A Word Regarding Hate

I had a sad and distressing encounter a couple of weeks ago with someone who left the most awful impression on me. It was one of those interactions that leaves you too stunned to reflect at the moment, simply because the person’s conduct is so unexpectedly terrible that the brain struggles to process. The experience left me with a deep ache in my heart, and even now I struggle to consider if I might have found some way of reaching past this person’s hate.

As it stood, the best response I could summon was simply to walk away.

I was at the grocery store getting ready to check out, and I’d just chosen a line. The conveyor belt had about a yard of free space on it, but I couldn’t load my items because the customer ahead of me was blocking the way. She had her cart situated along the side, blocking the aisle, and she stood at the end of the conveyor belt, leaning against the end of it. I approached the woman with a smile and kindly asked if she would be willing to move forward so I could start unloading my cart.

The woman looked up at me with eyes that were somehow both empty and filled with an inexplicable rage. With a hateful grimace that seemed to envelope her entire being, she snarled, “Who the hell do you think you are?”

“Nobody — I just want to unload my cart,” I replied, too shocked to say anything else.

The woman snapped at me with an explosion of anger. “What? You think you’re someone special?”

I’d had enough by then, so I moved my cart to the next aisle over, which just happened to have cleared. The impact of the woman’s venom still stung heavily, though, so while we were bagging our groceries, I thought to step back over to her to try to clear the air. She growled back before I could relay anything meaningful, “Shut up and go away!”

Unwilling to take any further abuse, I did as she demanded.

The interaction left me thinking a lot about our individual baselines. Perhaps this woman was just having a bad day — or maybe her daily emotional “normal” had fallen so wretchedly low that any kindness remaining in her was too overcome by grief to shine through. Whatever had led to that day, this person had taken on a measure of darkness that could do nothing but bark hatred at anything that breeched its little bubble. Suffering the receiving end of it at such a profound degree was painful, and I had to dig deep not to lash back.

But we have a choice in every encounter to approach our fellow beings with either compassion or contempt. Sometimes the choice doesn’t feel like a choice at all because our defenses are down and punch-gut reactions can come quickly. But we still ultimately have a choice: We can fuel a new, greater cycle of hate, or we can approach even spite with love. One chooses with the ego; the other chooses to consider the situation in the bigger scheme.

Hatred is a choice. Sometimes we have to dig nearly impossibly deep deep to make the right decision. When such times arise, perhaps you might be mindful to take a deep breath, remember that we are all shattered pieces of the Great Spirit — beautifully different parts to the same whole — and seek out the love in your heart that other person desperately needs.

And maybe the only way to do that sometimes, especially if the other person is looking for a fight, is to silently walk away and later reflect as meaningfully as you can on the encounter.

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