hatred and growth

a few weeks ago a child at my table announced that he hated spinach. a young adult, also at my table, responded immediately. “oh,” she said, “you mean you haven’t learned to like spinach yet.” in that moment bells and whistles went off in my mind. what a fantastic reframe she had just offered to everyone present. we are all so quick to know that which we hate or dislike or are uncomfortable with. “i hate...” “i don’t agree with...” “i’m against...” even “i don’t believe in...” peppers our thoughts and language (as though not believing in spinach could make it not exist). there’s so much safety in using such language. it’s definitive. it’s declarative. it’s final. no ifs, ands, or buts. 

i hear such statements all the time. from the mouths of others and myself. “i hate rain.” “i don’t believe in exercise.” “i’m against tofu.” “i despise going to movies by myself. or concerts. or dinner.” “i hate sundays. or parties. or my job.” so many of these are said with so little thought. they are made as declarations and, as such, frequently side step a good pondering.

i’ve thought about this alot lately as i’ve come to realize that some of the experiences i love most in life are ones that others abhor. and vice versa.  why is this? while it’s healthy to know ones limits and appropriate to be in touch with ones preferences, why do we have such a need to express them (even to ourselves) so emphatically? do we really want to define ourselves by our dis-likes and limit ourselves by our hates?

in life there are risks worth taking and so many of them are so readily available. we just haven’t learned to like them yet.

there’s a benefit in trying foods i think i hate. doing so enables me to be a gracious mealtime guest, an open-to-where-i-am traveler, and a healthier person. there are growth opportunities in exploring why the word “hate” rolls so immediately off my tongue when i talk about certain forms of entertainment, groups of people (i do not like admitting this), and experiences. do i genuinely hate these things or have i become lazy with my language? might i be uncomfortable, inexperienced, or uncertain about them rather than truly harboring hatred? if i use more accurate language might i identify where i need to grow?

later today i’m going to walk with a friend. this will not be a leisurely stroll. it will be fast, it will be long, and it will be (mostly) uphill. as i’m remembering this, i’m saying to myself, “i hate walking with people!” while this is true, it makes no logical sense. i love walking. i love this friend. our schedules don’t allow us much free time so this is a way we can accomplish both a deep discussion and our daily workout. even still, exercising with people is something i don’t enjoy. when i use this kind of language in place of “i hate walking with people” i afford myself an opportunity to explore the source of my strong feelings and understand how they are stirred. come to find out, as i consider it now, i don’t like exercising with people for a couple of reasons. first, the more deeply i settle into myself, the less i like doing more than one thing at a time. second, when trying to walk and talk i fear i’ll be exposed as out of shape. i’ll sweat and i’ll breathe heavily. i’m afraid i won’t keep up and then i’ll see myself, and others will see me, as weak. in reality, it seems, i haven’t learned to like walking with people yet because i fear exposure and vulnerability. this is much more complex than mere hatred. hatred assumes it’s about the walking. my new insight assures that it’s about me. 

perhaps there are other things i haven’t learned to like yet that are really more about me and my lack of flexibility, resilience, and/or grace and not about the object (or idea or activity) at all. maybe i don’t actually hate people who ascribe to different values than i do. perhaps i simply haven’t learned to like them, or respect them, or even interact with them effectively yet. when i own this, the impetus is on me to determine my responsibility in responding to the “hated group’s” presence in this world rather than on them to change (or at least be quiet/silent/invisible) just to be tolerated. or, more to the point at hand, perhaps i won’t press myself to walk with my friend anymore, choosing instead to talk with her when we can sit and linger face to face. or, better yet, maybe i’ll tackle my fear of being exposed so i can make way for some enjoyment in the shared exercise experience. either of these options provide so many more opportunities for growth than merely hating walking does.

today, i embrace the opportunity to consider what i haven’t learned to like (or respect or value) yet. life is too rich with possibility to cut my experience short by settling with dismissive hatred in places where expansive growth could reside. and with that, i am off...to conquer my fear of vulnerability with a good long walk and lots of sweat.