John Schlimm on how to direct your energy positively.
By John Schlimm
“I HATE . . .”
The sting. The burn and anger and ignorance. The rawness of that word. Especially when rendered in first person. I can practically see the page smolder with it, as if it had been written with a torch.
Whether ignited by pen, acrylics, keyboard or our mouths, certain words have great power. To build up and to tear down.
When I was a graduate student at Harvard, Law Professor Randall Kennedy published the book Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word. A deeply rooted study of the world’s most inflammatory word, I thought the core genius of the book was in using the word for its title. It was printed simply in all lowercase white letters against a dark background, but still struck the eye and mind with the punch of a piercing fire alarm. It was in your face, refusing to be ignored. Demanding to be better understood.
Journalists reporting on the book, especially on-air, and the rest of us reading it were forced to say the word out loud when discussing it. Feeling the choke of the double “g” in the pit of our throat. Squirming as those two forbidden syllables passed through our lips like jagged chards of glass. Even now, my fingers linger over the keyboard, hesitant to type it into being . . .
It’s ok, I tell myself, It’s the book’s title; you’re allowed to say it and write it in that case. Yet using it in any manner goes against everything I’ve ever been taught. Even the first African-American U.S. President saying the word within context stirs up polarizing debate among neighbors and sends the media into a frenzy.
The power possessed by a single word! I appreciate the reminder of that lesson, thanks to Professor Kennedy.
I hear the H-word spoken more often than any other word. Nonchalantly, mindlessly, comfortably. When I point this out, a friend of mine is always quick to say, “It doesn’t really mean anything when it’s said like that.”
I hate Muslims vs. I hate broccoli. I get the difference, and there is a big one. But still, no matter how casually the word is used, it still needles me every time I hear it or read it. It still has power. It still sends something out into the world that can’t be pulled back.
“I hate the weather today.”
“I hate how my hair looks.”
“I hate my old car.”
“I hate the color brown.”
“I hate that TV show.”
I HATE I HATE I HATE ________________________ [Fill in the blank. Go ahead, you know you want to.].
Just as words have the unique ability to make us laugh, learn and be inspired, they also have the blunt force to victimize us. Over the years, humans have found hateful words and labels for each other that are chilling synonyms for the H-word.
Even unspoken, the H-word dances a rancid hustle through images and acts: terrorists slaughtering the innocent, drunken frat boys chanting slurs on a bus, cyber bullies preying on those who are different, a Confederate flag waving from trucks, homes and a state capitol.
Love. I love how that word sounds and feels when I speak it. How it gently rolls through my mouth like a musical note.
Now when I hear someone mutter things like “I hate women” or “I hate rainy days,” both extremes on The H Spectrum, the voice in my head counters with “I love women” and “I love rainy days.”
I LOVE I LOVE I LOVE ________________________ [This is a much more joyous and productive blank to fill in, proving that love is a larger tidal wave than hate could ever hope to be.].
Aiming the H-word at something truly despicable like terrorists, natural disasters and violent crimes, is also beneath us. We are still then responsible for adding even more of it to the world. I do my best to replace the H-word with words and acts of love and forgiveness. My dear friend, a 92-year-old nun named Sister Augustine taught me: As for those who hurt us or others, “God sees all. He’ll know how to take care of them in His own way and in His own time. That need not be our concern.” I deeply exhale when I think of this beautiful lesson—it’s a burden lifted from my shoulders.
It’s freedom for you and me to let go of the H-word.
Instead of hating those who are somehow different from us, find a common thread—love, hope, compassion, forgiveness, a smile—you all share and love that.
Instead of hating your temperamental hair today, or in my case lack thereof, laugh at yourself and find joy in something you love about yourself.
Instead of hating a silly song on the radio, turn the channel and dance to a beat you enjoy.
That’s a start, a brilliant pinpoint of light in the darkness. It’s a step in the right direction, for you, for me, for everyone.
Photo credit: Getty Images