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Why Do People Hate? And Is There a Way to Counteract It?

Local communities designated as 'gold star cities' by Not In Our Town are ones that portray themselves as welcoming, safe and inclusive.

Photo Credit: Robert J. Beyers II


Who hates and why? Trying to answer that question, New York Times writer Seth Stephens-Davidowitz recently used big data methods to exhaustively analyze traffic on a prominent hate web site. His conclusion, “Why do some people feel this way? And what is to be done about it? I have pored over data of an unprecedented breadth and depth, thanks to our new digital era. And I can honestly offer the following answer: I have no idea.”

Not everyone agrees. Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has authored a remarkable book about the root causes of human conflict ( Beasts: What Animals Can Teach Us About the Origins of Good and Evil, Bloomsbury, USA). The book provocatively links human-on-human violence to human-on-animal violence.

Based on the work of Masson and others, I am convinced that sooner than we might think, breakthroughs in neuroscience, psychology, cultural anthropology and other fields will give us dramatic new ways to understand where hate comes from and how to address it.

And fortunately there is one organization that has very good ideas about “what is to be done about it.” For twenty years now Not In Our Town (NIOT) has been communicating and developing community based programs to fight hate.

Last month in Billings, Montana teachers, students, law enforcement personnel, elected officials, media makers and citizens assembled to connect and strategize at the NIOT Leadership Gathering. The location was no accident. For it was in Billings that citizens came together in response to local hate crimes to proclaim Not In Our Town. The film about their success became the basis for a movement.

Those who attended knew from experience that we are not powerless in the face of hate. We can effectively address routine day-to-day expressions of hate and the more dramatic episodes of violence that make the news.

Schools are one place to start. Not In Our Schools (NIOS) has evolved directly from the NIOT experience. Bullying is clearly an early indicator of a propensity to attack those identified as “other.” Anti-bullying campaigns are one expression of NIOS programs formed to encourage mutual respect and understanding in schools.

NIOS has devised many programs and techniques, designed to let students lead, to help schools promote acceptance of any and all identities. The hope is that lessons learned young will carry forward into adulthood. As a school principal put it to me, our goal, “should not be to make our children the best in the world. It should be to make them the best for the world.”

Compared with a previous gathering held in 2006, the Billings meeting included participation from many more members of the law enforcement community. One of the most eloquent was Oak Creek, Wisconsin Police Lieutenant Brian Murphy. Murphy was shot 15 times trying to apprehend the hate murderer who had killed six Sikh worshippers in their Temple. He not only lived to tell his story. For him it was a transformative experience in understanding his own need to learn more about those who often become the victim of hate crimes.

Murphy describes his experience in the latest Not In Our Town (NIOT) anti-hate film, Waking In Oak Creek . Members of the Temple, many of them relatives of the murdered victims appear in the film and spoke at the Gathering. Oak Creek Mayor, Steve Scaffidi also helped lead a session. Representatives of the US Department of Justice Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) program also participated as did police officers and prosecutors from several cities.

Perhaps the single most important message emerging from the Gathering is that inclusiveness and love for all are community assets not liabilities. Well duh, you might say.

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