are and care about their well being despite their shortcomings. People are natural phenomena, much like the wind. Just like the wind can’t be counted on to blow in one specific direction, people cannot be counted on to be uniformly good or uniformly bad[1]. People serve as a host of positive and negative traits that dynamically arise depending on circumstance. The project of compassion need not require you to deny this truth of human psychology.

This task may seem daunting, but it is certainly within the realms of possibility. There is no need to view the world through rose coloured lenses, rather seeing clearly the reasons why people often misbehave is all that is required. We live in a universe governed by cause and effect. What happens now and what will happen in the future will always be predicated on events past. This is not compatible with our notions of free will.

At this present moment, what kind of person are you? How about now? What mood are you in? What are your deepest desires? What are your beliefs about the world around you? Whatever the answer is. I have no doubt that it was shaped by events in your past, things you’ve read or heard, people you’ve met, experiences you’ve had.

We know that it is both nature and nurture that shapes the kind of people we are, but we are in control of neither. If what happens now, is predicated on events past which were out of our control; we do not have free will. This is true for us, and it is true for the worst person among us. Even the most terrible, disgusting kind of person there is, is ultimately unlucky to be themselves. Variables in their past entirely out of their control have forged them into the people they are today.

Just like a bear is helpless but to behave like a bear[2], a murderer is helpless but to behave like a murderer. I have no doubt that if we changed variables in these people’s past (their childhood, their influences, their parents, the media they were exposed to, or even their DNA), they would be radically different people, perhaps even the best among us. Conversely, if you were to alter variables in your past, you could become indistinguishable from those you deplore the most. In some sense, everyone else is an alternate version of you. If you had the experiences and the biology of another, you would literally be them.

Hatred simply doesn’t make sense. The worst of us are unlucky to be themselves. Excessive pride and narcissism are equally irrational. Whatever talents or abilities you’ve acquired in life, have been deeply influenced by factors outside your control. Even if you worked hard to get where you are, you were lucky to be able to do so. Be joyous and profoundly grateful for all the good you have in your life, don’t waste your mental energies looking down at people not so fortunate.

This is of course not to say we should let dangerous or unscrupulous people deal damage as they please, simply because they are not free to do otherwise. It makes sense to constrain a wild bear that attacks innocent civilians, and this need not require a hatred of the bear. It also makes sense to restrict the movements of dangerous people[3]. However, the motivation for this should stem 100% from compassion for those who would have fall victim to them, and 0% from a desire to have them suffer because they “deserve” it.

Hatred is a toxin of the mind that harms everyone in its vicinity. It is suffering to hold this emotion, and holding it leads to acting in ways that inflict suffering upon others. Furthermore, it is flagrantly irrational, given a proper understanding of what causes human behaviour.

  1. Or at the very least, what your perception of what “uniformly good” behaviour would entail. ↩︎

  2. The author Sam Harris used the example of the bear in his article Life Without Free Will. I hope he doesn’t mind me taking it from him. ↩︎

  3. Assuming we believe that they will continue to be dangerous if left alone and there is not much we can do about it. ↩︎