"Character is the one thing we make in this world and take with us into the next."
- - Ezra Taft Benson
January 1, 2015
On Hate
by Hannah Bird

A few weeks ago, I wrote a column on being unloved. Last week I had the opportunity to be screamed at by someone who just flat-out hates me.

It's fine; the point is not poor me, someone hates me. I am not everyone's cup of tea. The important thing is that I handled it with grace and dignity. Or I yelled and said blue words and cried and stomped off.

I had pneumonia and was taking a lot of steroids at the time. So I choose to believe I may have done the former despite the fact that I remember doing the latter.

The point is, this is a very casual acquaintance that I see for seconds here and there over the space of two days twice a year. That's it. We aren't family. We don't hang out. Our social circles don't intersect. But she was accusing me of a ten-year intensive campaign to destroy her children and her.

She outlined a comprehensive premeditated operation that would have made Machiavelli say, "Now Hannah, I think you've gone too far." For years.

I was deeply hurt. Not because she thinks I am a child-destroying monster, but because there is no way that I have the focus and discipline to pull something like that off.

I once had to do a an actual focused campaign that took five years. It was against very bad people. It took every single thing I had to pay attention. Luckily I was not the only one so our merry band of misfits could take turns keeping one another going.

To do what I was accused of, I would have to viciously verbally and through physical intimidation abuse kids in front of other adults (including other students’ parents) and never get caught. I would have had to terrify a room full of teenage girls to the point that they were physically unable to function. Again for years. In front of people.

Contrary to witnesses, she claimed I have never said a kind word to her children. She said that her child was never in the wrong. Then she explained how her child was in the wrong but it was fine.

I have corrected her kids. It was my actual job and I did it. I have also complimented and cheered them on. I have told them they are beautiful.

But that did not exist in that moment. In that moment I was truly pure evil to her. When she screamed at me and physically grabbed me, she seriously believed with the entire content of her mother heart that she was protecting her innocent kids from a monster.

She was telling a tiny sliver of truth. I had snapped at her (senior in HS) daughter that day (and only that day). I was correcting her for the millionth time for the same thing. She was affecting wide eyed innocence for the millionth time.

I snapped at her.

I felt awful. I left to take care of an emergent matter. But as soon as I could, I returned. I sat next to that girl and told her that I had been wrong. I told her that I didn't want to hurt her. I asked if she could forgive me.

She said yes.

The point is not that this family hates me. It's is honestly fine. I have so many people that love me better than I deserve. It is probably perfectly fair for the odd person to hate me with the fire of a thousand suns. In balance I am still coming out ahead.

I understand that I am a little difficult. I try not to be so. But still. I am certainly not above reproach. Some days I am so far below it, I can't see reproach from where I am sitting.

The point is that this is what it takes to hate someone. You must ascribe to them a singularity of focus on you that justifies your own on them. You must give them powers so great and terrible that waging righteous war against them is the only reasonable course of action.

You must forget any kindness or humanity shown. You must not forgive. You must not give credit. You must not extend any mercy or understanding. You must violate your own integrity.

This lesson, of course, was not for the woman who hated me so much. I suspect that she is a largely decent person doing largely decent things. Most of us are. If the worst thing she ever does is yell at me and make hurtful personal comments about my laziness and general lack of redeeming value, she is still a far better person than I have been over the course of my life.

I have hated me too. I will not judge her for it.

The lesson is for me. I need to remember this when I find myself in conflict with someone. I need to remember that they may have pneumonia and their whole body hurts. They may not even be seeing me.

I need to remember that this is one moment in their lives. It is unlikely that they are focused on injuring me. I need to remember that I am not the one to mete out justice.

But I also have to remember that it is so much work to do otherwise. It is so much work to have an enemy. It is so hurtful to the self to remake the history to suit our hurts.

I am fine with being hated. I have a date for the prom. My best friend doesn't pass notes about me in gym class. My lovely stolen-from-husband sisters rallied around me and defended me with loving care. My teenage son hugs me every day and my daughters swear I am not embarrassing.

But I am reminded that one cannot be fine with hating. It is exhausting and damaging and crazy-making. And false.

It was a strange gift to receive. It's certainly one I didn't want. But I won't return it. Not to her. Hopefully not to anyone.

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About Hannah Bird

I am me. I live at my house with my husband and kids. Mostly because I have found that people get really touchy if you try to live at their house. Even after you explain that their towels are fluffier and none of the cheddar in their fridge is green.

I teach Relief Society and most of the sisters in the ward are still nice enough to come.

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