Name calling and the mechanics of hate

I was lucky enough to share coffee with a Buddhist monk while on a recent trip to California and among other subjects, we discussed the various components of hate.

He made some excellent points I hadn’t paid enough attention to prior to our visit regarding “harmless” name calling. Early in our conversation I made the point that I believe it’s important for genuine integration among diverse cultures, races, and lifestyles for all people to have the freedom to joke around with each other and poke good-natured fun at our respective differences.

To illustrate my point I explained that I’ve personally witnessed diverse members of education and work groups collectively use language each member individually would never accept from a stranger. And, I’ve seen that freedom bond black and white, gay and straight, young and old. My point being that if we suppress ALL non-Politically Correct language it will have the unintended consequence of segregating diverse people rather than integrating them.

My very smart friend agreed – to a point – and correctly reminded me that the trouble with non-PC language is that not only can it be used by the good-natured and well intended, but it’s also the tool of the evildoer and sociopath. And, the mechanics of hate begin with removing personal, human-to-human transmission by dehumanizing “the other” so that a person transforms into a “thing” which can more easily be placed into a group of other things for further labeling.

For the sociopath this dehumanizing technique is merely a convenience. Whereas “name calling” enables the well-intentioned to suspend the normal relationship mechanisms of empathy and compassion and indulge in remorseless generalizations. The roots of hate then take hold through the laziness of simple, seemingly harmless name calling.

Therefore, instead of disagreeing with what is perhaps an indefensible position while maintaining mutual human respect, we cut corners and call the human holder of the position or opinion stupid. Or a moron. Libtard. Repug. Those names feel OK, not harmful, kind of funny. Perhaps even morally justified in our minds.

So, we expand those generalizations out to the person’s family and associates and make the leap that it’s also OK to make fun of their appearance and life style. As long as they are “the other”, on the opposite red or blue team, our language feels justified. But, what we don’t realize is that we’ve inadvertently opened the door and taken the first step toward the justification of hate. And, if it’s not stopped before it gets started, not only are we as bad as the haters we deplore – if we’re not careful we will become them. That is if we haven’t already.

I walked away from my coffee meeting with a new perspective on humor, labels, and the finer mechanisms of prejudice. I doubt if there will be any changes in my language or what I consider funny which are perceptible to others. But, I’ll know.  I’ll certainly think differently about what I say.

And, that’s the most important thing in my opinion.  Dwelling on the place from which all positive change occurs.  Making room and taking time to think about what we say to other people before we speak.

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