Why we hate who is different

To hate what is different, unfortunately, is a fairly common feeling which has different factors at its base.

Why is it important to know these factors? Because knowing them, leads to the understanding of the phenomenon, and provides useful tools to remedy it.

The first factor to take into account is fear.

The different scares us.

Everyone identifies themselves with a social group of belonging (ingroup): when we meet with people who are part of our own group, we tend to minimize the differences, which also exist, and emphasize what makes us similar. By the same mechanism, when we find ourselves with individuals who do not belong to our group but to another group (outgroup), we tend to put the emphasis on the differences and not to see, or minimize, what makes us similar. The concept of ethnic identity also enters the field, a concept advocated by some anthropologists, who see ethnic groups as something fixed and permeated by a cultural identity, but generally ethnic identity is built on the basis of a social group that differs from another. As we have seen before, for the “group” in general, feeling part of a certain ethnic group also leads to maximizing the similarities with those belonging to their own group (ethnic in this case) and, at the same time, minimizing the differences. In other words, when you hate a social group, or an ethnic group, the group of which we are not a part is seen as a homogeneous whole so we make a generalization based on the negative behavior of a single member of that group, behavior that is then generalized to the whole group (Fischer and al. ,2018).

Feeling part of a group, social or ethnic, leads, as a direct consequence, to the need of defending the group itself and carries with it fundamental emotions, that is, fear and hostility but also joy, all defended by outgroup prejudices, prejudices that are likely to justify, as well as to maintain , the structure within the ingroup (Brewer,2007).

As Freud says, “It is always possible to bring together a significant number of men who love each other as long as others remain for the manifestations of aggression” (Civilization and Its Discontent, 1929)

In fact, remember that it is much easier to feel hatred towards an entire group rather than a single person, because if you hate a group you can give vent to prejudices and generalizations and you are not blocked by the empathy that you generally tend to feel towards a single person.

In addition, hating the other, the different, the one who is not part of our group also appears to be an evolutionary adaptation that allowed our distant ancestors to compete with other groups for resources in general and for food in particular.

it doesn’t end there. On the other hand, we often hate those characteristics that are present in ourselves, but we fear and suffocate them. In order to be accepted into our group we are forced to reject what is negative or simply morally reprehensible in us. Not only that, to hate a certain category, to feel contempt for those who do not belong to our group, allows us to find an easy scapegoat and not to focus on our own inadequacy. It must also be remembered that even certain characteristics of the society in which we live, founded on competition and not equipped with the flexibility to welcome others, the different, make it easier to develop a hatred for what we feel as different, such as belonging to another group.

To hate the different, in a general sense understood as not belonging to our group, is different from the hatred we feel towards a single person who may have done us wrong, true or presumed, and much more difficult to eradicate.

When, for  any reason, we have difficulties with a single individual, we can adopt conflict resolution strategies such as talking to the person subject of our hatred, trying to be empathetic by putting ourselves in the their shoes, or simply keeping a distance, not only physical, but also psychological from the object of our hate.

Overcoming fear and hatred towards outgroup seems in some ways more difficult because it has sociological, anthropological, and cultural implications that are sometimes deeply rooted. What seems to be important is the enhancement of what makes us look like the others and not focusing on what makes us different.

It is also important to realize that often not being able to live with each other has at the root, the difficulty we have to live with ourselves: we do not accept the other because, in the end, we cannot completely accept ourselves. Not least then it is the rejection of an overpowering rhetoric, enough to arrive at a conscious awareness, and respectful, of one’s own rights and those of others and has at the base the love for oneself and for others,  since as Gandhi says: “Hatred can only be defeated by love. Responding to hatred with hatred does nothing but increase the greatness and depth of hatred itself.”

Dr. Patrizia Pietropaolo

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