Love does not conquer all…why we need empathy as the bridge between love and hate.
“Omnia Vincit Amor” or “Love conquers all”, is part of a poem by the Roman Poet Virgil. It is simple, romantic and timeless and the reason why 2,000 years later it still strums at our heart strings.
But is it true? Now more than ever we are constantly seeing a “good vs evil” and “love vs hate” rhetoric. And lately it seems like love hasn’t conquered all.
In the love vs hate rhetoric, love is a “snowflake”. Love is for hippies, love is a bedtime story that we tell children. Love is the happily ever after that we never see after the movie ends.
Moreover, hate, fuelled by cynicism makes love look weak. And those who stand for love or believe in it as an instrument for change are looked at as if they still believed in Santa Claus.
But why? This is probably in part because we have idealised the concept of love.
Love means different things, not only to different people, but to the “same group of people” at different ages. Ask someone who is 16 and someone who is 60 to define love and you will get two very different answers.
If our interpretation and understanding of love changes throughout our lives, it becomes difficult to use it as an anchor to “fight hate”.
Because the feeling of hate (however wrong you may be in feeling that hate) will rarely change throughout our lives. For example, hating a common enemy at 6, 16 or 56 remains broadly the same. What will differ is perhaps the intensity and how long the feeling lingers thereafter.
Unfortunately, I don’t think you can ‘fight’ those filled with hate or who are spouting a hate rhetoric with love.
If you have ever felt that you hated someone so much that you could feel it in your gut, you will know that no matter how well intentioned you may be, it will be VERY difficult to turn that hate into love.
And that is exactly the problem. We seem to be unable to blindly change hate into love, although it seems to be much easier the other way around, when even mild annoyances have driven people to violently attack others.
However, we can do something else. We can start by empathising.
Empathy has been defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. Through empathy, you don’t need to love someone to try to understand them.
I know, it is difficult to be empathetic when you don’t like someone (maybe that was just my experience).
It feels like you are somehow “yielding” to them by allowing yourself to see that person in a different light, a light that is not filled with hate. To humanise them and allow yourself to understand that they may too, be dealing with insecurities, loss, pain, guilt, shame or fear.
Two Minutes Hate vs Two Minutes Empathy
Hate on the other hand seems to be much easier to do. It is selfish and if you give into, it is almost euphoric.
George Orwell explained it best in 1984 where he described the “Two Minutes Hate”. In the novel, the ‘two minutes hate’ was the daily requirement where members of the party had to express their hatred for their enemies for a total of two minutes by watching a specific (hate inducing) film.
Orwell, through the main character of 1984 explains that “The horrible thing about the Two Minutes Hate was not that one was obliged to act a part, but that it was impossible to avoid joining in.”
He went on to say that within 30 seconds any pretence was gone and the rage had completely spread through the group “like an electric current”, and it would have been very easy to for that rage to “be switched from one object to another”. Sound familiar?
It is scary that as a feeling hate (as opposed to love) does not necessarily have to be attached to a person or thing and you can easily turn that hate into something or someone that did not ’cause it’.
Empathy is not as easy to obtain. It requires thoughtfulness, vulnerability and the ability to listen (and when you are full of hate, your ears are usually shut).
Empathy can also be painful, because empathy not only calls for understanding but also for a sharing of that feeling and if someone is suffering or hurting, you need to share that hurt too, so that you may understand them.
If children were taught the importance of empathy, as they are taught the importance of kindness (well…one hopes), I would venture to say that there would be far less conflict and almost no violence in this world.
How can you be violent with someone that you understand? Even if you don’t agree with them.
That is empathy’s hat trick and that is the way it is able to build a bridge. You don’t need to love someone to empathise with them and importantly you don’t even have to agree with them.
Empathising doesn’t mean agreeing or yielding to someone else’s point of view (it took me a long time to accept this one).
That person can, in your eyes, remain in the wrong, but through empathy you can still understand them and share in their feeling.
Perhaps we should all take a leaf from Orwell’s book and institute a worldwide ritual of “Two minutes of Empathy”. How different would the world look if we all practiced it every day.