We see others as enemies, not people

We are wired to see others as enemies, not people— Pic by Henry Hustava

“From the deepest desires often come the deadliest hate.” — Socrates

The news roller coaster is hurting me.

The wild ride is pulling up my emotions up and down — the thrill is anything but fun.

Politicians are supposed to commit their best efforts for the public good, not to be fighting against each other. Books are meant to inspire the readers, not to sink someone. Similarly, book reviews should help us understand what’s in it for us, not encouraging us to bash the author.

As citizens, we must call out lousy conduct from leaders, not play their game. By taking sides, we are not just legitimizing attacks and divisive behaviors; we are also fueling hate.

The worst part is not that hating others is normal; it has become socially accepted too.

I’m not taking a moral stand here. I’m far from being perfect. This post is a personal reflection — I’m inviting you to be part of my journey.

On the social media stage, looking right seems the only thing that matters. Rather than using our emotions and intellect to do what’s right, we focus on proving others wrong. Those who think differently become our enemies.

The primitive skill to separate friends from foes is an essential survival strategy.

However, that instinct made sense in a primitive age where the world was threatening and unknown. It feels irrational that — after centuries of breakthroughs and improvement in medicine, education, technology, and food, to name a few — we still feel under constant attack.

It’s hard to believe that we are in the 21st Century — we behave as if the world was still unsafe and dangerous.

We are emotionally incompetent — We love to hate others.

Many people are not using their voices to make things better. They express their opinions simply to hurt others; to silence their thoughts. The hatred that we see daily on Social Media, the news, or feedback to articles, is doing us no good as a society.

Our hearts have become completely incompetent — hate has taken over our lives

Hate Is Personal; What Causes Anger Is Not

“In time we hate that which we often fear.”
― William Shakespeare

Hating others is an easy way out.

The passions of hate is a self-defense mechanism. When under attack, the ability to quickly separate foes from friends was essential to survive. Most of our current threats are perceptions, not real ones — we create our enemies.

When things don’t go well, we play the blame game — we look for a scapegoat. We like always to be right and feel safe. We embrace hate as a way to protect our self-esteem or to defend our community’s interests or beliefs. This self-defense mechanism puts the danger in the outside — we avoid self-reflection.

Hate is personal for the attacker, not for you.

People hate what they don’t understand. They reject those who think or look differently. People hate others because of what they reflect about them.

When someone attacks you, avoid getting into a useless battle.

No one wins the hatred war. Regardless if abhorrence is full of passion and the person is committed to attacking you. Don’t get caught into that tactic. You need two sides to start a war. Not taking things personally is not easy. However, avoidance is a powerful response.

Hate is in the eye of the giver, not on the receiver.

You might not be able to disarm your attacker. But haters love to be hated back — They will soon find another enemy that likes to play their game.

Your Heart Was Upgraded to Hate Others

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” — Martin Luther King Jr.

Inherently we are full of goodness.

I know that sounds hard for many people to digest. But our true essence, as human beings, is to be and do good.

Buddhist psychologist Chögyam Trungpa, author of The Sanity we are born with, says: “Delight in itself is the approach of sanity. Delight is to open our eyes to the reality of the situation rather than siding with this or that point of view.”

When we can observe other points of view without judging, there’s no need to hate. Being different doesn’t mean better or worse; different is just different.

How many free things have you enjoyed in the past months? Think about free books, pictures, recipes, how-to videos, etc. That’s the magic of human generosity. The Internet has empowered us to collaborate, share insights, teach, and support others. Perfect proof that our intrinsic nature is good.

Our essence is good; hatred is something that comes as part of our current society ‘software’ update — it comes by default; you don’t need to accept that upgrade.

Hating makes people feel cool; it gives you authority and power.

People hate other political parties or religions is because their ideology is the truth. They reject other races or ethnic groups because their bodies are superior. People hate an article because they know better.

However, those are just beliefs; not objective truths. We are blinded by our beliefs — that’s why we hate others.

