“You’re a baby!”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
“You’re a jerk!”
“I know you are, but what am I?”
Not exactly an adult conversation. But there’s a certain wisdom in that old schoolyard comeback. Calling someone a baby is a babyish thing to do. Calling someone stupid is not the smartest thing to do. Calling someone a jerk is a jerky thing to do.
People who insult other people and call them names are saying more about themselves than they are about the ones they are attacking.
Hate speech is wrong, hurtful, immoral, and sometimes illegal—especially if it encourages violence against particular groups or individuals. People who engage in hate speech should stop it.
But if we step back and look at it from a coolly rational perspective, people who engage in insults and hate speech are giving us information about their own character.
Our words say who we are
Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. You brood of vipers! How can you speak good things, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person brings good things out of a good treasure, and the evil person brings evil things out of an evil treasure. I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned. (Matthew 12:33–37)
Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772) affirmed this when he wrote:
Our inner self is present in everything we say, without our even realizing it. This is what allows angels to perceive the quality of our will from a single action of ours, and the quality of our thinking from a single thing we say—the “quality” meaning whether we are hellish or heavenly. As a result, they have complete knowledge of us. From our tone of voice they perceive the interests that drive our thinking; from a gesture of ours, or the form of one action, they perceive the love that resides in our will. They detect this no matter how good we are at presenting ourselves as a Christian and a moral citizen. (True Christianity #593:2)
In short, every word we say reflects our own inner character.
When people spew out insulting, hateful, and violent words, it has little to do with the individuals or groups they are attacking. Instead, it identifies the people speaking those words as insulting, hateful, and violent people. And for those willing to look deeper, it exposes the inner fears and weaknesses of such people.
Let’s look at some examples, and make a few observations along the way.
Racist and xenophobic speech
People who hurl racist and xenophobic words are racist and xenophobic people. This much is obvious.
Those words are hurtful to the groups they are attacking. Such speech can and does lead to violence against the people in those groups, not to mention supporting ongoing demeaning and racist behavior against them. Words do hurt. Damaging speech must be opposed and resisted.
Now let’s engage in some analysis of where those racist words come from.
For one thing, they come from an extended version of self-centeredness that loves only people like me. For more on this, see our article, “Black Lives Matter.” When we love only people who look like us, and who agree with us and support us, it is just a bigger version of loving ourselves. There is no virtue in that.
Evil carries fear and weakness with it
But racist speech also comes from an inner fear and weakness in the racist person.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that racists and other bigots are just poor, downtrodden, fearful people who can’t help it and deserve our pity. That’s not it at all. No one has to be bigoted. Anyone can choose not to be bigoted, no matter what environment he or she grew up in.
Rather, when a person engages in evil words and actions, it expresses evil that has lodged in that person’s heart. This evil carries its own fear with it, together with a weakness of spirit and character.
People fear the things they do to others
The Golden Rule as spoken by Jesus is, “In everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12). This is how people of good heart operate.
But people who have evil in their heart operate on a negative version of the Golden Rule, which goes something like this: “Whatever I do to other people, that’s what they’re going to do to me.” It’s the ancient law of retaliation: “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
Though there is racism in all parts of the world and among all peoples and nations, since I happen to be white, I will speak of white racism.
People of European ancestry, aka white people, have a long and sordid history of oppressing other races, especially black people. Today’s white racists are the descendants, both literally and figuratively, of that long line of racist and oppressive whites.
But that racism and oppression carries with it a great fear: What if we lose control? What if the people we have been oppressing rise up and gain the upper hand? What will happen to us then?
The racists’ great fear is that the people they have been oppressing all these centuries will now turn around and do the same thing to them. The white racists’ greatest fear is that they will become the oppressed slaves of Blacks, Asians, and other races that they themselves have oppressed.
And so, they fight desperately to maintain the upper hand, to be the people at the top of the heap. Because they think that whatever they have done to other people, those other people will do to them if they get the chance.
That is the fear and the weakness that always accompanies a heart that is captive to racism and bigotry.
Racists speech as information
When people shout racist epithets, and treat people of other races badly, they are giving us information about themselves. Yes, they are telling us that they are racists and bigots. But they are also telling us that they are very afraid of other races. They are terrified of the weakness and humiliation of being conquered and oppressed by the “others” that they have been conquering and oppressing for so long.
The irony is that most people of other races have little interest in conquering and oppressing white people. Rather, they simply want to enjoy the life that they see white people enjoying. They do not want superiority over Whites. They want equality with Whites. And quite often they want brotherhood and sisterhood with whites. At least, that has been our experience.
