The Problem with “Hate Has No Home Here”

In recent years, there has been a proliferation of Hate Has No Home Here lawn signs across the American landscape. Similar to blatantly political lawn signs (many make the case that Hate Has No Home Here is indeed a subliminal political message), they reflect the owners’ commitments and values. Yet the Hate Has No Home Here signs are negative affirmations, in the sense that their presence announces that toxic attitudes are not welcome. Instead of promoting a value or a candidate, the lawn signs are markers of resistance and are meant to be prophylactics against hate. In some sense, they are firewalls against the growing virus of hatred that may be seeking to establish itself in the neighborhood or community.

Hate Has No Home Here is a sign of renunciation (rejection): that hate has no part of the owner’s life and is refused entrance to the owner’s home and is embargoed from even walking on the sidewalk.

To think that hate can be banished is a fool’s errand, because in my experience, incidents involving hate have intruded into nearly every home. These hate moments are usually fleeting—involving nasty words and, in some cases, violent actions; but like grief, the memory and hurt from these moments can last a long time. The reason TV and movie dramas often feature a teenager yelling “I hate you!” to a parent is because it is a fairly common occurrence. Growing up, I never uttered those words to my parents, but there certainly were times when I thought them.

More often than not, hate is an impulse. It is usually a response to a threat to or attack on one’s self-worth or identity. A privilege is denied, a hurt is applied, intentionally or unintentionally a prejudice is invoked, a person’s integrity is unfairly impugned. Without taking any time for thinking or reflection, the wounded person responds in kind—and if the conditions are ripe for escalation, as they often are in a household, verbal or physical spasms of violence can result. Hate shows up, and when it does, it causes damage.

Especially when the hate moves beyond impulse to become a political force, which is what we are seeing more and more on a public scale.  While President Biden didn’t specifically mention hate in his speech last Thursday evening, as he decried the inciting of political violence that is being threatened (and in some cases being carried out) from so many quarters across the country, his repudiation of hate was, for me, clearly inferred.  After he finished, his opponents immediately cited incidents of hate being carried out against them and their allies,and insisted that the President has become the divider in chief, implying that Mr. Biden has weaponized hate.

Hate is a manifestation of evil.  It can be an impulse, and can morph into an ideology.  Either way, it is dangerous and destructive.  Hate, and the corresponding evil which produces it, needs to be called out.  Boundaries need to be put up around it.  But fighting hate with hate; or trying to get rid of hate– which is an impulse we all share, never works.  The hate just metasticizes.

When I was in the fifth grade my teacher gave us a confounding homework assignment:  what is cold?  An easy problem, we all thought.  Not so.  After diving into encyclopedias and dictionaries, no definitions were forthcoming.  The next day the teacher asked what we had come up with.  Not much.  Except when a quiet kid named Mike recited what he read somewhere:  cold is the absence of heat.  “That’s right”, the teacher said.  And the class, while relieved for coming up with the answer, was still confused.  What did it mean?

I have spent sixty years pondering the question and the answer.  Cold is defined by heat – or its absence.  Extrapolate that to hate.  Hate – and evil, is the absence of good.   For centuries, theologians, philosophers and psychologists have tried to fathom the source of evil and hate.  Why does it exist?  Where does it come from?  On one level, they are important questions.  On another level, I have found them to be endless distractions.  What I have learned is that when goodness begins to waver or wane, hate and evil will inevitably fill the vacuum.  So the challenge is not so much to dissect the source of hate, but to support the good.

Which is what the President sought to do as he continued his speech.  He highlighted values of goodness:  fairness, civility, living into the better angels of our nature (from Lincoln’s first inaugural address.)  We may – and should, argue over what those values mean, but it is a wrestling with goodness – all of which serves to deepen the good; and which, when embraced, has the capacity to drown out the hate.

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