When it comes to finding the negative qualities in others, our imagination becomes a veritable fountain of ideas. But finding the good in others takes so much thought and effort.
Thanks to a good friend, I recently learned what baseless hatred -- in Hebrew, "sinat chinam" -- is all about.
Not too long ago, I met up with Ruti, an old friend who happened to pass through my neighborhood. Ruti and I went to elementary school together, so we instantly started reminiscing about the past. We spoke about our teachers, about when we used to act wild together, and how during recess we used to play Chinese jump rope. I reminded her about Dudi, the boy we both had a secret crush on.
Ruti then reminded me of "fat Michael," the heavyset boy whom the entire class hated and ostracized. He always showed up dirty to school, was the weakest student of the class and used to ruin all of the group activities that we'd try to organize.
When Ruti asked me if I thought our treatment of him was considered baseless hatred, sinat chinam, I immediately defended our behavior.
"That was definitely not baseless hatred! We had an excellent reason for hating him!"
"What do you mean? Don't you remember how annoying he was? How he used to bother us? How he used to ruin everything for us? That was definitely not sinat chinam! We had an excellent reason for hating him!"
Ruti wasn't satisfied with my answer.
"But maybe we did hate him for no good reason. Maybe we did it just to feel better about ourselves. Perhaps we thought that if someone else was ostracized then that meant that everyone else liked us. Perhaps our hatred towards him was just our way of making sure that we were definitely accepted by the crowd. Maybe we didn't try hard enough to get him to join our group activities and that's why he felt a need to ruin them."
"What's with you Ruti?" I asked in surprise. "Where's this guilt coming from?"
Ruti took a crumpled piece of paper out of her bag and handed it to me.
"An interesting article appeared in the paper not too long ago, which made me think about all of my past relationships," she said. "Take it. I have the original at home. Read it at home and if you have any new thoughts, give me a call."
That evening when I came home, I had all but forgotten about the whole thing. I was sitting in front of the TV, tired, when all of a sudden I felt Ruti's article in my pocket.
I took it out and began reading:
Playing the Hate Game
A friend and I were sitting at the Tel Aviv Central Bus Station, waiting for the bus. It was a long wait and we were bored, so we tried passing the time by playing different kinds of guessing games and brainteasers. Soon enough, we were bored once again.
Out of the blue, my friend suggested, "Why don't we play the hate game?"
"What?" I asked.
"Don't you know the hate game?" she asked in surprise, as if we'd been playing it since childhood.
"It doesn't sound the least bit familiar. What kind of a game is it?"
"Just randomly select someone and then start hating him."
"I'll explain it to you," she said, with a renewed enthusiasm. "It's the kind of game that's just made for places like the central bus station. We need to have a bunch of people around us that we don't know. You can play it at restaurants, at the airport or in any other public place."
"We simply have to randomly select someone who's in our line of vision," she continued with growing enthusiasm. "The minute we pick someone out, we have to start hating them."
"I don't get it," I said. "What do you mean, 'hate them'? Why? Just anyone who we don't know? What's fun about that?"
"Let's give it a try and you'll see what I mean," she answered. "Here, let's take that guy over there in the red shirt."
She pointed in the direction of a young man who looked like he was in his early 20s.
"Who in the world walks around with such a loud shirt?" she said. "Does he think he's so great that he can wear whatever he wants while just ignoring all social guidelines?"
"I don't think his shirt's so bad," I told my friend.
"Oh, come on! Look at him. He's checking out all the passersby as if to see whether they're deserving of his highness's association. How arrogant!"
"I don't know what you're talking about. He's just people-watching, the same as everyone else is doing," I commented.
But my friend went on. "I don't believe it. Now he's lighting up a cigarette. I knew he was the type to smoke in public areas. He must cause everyone to choke on his smoke everywhere he goes."
"Yea," I had to admit. Smoking really makes me sick, especially in public areas. "That's not right."
"Now look at him. He's taking a book out of his bag. You can tell a mile away that he can't read serious books. I'm sure he only reads the comics at home!"