Take racism form example. It’s not natural; it’s not part of being human as most people think. It’s an artificial concept that was wired into our brains and hearts. This in-depth National Geographic article sheds light on how science created a racial hierarchy. Studies performed by Dr. Samuel Morton, wrongfully concluded, by studying skulls from various ethnic groups, that some races were superior to others.

The scientist concluded that “Caucasians,” were the most intelligent of the races. East Asians — he used the term “Mongolian” — though “ingenious” and “susceptible of cultivation,” were one step down. Blacks, or “Ethiopians,” were at the bottom. In the decades before the American Civil War, those ideas were used to justify slavery.

The Homo Sapiens species evolved in Africa. Modern genetic research has shown that all humans are closely related. We all have the same collection of genes, but slightly different versions of some of them. As the article points out: all people alive today are Africans.

Four of my siblings are red-haired. That trait doesn’t make them smarter or more foolish than I am. It’s just a fact.

Personal looks have nothing to do with how our brain performs. However, we were wired to establish a hierarchy based on race, accents, and looks. If people fall into a different category than ours, we were wired to show either appreciation or hate.

Rather than taking people for who they are; we judge them by the group they belong to.

Hate is personal. The reasons that fuel hate are mostly social. Someone has persuaded us to see others as enemies. Leaders have always played the paranoia card — they find a common enemy to bring their supporters together.

Having a common enemy is what makes hatred personal — we turn life into a ‘them’ versus ‘us’ experience.

Leaders tell you: “the best defense, is to attack first.” That’s why people love to hate others. They think that destroying someone else’s reputation first would score them a huge victory.

When things get personal, we let our irrationality take over.

Pause and think; is the enemy for real?

Don’t let “mass thinking” cloud your judgment. Avoid being a prey of the “You are either with us or against us” approach. Those who put you in that situation don’t want you to think; you are just a number — they want to add you to their support base.

Don’t Play the Hate Game

“I will permit no man to narrow and degrade my soul by making me hate him.”
— Booker T. Washington

Hating others is a personal decision.

The reasons to hate others are fueled by external reasons though.

People are intolerant and expect you to behave the same way. It took me decades to realize my own intolerance. That was a turning point to stop “hating” what I didn’t understand or like. Now I can focus on becoming more acceptant of others.

We are wired to see others as enemies, not people.

Writing frequently has exposed me to great people here at Medium Staff, but I’ve been the target of a lot of intolerance and hatred too. I had to develop an thicker skin than I already had.

I love getting feedback from my readers — not just kind words, but to being challenged so I can improve as a person. However, I find it a waste of time when people are merely looking for a fight. Instead of reflecting on what I wrote, they react and attack.

When that happens, I try to put myself in their shoes. I wrote a post about freedom that created a lot of controversies. I wrote that freedom requires self-regulation too — we are free to speak, but doesn’t mean we should use it to attack others because they don’t share our beliefs. Some people attacked me — they said I was encouraging dictators. ;(

I use people’s reactions as self-reflection.

If I feel criticized, “What vulnerabilities are being exposed?” or “Why do I feel criticized?” If someone criticized my writing, “were my words confusing? Where’s my weak link?” I take it as a challenge; I review my thinking and do additional research.

Reacting is easy; reflection requires courage.

We all have emotions, but that doesn’t mean that we need to let them drive our behaviors. Becoming emotionally competent requires to tame your mind — to look at your emotions, not through them

The Hierarchies of Hate

“Any person capable of angering you becomes your master. “ — Epictetus

Today threats are psychological than physical. We need to correct our thinking, so we don’t apply the same primitive impulse to destroy our “enemy.”

Considering evidence — not perception — can help correct your thinking. Empathy and reflection are critical to avoid feeding your self-preservation mechanism. That people verbally attack you doesn’t mean you are in real danger.

The problem with hatred is that it quickly escalates. What starts as mere intolerance or a cultural bias could easily become something more alarming.

The Pyramid of Hate is a powerful exercise that many organizations use to drive awareness of how small intolerance acts can turn into dangerous ones. At work, in our family or society, we need to call out these behaviors before they go out of our hands.

