It’s time to stop the cycle of hate

Published 11:58 pm Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the bombing of the World Trade Center. Tuesday morning, I thought about that day and about all of the anniversaries since that morning when the towers fell and so many people lost their lives.

What came to my mind was a question. I wondered what if anything we learned and continue to learn from that tragic day. My first thought was that yes we learned something. We learned to be afraid, to fear “them,” the faceless manifestations of evil that hate us and want to wage war on all Americans.

But beyond being afraid of another attack, are there any positive lessons to take from something that caused so much pain?

A strange thing happened to me in the days after Sept. 11, 2001. It was during the nightly news when they flashed the faces of the ones who flew the planes on that bright autumn morning. I remember looking at their eyes, perhaps searching for some sign of humanity, something that might help explain their actions.

Suddenly a thought popped into my head that made me wonder even more about what drove these people to make the choices they made. As I looked at their pictures, a voice in my head whispered, “They were once babies. Once they were just new little humans greeted with love by their mothers and fathers.”

These people we looked at as monsters were once children who played and dreamed and wanted what all children want — love and acceptance. So what happened in their lives to bring them to be in planes desiring nothing but to bring death to other humans they viewed as enemies?

There was only one answer. They learned to hate, heard that some people were bad and deserved only destruction. I say learned because I don’t believe babies come into this world pre-programmed to hate.

It takes a huge hate, a strong belief in the rightness of your cause for someone to take actions knowing the end result is his own death. That is a commitment it must take years of indoctrination to develop.

I was still thinking about this as I read some in the book, “Field Notes on the Compassionate Life — A Search for the Soul of Kindness.” In the chapter I read, the author wrote about an experiment called “Building Bridges for Peace.” The idea brought together teenagers from the Middle East, Palestinians and Israelis, to spend two weeks together getting to know each other.

The hope is that bringing them together, allowing sworn enemies to see each other as individuals, will lead to understanding and maybe someday an end to conflict.

The words of one of the participants struck a cord deep in my soul.

“I feel like I live in the middle of a stupid world,” she said. “All that is important to me is you, and you. We’re destined to live together in the same place at the end of the day. If I don’t know you, it’s easy to hate you. If I look in your eyes, I can’t.”

If there is a lesson from Sept. 11, perhaps it is realizing that hate only brings more of the same, and fear separates in a way that fosters more misunderstanding and pain.

Our challenge as we stop and remember what happened on that morning seven years ago is to find a way to let go of hate and fear; not an easy thing in a world that seems to pull us into opposing camps at every turn.

My heart tells me it is a challenge we must face if we want a world where children do not learn to hate so much they grow up to fly planes into buildings.