"I really hate people who don't give the proper respect to quality literature," I commented angrily. "They think that life is all about jokes and silly stories."
"You can tell from his face that he's not serious about anything in his life!" said my friend in growing outrage.
The young man got up and walked over to the nearby kiosk.
"I'm in shock," said my friend. "Just take a look at him getting a drink. He has to buy soda. Water's not good enough for him. He is just so pathetic. He's living his life out according to the commercials. He has no mind of his own. He just buys whatever's advertised on TV."
"And that's nothing," she continued. "Think about the fact that he cannot hold off on being satisfied for even a minute. He's thirsty so he has to buy something to drink. Have some self-control, think things out a little. Some self respect wouldn't hurt him."
"Yea," I sighed. "It would be one thing if he only disrespected himself but I'm sure that he has no respect for his family as well, including his parents," I volunteered. "They're probably not so young and he won't even pick up the phone to call them and see how they're doing!"
"Look, now he's taking his cell phone out. He's probably calling another one of his clown friends. His entire crowd must be just like him, that's for sure!"
I decided to do something about it. "That's it. I'm going to give him a piece of my mind. It's just not right that his poor parents sit at home sick while he's wasting his time on silly phone calls to his lazy friends!" I said as I got up from my seat in order to go over to him.
At that moment my friend grabbed my hand, as if losing interest, and said, "Okay, sit back down. Let's move on to that lady over there with the white dog."
I had mixed feelings as I finished reading that section. On the one hand I was amused (I'm sure I'd be pretty good at this game and could add some original ideas of my own). On the other hand, I felt a tremendous desire to immediately call Ruti to tell her about how I finally understood what she was talking about. After all, we had such a good time putting "fat Michael" down and hating him. It was so easy to ridicule him. And I had to admit that it was nice to always have someone to be angry with and to talk about.
HATE AND LOVE
I began to realize just how easy and fun it is to hate people. The more I thought about it the more I noticed that when it comes to finding the negative qualities in others, our imagination becomes a veritable fountain of ideas. But when we have to find the good in others, it takes so much thought and effort.
I tried to imagine myself playing the opposite game, the "love game", where you have to love a person that you don't know and give the benefit of the doubt to his every action. He's on the phone? He must be calling his parents to ask how they are doing. He's getting a drink? He must be very thirsty…
How boring! Who has the time to actually think about another person's each and every action? This doesn't quite have the glamorous fun of the hate game.
Love requires an investment. It is only when we give that we love.
This understanding flowed beautifully with what I had already known about Judaism's perspective on this. In Hebrew, the word "ahava" -- love, stems from the root "hav," to give. In order to love, we have to give. Love is not something that flows in and of itself. Rather, it is something in which we have to invest. It is only when we give that we love.
The best example of this is the connection parents have to their children. The effort-free love that is portrayed in the movies, is nothing more than temporary infatuation. In order to appreciate and love someone, we have to make an effort.
In contrast, in order to hate someone we can simply go with the flow and that's where the "fun" comes in.
I began to think about whether I was guilty of sinat chinam in my everyday life. Obviously I don't play the "hate game" on a regular basis, but is it possible that I make up reasons for not liking certain people? And what about situations in which my friends are discussing a certain person and saying negative things about him? Can my listening in on the conversation be considered collaboration?
I thought of numerous times when I was drawn into sinat chinam, even if it was only considered the simplest kind of hate. For example, at work all my colleagues "enjoy" hating our manager. I, just like everyone else, am always ready to publicize certain juicy tidbits about him. Or, for example, the weird neighbor in our building. It seems that all of the building's residents, myself included, are simply looking for ways to prove that he is dealing in illegal matters, despite the fact that none of us knows this to be true.
I was able to easily think of many examples (too many!) of when I failed in sinat chinam, baseless hatred, in small and meaningless aversions concerning various people.
I recognized that my behavior towards "fat Michael" was, in fact, sinat chinam. I was guilty of playing a kind of "hate game" with Michael as our victim.
I needed to call Ruti to discuss all this. But even more important, I needed to track down Michael and apologize for all those miserable years.