First Level: Bias

The base of the pyramid is when our prejudice is expressed through jokes, criticism, and other expressions of our bias. It feels ‘harmless’ but quickly moves to the next level.

Second Level: Individual Acts of Prejudice

This level manifests through acts that start affecting the other person. It includes avoiding those that we hate. Scapegoating, ridiculing, and social avoidance — prejudice turns into rejection.

Third Level: Discrimination

The middle of the pyramid involves intentional discrimination. We limit possibilities to those we hate. From a job promotion to housing opportunities, this type of behaviors are punished by law — they go beyond our freedom of speech.

Discrimination is not about the specific person — it punishes those who belong to a particular group that is hated by the discriminator.

Fourth Level: Bias-Motivated Violence

This level is when the discrimination becomes a social movement. Masses — most of the times encouraged by leaders — attack properties, holy places, or groups. It can even include murder and terrorist acts.

When a society gets to Level Four, things are getting out of hand. That’s the danger of letting hate become something normal. We won’t see the broader consequences coming until it’s too late.

Fifth Level: Genocide

Genocide, as defined by the United Nations in 1948, means acts committed with intent to destroy a national, ethnic, racial, or religious group. It includes both physical and mental harm.

Building Emotional Competency

“Experience is not what happens to you — it’s how you interpret what happens to you. “ — Aldous Huxley

Emotional Competence is mastering how we communicate or release our inner-feelings — it determines our ability to effectively and successfully lead and express.

Here are some tips for you reflect on how to avoid hate taking over your life.

Be aware of your emotions: Can you discuss feelings without getting into an argument? Apply empathy to understand how others feel, even if doesn’t make any sense to you.

Mind your words: We’ve incorporated the word “hate” as part of our regular vocabulary. When someone hurts your feelings, avoid using the word hate. Reframe it in the form of “I don’t like that you did X to me.” Even if it’s just talking to yourself, it will switch your mode from a “defensive” to a “reflective” one. Changing the language shifts your focus from the other person to what they did.

Practice adaptability: Try seeing the world through other people’s beliefs. I’m not telling to change yours; simply understand why other people think differently (even if they are “attacking” you). Let go of your beliefs, experiment conceding something to your opponent. When there’s no difference, there’s no point fighting. Once again, this is not about letting go of your ideas, but the desire to defend yourself.

Avoid power struggles: Let go of having to make your point. Sometimes, it’s better to be human than to be right, as I wrote here. When you fight back, you are mimicking your aggressor’s behavior. Provocation is not a war declaration; retaliation is.

Accept the differences: Tolerance is a two-way street. If you want people to respect your beliefs and thinking, you have to abide by the same rules. It’s easy to ask for understanding; appreciating other’s points of views requires courage.

Embrace forgiveness: I know I’m getting myself into trouble again. I suggested this in a previous post about not playing the victim. Some people wrote back furious: “What if I’m a real victim?”

My answer was: through the history of humanity many people have been through life-threatening situations and yet, when they overcame those, they were able to pardon the perpetrators. Nelson Mandela is a perfect example.

Eva Kor, an Auschwitz survivor, is a clear testament to this behavior too. “I want everybody to remember that we cannot change what happened, that is a tragic part, but we can change how we relate to it.” — she said after meeting with one of her perpetrators many decades after.

Let’s stop seeing other people as enemies.

The world benefits from diversity. If we all look, think, believe, feel, and act the same, the world would be boring. Understanding, tolerance, and self-awareness are critical to moving from a defensive to an acceptive mode.

It’s not easy. Being tolerant is one our most significant challenges as human beings. It starts by accepting our own uniqueness so we can allow others to be true to themselves too.

Learn to find the beauty in what looks different. This age and time requires maturity and reasoning, not fight-or-flight responses. As Elvis Presley said: “Animals don’t hate, and we’re supposed to be better than them.”

Additional Resources

The Hate Pyramid — intro video.

The Tolerance Project — core values to increase tolerance.

The Seven-Stage Hate model — From “individual hate” to “collective aggression.”