37 min read

Why We Hate Each Other, And How to Fix It

How we treat others is usually a dead-on reflection of how we treat ourselves. The scary thing is that it exposes us. The beautiful thing is that you can use it.
Why We Hate Each Other, And How to Fix It
Photo by Clay Banks / Unsplash

"The world is burning. Everyone is fighting."

(A challenging post about hope, and relational healing)

Though I hope you're finding joy, I know you're also probably seeing and feeling the pain in the world right now.

We all are.

The chaos can make it difficult to not just know who to trust, where to feel safe, and when to show compassion. It can put us in a space of forgetting how to trust, how to feel safe, and how to show compassion altogether.

Especially when we find ourselves called to participate in conflict.

That's what this article is about.

And no, I'm not speaking strictly politically.

The dating scene is also a mess right now.

People are struggling to feel safe making new friends and acquaintances right now.

Companies are stepping up their HR & Diversity Management game because people can not seem to figure out how to build bridges for burning them, right now.

And families are experiencing a lot of tension and estrangements right now.

Not just because of political & cultural differences - which is a huge part of it. But the root is beneath that, I think.

Personally, I think the root is heart to heart.  

Where our ability to mediate important issues instead of war over them or run from them, connect with each other instead of abandon each other, and develop meaningful relationships with a diverse group of people including those with key differences - is dying.

It brings about a core theme. One that happens to not be racism and bigotry, as pervasive and important as those are.

It's something else. Something, it appears, that nearly all of us have been severely deprived of, to no fault of our own. One that should have been taught and nurtured in schools and homes but went missing.

What is it?

Relational health.

As individuals, we've lost the ability to foster meaningful relationships with people - including (and especially) those who see the world, country, and communities we share through a different lens.

Which, to be clear, is everyone.

We all have a different lens.

And if your views and opinions aren't being challenged by the people around you, that doesn't indicate shared values.

It indicates inauthenticity. Probably rooted in fear.

Because we all have different experiences and conditioning. We all have at least a slightly different lens.

And we all have a responsibility to ourselves first and foremost, to learn how to navigate, feel safe in, and love through these differences.

Without the individual capacity to be strong in relational health, society lacks the capacity to be strong in community health.

We've all but lost our ability to connect and meet resolve with people who have different priorities (ahem, values) than we do, and different opinions than we have.

People who have different perspectives and a different way of thinking than we live and practice.

We see these differences in culture and opinion as threats to our own well-being and safety.

And that's fair. This isn't a "let bygones be bygones" kind of post, especially where our rights are concerned, so stick with me here.

It's not as simple as getting over it for the sake of getting along.

But jumping to the alternate extremes of battling and discarding everyone who opposes us isn't working either.

What really breaks my heart is that the more I learn about trauma, the more I see how deep of a role it plays in all of this.

If you really step back and look, it's all trauma.

And as trauma always does, it comes with harmful trauma responses that we are normalizing to a devastating degree at this point.

Meaning, instead of working together to resolve the tension, we:

  • Fight (Invalidate the opposing viewpoints and the entirety of the humans attached to them. Police and silence the opinions - and even questions - of others. Ostracize and cancel whole humans)
  • Fly (Avoid conflict and also avoid the risk of conflict. Surround ourselves only with people who agree with us on everything that's important to us. Change the subject and/or ghost conflict when it arises instead of addressing it in a healthy manner)
  • Freeze (Shut down altogether. Become reclusive and asocial. Stop trying at all)
  • Fawn (People please. Regurgitate shit like "everyone should just agree to disagree and get along" while being afraid to voice and actually dig into the meat of meaningful disagreements and conflict, accountability, or take a stance at all).

If any one of those points feels familiar to your actions, this article is for you. It is not an attack on you.

It is here to offer a perspective that you might find as freeing as it is challenging.

And look, I know, I know, there's at least one person who'll read this and think, "No. I have zero desire to connect with people who oppose my rights and views about xyz".

I do get it. I too lack energy, a lot of the time, to connect with anyone who's voting, conversing, posting, or otherwise fighting against my rights and causes that are important to me.

I too often lack the energy to feel like I'm navigating willful ignorance on any level.

I'm not here to tell you you're wrong for feeling exhausted and fed up.

But there is another point to consider that's actually meaningful to me, and maybe you.

That we may be used to it and it may work for us personally in this lifetime.

I for one can cozy myself up in a bubble of like-minded people and we can all talk some good honest shit about our oppressors. We can talk good honest shit about those people who could be friends and acquaintances and coworkers and family members, but can't because we can't see eye to eye. We certainly have done that.

Who hasn't, at this point?

I can take my cozy little bubble of loved ones and we can find our way in a world that grows thicker with unsafe spaces until we find ourselves boxed in. And my introverted ass might just feel warmer, there. I don't need much, really. So never talking or sharing space or connecting with people who have threateningly different views than I actually does sound easier on that level.

But I worry about a big risks of carrying that attitude en masse:

I worry this hurts us more than it helps us.

Pulling back in this way is a completely valid coping mechanism.

No it's not my responsibility to educate anyone on anything. My mental health is a priority and yours should also be to you.

So this coping mechanism is valid and I think we should be generous in how and where we use it.

But I think we should also be mindful of what could happen if that's all we do.

We should be mindful that the more we use it to protect ourselves from outside threats, the more we leave the outside threats to do the same. Including the ones who aren't just a perceived threat, but a real one.

This coping mechanism is meant to protect us, and it does in doses, but it's also maladaptive if overused.

In a maladaptive form, it's a recipe for the mutually assured destruction of us, and them. We aren't changing minds and hearts this way. We aren't bridging gaps this way. We're leaving the people we see as harmful to sit with each other, and justify their harm.

We're leaving them to nurture it, to let it fester and grow. And yes, some of these people can't or will never meet us in a reasonable space. Definitely stay away from them.

But true evil isn't as common as the world would have us believe.

More often than not, we harm each other because we don't have intimate-enough access to the stories, people, and lived experiences on the other side.

We harm each other because we're ignorant about each other. And that ignorance breeds fear. On all sides.

That fear breeds violence.

The only way to minimize violence is to heal the fear that triggers it.

The only way to heal that fear, is to understand one another better. Eye to eye. Same level. Human to human.

The only way to do that, is to lean in.

This "I don't want to be around them" point of view is valid.

And it is "silence is violence", rebranded.

It is both, at the same time. Valid and violent.

So, while I agree that we can't simply set our differences aside, and I agree that warring with each other isn't working, the "I refuse to connect with them" attitude doesn't work for me, either.

And for a long time, this felt impossible.

Now, it doesn't.

I think if we stand a chance at all to change this, we're going to have to acknowledge the root of it that nobody's talking about, and start there.

The Root: Relational Health

Relational Health is the ability to develop and nurture healthy relationships. Note that I didn't say "happy". I said healthy.

Or in "official" terms from a study in the National Library of Medicine:

"Relational Health refers to interpersonal interactions that are growth-fostering or mutually empathic and empowering. Poor relational health increases an individual's risk for developing psychological distress."

Poor Relational Health = Increased Psychological Distress

If you're experiencing psychological distress at the state of the way people treat each other these days, and what you're participating in, this tracks, doesn't it?

The world is experiencing a relational health crisis.

This is why we're fighting over every damn thing. Because we've gotten really, really bad at being in relationship with one another.

It dawned on me that relational health was the new root of this when I realized we're no longer having conflicts about issues.

We're so collectively fed up with shit we're to a point of having conflict about the fact that conflict exists.

We aren't even having conflict. We're just telling each other to stfu and submit or get lost, and screaming it louder when people don't stfu and submit or get lost.

And then a white boy somewhere enters a school with a semi-automatic.

And we're so busy trying to make the other side wrong that we can't admit maybe two things can be true.

Maybe America needs gun control AND maybe that white boy had mental health issues AND maybe he was a terrorist too.

These are not contradicting statements. They don't need to be mutually exclusive.

Maybe all are true. Maybe all need attention.

Maybe shit isn't black and white. Maybe we need to hold space for nuance.

But we see so much threat in the identity of other people that we would rather fight the identity - no matter the cost - than heal our relationships with different identities well enough to actually focus on fighting the damn problem.

That isn't helping these kids.

It isn't helping us.

We take that course of action with almost every important issue we face.

We practice this in personal relationships and personal issues.

We practice this in family and familial issues.

We practice this in dating.

In work.

In community.

In society.

And the better we get at relational healing, the better we get at feeling secure, and safe enough in relationship with different identities to start actually solving the problems.

Instead of battling each other.

So, What Does "Relationally Healthy" Look Like?

Instead of brushing conflict under the rug or beating each other into submission over it, a healthy relationship is one that has the capacity to put that conflict square in the middle of the table, sit in the tension of the issue without losing integrity, and work together to resolve it.

Being relationally healthy in conflict involves feeling secure and courageous enough to do things like:

  • Challenge one another openly
  • Replace judgment with curiosity
  • See the humanity in the other person or people
  • Deliver accountability with compassion
  • Be generous with empathy and validation
  • Communicate rage and anger respectfully
  • Co-create solutions that account for all experiences at the table
  • Seek forgiveness in the end

And I want to be clear about something before I continue.

Healthy relationships include all of these things not just because the other party deserves it in our eyes.

Practicing relational healing is a selfish act.

We do it because we deserve to feel secure. We deserve to feel healthy in our relationships. We deserve to feel confident in our ability to navigate relationships with different people. We deserve to be able to regulate, stay clear, and keep our peace in tension. We deserve to not feel triggered so easily. We deserve to feel safe and powerful in these situations. We deserve to find love in unexpected places and we deserve to thrive no matter the color or creed of the people around us.

We deserve to be unshakable.

We deserve to feel connected.

We deserve to feel soft.

We deserve to develop power and a voice for change, in this.

We deserve this.

So do it for yourself, first.

Continuing on...

A healthy relationship is one where the goal in conflict is to seek resolve, not to have an ego fight.

We aren't seeking to win for the sake of being or feeling right.

We're seeking to heal and striving to include all parties in the effort of healing so everyone can be made whole.

A relationally healthy individual is one who feels less threat in the face of discomfort and disagreement on meaningful issues.

A relationally healthy individual can sit in tension and take feedback with relative grace.

They're generous with offering the benefit of the doubt while maintaining healthy boundaries and awareness.

They're able to maintain a clear head in the face of tension. They're able to respond instead of react. They're able to hold space and invite the other party to connect instead of push away, overpower, or discard.

They're aware of their triggers and strive to process how to treat people fairly when they're feeling triggered.

They're open to using resources like loved ones and therapy to help with this^

They're able to functionally participate in co-creating change without verbally, psychologically, or physically beating the other person into submission to get their way.

A relationally healthy individual is one who, when faced with the choice to be either "right" OR "resolved", works to create a form of resolve where everyone gets to feel right and validated in the end.

A relationally healthy person is more focused on solutions than blame.

And they understand the difference between blame, accountability, and responsibility.

A relationally healthy individual is one who is able to assume a reasonable level of safety in spaces whereas a relationally struggling individual tends to assume threats and react out of hyper-vigilance.

They are able to be reasonably flexible in support of those around them, and also have better ease of expecting reasonable support from those around them.

When a relationally secure person speaks to someone with a different worldview - they expect to be heard. They don't feel the need to fight for that. This sense of security changes the way they approach these conversations dramatically.

When support isn't available, a relationally healthy person is confident in their ability to find support elsewhere or support themselves even temporarily until support becomes available.  

They spend their energy on this instead of spending it on being angry with the person who wasn't able to provide support. (Again, not focused on blame but on solutions).

They're also able to reasonably stop expecting support that isn't being offered or delivered, and adjust accordingly.

A relationally healthy society is a collective of relationally healthy individuals.

This society is one that sees a reduction in personal, community, political, and socio-economic trauma and disparity because both (or all) parties involved have committed to playing an active role in relational healing that naturally expands to heal the community as a side effect oof the collective practice of relational healing.

This society is one that has a higher rate of people being able to find meaningful interpersonal relationships, social circles, and communities in that they can thrive.

One that has a lower rate of feeling attacked and terrified of literally existing authentically and publicly.

One that is curious and embraces differences in one another instead of fearing, rejecting, attacking, judging, or eradicating them.

One that allows for discomfort and mistakes without burning everything down.

One that replaces abuse and bullying with support, resources, and consistent, compassionate accountability.

It's a beautiful vision.

I know it's possible. I've experienced this in my bubble, multiple times in my life.

I want this for everyone.

And if you think this is delusional, I encourage you to be that.

Individual Healing Isn't Sustainable Without Relational Healing

Personal healing is trending. That's great.

I have a question.

Why heal individually if we're just going to keep traumatizing each other anyway?

Personal healing isn't full, or sustainable, without relational healing.

And relational healing can only be practiced in relationships with others.

The stronger we are in relational healing, the stronger we are at resolving conflict.

And the stronger you are at resolving conflict, the stronger you become at nurturing and maintaining healthy, respectful, sustainable and meaningful connections...

Not just with people who are like you, but also people who are not.  

Because that's when conflict happens. When someone is not like us, and it causes us pain.

Why Relational Healing Helps Conflict

It helps because while humans have vastly different external experiences, our internal experiences tend to be strikingly similar.

Here's an incomplete list:

  • We all are afraid of something
  • We all have and will continue to fuck up in some way
  • The majority of us are actively discovering the eternal practice of what it means to be a "good person",  and will forever be clumsy as we climb to the next levels of what that means to us
  • We all have an experiential definition of "good", that's largely defined by our conditioning and lived experience, of which we are the sole party who knows the full context
  • We all would respond better to compassion and empathy than we would being attacked or bullied
  • The majority of us have the capacity to empathize and show compassion
  • The majority of us don't realize the nuance & power of empathy and compassion as a refined skill that's worth investing time and energy in
  • We're all navigating mountains of misinformation and opinions disguised as facts (no matter what side of any fence you're on you probably strongly believe some shit that simply isn't true - as do I - and that's okay. This is the human condition in a tech-driven world)
  • We've all been through trauma and have some shit we haven't healed yet
  • We all have moments that trauma surfaces i.e. triggers
  • Underneath all of that, we all want to connect, to be seen, heard, valued, and accepted for who we are, how we identify, and the validity of our experiences & lessons we've learned through them
  • We all wish and hope the people we care about will advocate for us and understand us
  • The majority of us are afraid to step outside of or disagree with the views our social circles have become strong about for fear of them thinking we don't advocate for them or are bad people
  • The majority of us would like to be left the hell alone to live a life we've defined as "good"
  • The majority of us would like this shit to be resolved and are sick of it
  • The majority of us refuse to resolve it anyway mainly because we can't see how

These are all true of almost every human on the planet regardless of where they come from, what they look like, what views they carry, and what rhetoric they spout.

We have so many opportunities to relate to one another. We spend so much time ignoring that opportunity.

And it makes sense. We'd be able to consider these things if we weren't drowning in the fear of threat. And maybe, just maybe, if we weren't so afraid and angry, we'd actually be able to work to resolve some of this shit.

My hope is that you get it. Why relational health is in crisis, and why it's a priority to fix if we're going to fix anything else.

The big question now is, how do we do it? I'll give you all my thoughts. I encourage you to also reflect on your own.

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