Monday, April 6, 2015

You've Got to Be Carefully Taught..

Spain, Israel, Africa, Iraq. We look around the world and we see terrorism targeting civilians and it scares and angers us. When we read that some of the terrorists are educated people, some even working in healthcare, we shake our heads. The word incomprehensible comes up over and over. We don’t understand that kind of hate. 

In those moments we think that we would never be like those people. We are sure that we’d never disregard human life in such terrible ways. But the truth is that we have, and that in order to move from hate to peace we have to face that part of ourselves. Do we have the courage to look at the times when hate has been part of our national policy and politics?  

The view of the United States after two world wars, after Viet Nam, and atom bombs, our tolerance of holocausts, and repeated ecological disasters raises a fair question. Yes, it is painful to admit our past but pretending to be the innocent and injured party won’t help us change the world.  

What underscores all of it is hate. Not a nice word and certainly a behavior that we’d like to think we reject. But the scariest thing about hate is that it is easier than most of us imagine. What it requires is an unconscious dehumanizing of others.  Hence believing that our enemies are not like us. 

Seventy years ago psychologist Gordon Allport wrote, “The Nature of Prejudice”, still the most profound book on the subject. In his book, Allport makes clear that hate is a disorder of perception and that the hated has to be made “other”. But, he says, --and this is why hate is so destructive—“Hate like love, requires a relationship.” Hate is a hook that attaches the hater to the hated. 

Sixty-six years ago today another piece of writing about hate –perhaps a little more accessible-- was presented. On April 7, 1949 South Pacific opened on Broadway to shocked audiences. It was a musical that triggered tremendous controversy, but South Pacific went on to become one of the most popular musicals of all time.

Today we might find ourselves humming some of the familiar tunes from South Pacific as background music forgetting that Rogers and Hammerstein had transposed America’s racial hatred to the East so that American audiences could tolerate thinking about their racial issues.

South Pacific had a message that hit home in 1949 and which seems eerily relevant today. You’ll recall that the play is set in an island paradise where American troops are waiting for war, anticipating inevitable combat, danger and death.

At the center of South Pacific a song that sums up the heart of the play. The lyrics of  “You’ve Got To Be Taught” remind us that:

 You’ve got to be taught, before it’s too late;
 before you are 6 or 7 or 8,
 to hate all the people your relatives hate;
 you’ve got to be carefully taught.

The dilemma is that hate causes war but it is also what allows a soldier to kill their enemy. Hate is a perfect psychological fuel. And it is also, in South Pacific, what nearly dismantles the great love story.

So what do we do about hate? This is where the personal really is political. Maybe we need to look at the places in our lives where we hate, or have been taught to hate, and be willing to change that. 

What a lesson that could teach our kids, showing them that hate is a choice and that we always get to make another choice.  
Ezio Pinza and Mary Martin: the final scene of South Pacific.

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