People who hurl insults and abuse at gays, lesbians, and other non-straight people are insulting, abusive people. This much is obvious.
But they are giving us additional information about themselves as well. They are afraid of homosexuality, and of homosexuals. Hence the term commonly used to describe their attitude: “homophobia.”
People who are secure in their own sexuality and sexual orientation are not threatened by others who have a different sexuality or sexual orientation. For an example, see: “Hugh Jackman Battles . . . Gossip?”
It is people who are not secure in their own sexuality who have internal problems when faced with gays, lesbians, and homosexuality in general. It has happened far too often to be a coincidence that the public figures who shout the loudest against same-sex marriage are caught frequenting a gay bar or using the services of a same-sex prostitute. People who are struggling with their own sexuality are the most likely to take a strident stance against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
Because they are afraid that they themselves might be homosexual, or might become homosexual if gays and lesbians are accepted for who they are. These are the same people who commonly believe that being gay is a “lifestyle” and a choice. And they are terrified that they themselves, or people they love, such as their children, may make that “choice” and start living that “lifestyle.”
And so, with their anti-gay speech, they are giving us the information that not only are they bigoted, but they are also personally afraid of homosexuality because they are not secure in their own sexuality.
Men who spew sexist speech against women are giving us the information that they are sexist. This much is obvious.
But they are also giving us the information that they are afraid of the growing power of women.
For many ages, gender inequality has been a matter of men enjoying power over women. Today, the men who are the literal and figurative descendants of that long line of men who held power over women are terribly afraid that women will now gain the upper hand, and will oppress men just as men have oppressed women in the past. Hence the virulent anti-female speech and attitudes of so many men in the red pill movement. See: The Red Pill Movement (MRA): Men Waking Up as Victims
As with racism, the irony is that most women, including most feminist women, have little interest in having power over men and making men into their servants. Rather, they want equality with men. They want all the rights and all the access to the positions and perks of society that men have enjoyed for so long.
But the evil of sexism in a man’s heart leaves him convinced that if women ever gain the same power that men have always had, they will oppress men just as men have oppressed women in the past. Such men are terrified of the weakness and humiliation of being in such a position. They are terrified that women will do the same thing to them that they have done to women in the past.
As with other evils, the evil of sexism carries its own fear and weakness with it.
And its own punishment.
Perhaps the greatest punishment is that such men will never know the joy and satisfaction of a true partnership with a woman—otherwise known as a spiritual marriage. Only when a man and a woman are equals can they enjoy the greatest, deepest, and most fulfilling relationship possible between two people. (Of course, the same goes for a same-sex marriage.) For more on this, please see: What Do Women Really Want?
Dealing with hate speech—internally
Socially and politically, the battle against hate speech must be engaged. Haters cannot be allowed to hate unopposed. Especially not when it leads to violence. But internally, in our mind and heart, there is an alternative to the common polarity of seeing oppressors and victims. It involves recognizing the inner reality behind hate speech.
Hate speech isn’t really about the people and groups it is directed against. It is about the internal state of the people engaging in hate speech. Hate speech identifies the particular type of evil that has taken hold in the hearts of the people engaging it. It also identifies the particular fears and weaknesses that inevitably accompany that type of evil.
When we realize this, we can approach haters differently.
First, if we are the object of their hate, we can recognize that there’s no need to take their words personally, and get offended. Their hateful words are not about us. No, their words are expressing the hateful and fearful state of their own heart.
Does this mean we should just let them go on spewing hate?
Not at all.
But once we realize that it’s all about the haters, not about their targets, we can approach our opposition to hatred and violence in a different spirit. If we hate the haters, and oppose them from a position of hate, how are we any different from them? This only exposes the hatred in our own hearts.
Reaching out to haters
In approaching haters, our greatest hope and effort should be that they may find their way out of the darkness that has enveloped their heart and mind. Accomplishing this will not be easy. At some point, they will have to make a decision to change what is in their heart. Many of them will never do this. But we still have to make the effort to reach them.
The spearhead of that effort is to show them that reconciliation is greater than retribution, and that their fears of retribution are misplaced. Sometimes oppressed people do seek revenge upon those who have oppressed them. But the world is moving beyond that. Most oppressed people today simply want to be recognized and respected as equally human and valuable in society. They want to be valued for who they are. And they want equal access to all of the privileges and benefits that the ruling group has enjoyed all along.
More often than not, we will not be able to get through to the haters with this message of reconciliation. Even then, we must continually point out the error of their hateful messages, and protect others from any violence and harm that those messages may incite.
Meanwhile, Jesus’ words still have just as much force as ever:
You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43–48)
For further reading: