You’ve Got to Be Taught to Hate and Fear

Over the last few days, I have heard random people list their hatreds. People hate (insert food). They hate (insert weather). They hate (insert animal).   They hate (insert political candidate/person). They hate (insert religion). They hate (insert ethic/cultural group). They hate (insert sexual orientation). They hate (insert occupation). “Hate” is an incredibly strong word and while it may seem okay to use it when describing momentary discomforts (like the weather) or preferences (such as one food versus another), the word has much more significance when used to describe characteristics that one cannot choose (such as place of birth) or the core values of others (like religion).

Every time I hear the word, I think of a song from the musical “South Pacific”. The musical is set during World War II, a tumultuous time that defined my parents’ youth and early adulthood. My father fought in the war. My mother watched her brothers, cousins, and friends go to war. So, the musical (and its lessons) stuck with me.  One song in particular declared, “You’ve got to be taught to hate and fear…You’ve got to be taught before it’s too late, before you are 6, or 7, or 8…. You’ve got to be carefully taught” (Rodgers & Hammerstein). I grew to understand that hate was a strong word, a word that caused “terrible things” and I carried this lesson into my professional understanding of hatred.

Psychologically speaking, hate and fear do go together. They are both emotions and as such, they are both physiologically based. They are set in motion by the hypothalamus and trigger our autonomic and endocrine systems to activate. In essence, they both involve the arousal of our “fight or flight” response. Our respiration changes, our perspiration changes, our muscle tension changes, our digestion is impacted. They also both have a cognitive or learned component that helps us cope with the “fight or flight” response. The physiological responses are similar: the cognitive element is based on how we define the situation we are in, and the definition is based, in large part, on what we are taught by our families, our friends, our society as a whole. Just as Rodgers & Hammerstein warned us in “South Pacific”, our culture and our own experiences can teach us to fear or to hate just about anything.

Yet, fear and hate do have their differences. Fear is defined as a response to a serious threat to our well-being. Hatred is defined more loosely – as we can see by the number of ways we are able to use the word in a sentence. Fear is a closed system, by that I mean it often turns us insular; the goal is to protect ourselves. Sometimes, this may include protecting those we care about, but in either case, it tends to reduce the size of the circle. We must protect ourselves and those we love from what is “out there” – an idea that blends well with the development of hatred. Hatred is the justification for reducing the circle: we must keep those things/people out because they will hurt us. As the circle tightens, the mechanism for keeping others out must be enhanced.

Before you know it, we consider building walls, believing they can keep us safe. Humans have been doing this for centuries. We have built forts, castles, and electric fences – all designed to keep “us” safe and “them” out. In this physical sense, walls are seen as a way to protect us and enhance our sense of well-being. Clearly, in some ways this is true. It is better to live in a home than on the street. However, psychologically speaking, walls have a very different connotation. Walls keep us from sharing who we are, they stunt our growth, and they keep us from going outside of our comfort zone. They are things we hide behind. They are things that block us from our emotions, from our ability to see inside (or let others see inside), or from moving to a new or better place. By building these walls, we limit our ability to achieve our full potential. In a psychological context, walls isolate us, make us feel that the only one we can trust is ourselves, lead us to feel more fear because we KNOW we cannot survive on our own.

I can go on and on about psychological walls, but I think Paul Simon gave a remarkably good summary of what it is like to live inside the walls we build: “I’ve built walls, a fortress deep and mighty, that none may penetrate. I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain. It’s laughter and it’s loving I disdain. I am a rock, I am an island…A rock feels no pain, and an island never cries” (Simon, Paul. EMI Music Publishing, Universal Music Publishing Group). Whenever I hear that song, I feel sad. Ironically, even though Paul Simon doesn’t want to care about anyone, the words evoke empathy and I share the pain of his situation. If we were all to build walls, we would block out that key human quality of empathy, something even infants are capable of experiencing. If you have ever been in the presence of a group of newborns, you would know that when one cries, they all begin to cry. It would seem to be a collaborative effort setting out an alert for the adults “out there” to come and do something to help. Toddlers will share their blanket with others who are in distress. The fact that these behaviors are present without training speaks volumes about their survival benefit; our instincts tell us we need each other.

Fear of other humans is not innate; it is, as I said before, taught. The fact that we must teach “stranger danger” speaks volumes. I am not suggesting that we eliminate teaching our children about the danger of some strangers, but I am cautioning about how far we have taken this. We need to consider how the fear of others has grown too expansive. We need to evaluate the criteria we are using to define strangers and question the validity of these criteria. We need to carefully consider how much fear we instill in children when we tell them that physicians, police officers, teachers, babysitters, relatives, all possess some element of danger. We must consider what this level of fear is doing to us. When our neighbors become defined as strangers, when we don’t look at the people we pass in the corridors at work, when we assume that most people are evil, we create a world where our fight or flight system is always on, where our bodies are physically taxed, and where our emotional life is drained. We add to our stress because when we do need to reach out (we are sick and need someone to get our medicine; we lost our wallet and need money for public transportation; we are lost and our phone is out of battery), our circle is so small that those within it may not be able to or available to provide the needed assistance.

It is crucial that we expand our thinking and come to recognize that there are billions of good people “out there”. We cannot be fooled into thinking that the “bad” we see on the news on a daily basis represents all of humanity. We know that is not true. My heartfelt belief is that we need to develop mutual dependence and recognize that we are not meant to survive on our own; we are meant to survive and thrive as a group.


“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”  -Edmund Burke


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24 thoughts on “You’ve Got to Be Taught to Hate and Fear

  1. Hi my friend,
    Thank you again for first being the wonderful, thoughtful woman you are and a teacher
    Sometimes even I need to be reminded that there is more to e gained by being vulnerable.
    As I read, I was reminded of what I have come to believe…… There is really no such thing as them and us.
    I think it is the them and us mentality that sets the fear or hate in motion

    We are one.
    With love

  2. Dear Diane, I love your post!
    While I was reading it, I was writing some specific sentences that caught my attention, but I stopped writing because I was going to end writing everything; It is awesome.
    I like the format that you wrote the post, especially the first paragraph, so that we can insert our thoughts or feelings. Two weeks ago I said something that reminded me of this post. I went to a place to do some errands, but the case was that after waiting for long time, I could not solve anything, so I said ” I hate this ( )” but the reality was that I did not hated that place, the matter was that I could not obtain what I wanted at that time and because of that, I got mad. again, I remembered the post and laught.
    There is a moment in life where we understand that we need from others, someone that can be with us not only in our happiness, but in our sorrows. Our ego tell us that we can do everything without any help from others, but the truth is that we need them. WE NEED OTHERS AS OTHER CAN NEED US.
    Hakuna matata?

  3. I agree with all of this post, perfectly said! You’re right when you said humans have been building walls to keep ourselves safe or what they think keeps them safe. Relating to current events, Mr. Trump wants to build a wall to keep many people from coming into the U.S. He wants to isolate the citizens of the United States and not share all the benefits that comes from living in this country. Also, the media does a good job in telling us all the scary stuff there is out there, but doesn’t do a good job in showing us the good that there is out there. Yes, some people are bad and bad things do happen, but there are some incredible strangers and good things do happen. We should allow people in our circles!

  4. This is very true and yet most people put little thought into this. I do this all the time and never did I notice until now, we as people do believe that everyone is a threat, we try to protect ourselves by staying alone, isolation and that way one cant get hurt. The result of that would be when you actually need somebody you wont have anybody for support, humans are meant to grow and strive together, i guess it is sort of right of passage to be independent and that what everybody wants. I’m gonna do this on my own, completely on my own we say, but we need others as much as we don’t want to admit it.

  5. At first,I though this article was going to explain us about the danger from expressing hate and fear, on a daily basis. On the other hand, I was in disbelief when I discovered how fear and hate are similar and different from each other. I thought that both emotions were completely did different from each other, and are expressed in different situations. In addition,this article has taught me some cool facts about walls that I never knew about. To begin, I that the sole reason for a wall was to keep all danger away from a person. However, this article has change my perspective of walls and made me realize that being isolated from walls for to long can hurt a person in a “psychological” way.

  6. Another great post! I definitely feel like people use the word “hate” far too much. I can’t really talk because I use it way too much myself, but still hate is a word that humans use so loosely. It’s the same with “love”, but since love is a positive feeling, it’s not nearly as frowned upon or focused on as hate is. I also feel that hate and fear was a big concept for people voting for a certain somebody in this election. Another thing that I loved about this whole post is about how much hate and fear correlate with each other. If a child is taught to not talk to strangers, like you explained, or even taught to not talk to certain race, like a white person is brought up not liking African Americans, or any other race, through their childhood they will most likely be afraid of black people, and then when they get older and mature, this fear will lead to hate, which sadly, ultimately leads to racism, which is still a huge problem in this country, and was a big deciding factor for who people were going to vote for in this country.

  7. Wow, very interesting! I feel like people use the word “hate” way too casually! I am to blame for this as well! It is a word with a lot of meaning and emotion and we have turned it into something different. AS your blog goes on I found myself nodding in agreement with everything you said. Fear and hate are taught, I agree. When you think of a wall physically and psychologically you picture two different things, but are still very similar. Physically, we build walls to keep out what we fear and it makes us feel safe to be protected by something that can separate us from what we fear. Psychologically, we build walls because for the same reason, we want to keep out what we fear or what makes us anxious.

  8. I admit I use the word hate sometimes when describing a food, object, place, etc. However I have always refrained from using towards people, I also always felt that hate was a strong word. The irony to this is that after reading your post I realized I’m in a realm of contradiction. If it’s too strong a word to use with people why have I made it acceptable to use towards other areas in life? Looking forward I’m going to use the word less when referring to other things as well. I guess I never realized its an ugly word regardless of how its used. The second part was also interesting because as embarrassing as it is to admit, I feel as though my previous profession has molded me to often be in fight or flight, not because of any negative agenda, more specifically to protect myself in dangerous situations. Even though I have since switched professions I still feel as though I strongly held on to that value and that might be something I need to focus on to become a stronger person in the future. The last thing I want to do is have a child/children and have them grow up constantly being defensive of people and their surroundings. Being aware of your surroundings is important but not every situation requires a defensive nature, its just not healthy. Thank you for this read, it was very enlightening and gave me a few things to think about.

  9. This was a great post, and it really made me think. After reading I can’t help but to think of all the times I used the word “hate” to describe how I was feeling towards someone or something. I also cant help but to think if I really meant hate! I can honestly say that I didn’t mean it, there are probably very few things or people in this world that I hate.

    A much better word to use would be dislike or don’t prefer. Several times have I said I hate my job, I hate this weather, I hate this meal or I hate this person. I think in todays world we definitely over use the word hate and by doing so we kind of soften the true meaning.

  10. These posts are great! I agree with a lot of the points you raised and many left me thinking, but there is one thing I disagree with (and it may only because I’m jaded).

    You’re so right, I have found myself and heard others use the word “hate” in such a matter of fact way that we’ve forgotten the real strength that word can have. I remember being taught the word hate and being told that it was a bad word and it should only be associated with things that that deserved it and that I had a high level of disdain for.

    With regards to fear and hatred in the world today, I completely agree with you about where we are now are as a society regarding fear and the blind hatred that has developed from it. We build walls literally and metaphorically because we fear what’s outside of our “norm”. We also fear what the media deems as unacceptable. However, where I disagree is the idea of requiring a larger circle. Personally, I have attempted many times to enlarge my circle by allowing people whom I wanted to believe were good in or by giving people the benefit of the doubt. In the end all that was proven was that I was better off with my small circle of people because the larger your circle, the higher the probability that there will be unnecessary drama and problems. I would like to believe that people (for the most part) are inherently good, but I believe that as we get older we lose that part of our innocence that affords us the ability to be good. I feel the less people you have in your circle, the better off you are because the likely hood of finding people that are genuine, selfless and that have your best interest at heart are very slim.

  11. After reading this post I feel self conscious about my casual use of the word hate. For instance, I hate the rain, I hate okra, and I hate kitten heels. These are all things I have thought. I’ve always applied the word hate to describe things that have no actual affect on me. As a person of color I have experienced hate/fear from people who have been taught to feel this way about people who look like me. within our divided country people are being encouraged to hate with insensitive words that our administration is spewing.

  12. Wow, what a great blog post! I also feel the same way about the word “hate” people throw the word around way to much nowadays as well as the word “racist”. Too many people throw around strong words that shouldn’t be used in every day conversations. They say that word too casually. We all say we hate this and that as well as myself, no one is perfect. It’s a word that expresses many feelings but we use it so casually that we can throw it in any sentence, i HATE that! I agree with everything your blog(s) posts say. Both hate and fear are shown and taught, totally agree. When you wrote about the wall, anyone can think of that both psychologically and physically, they are different but at the same time very similar. Psychologically, we have walls that we build due to the fact that we want to keep the fear out. Physically, we have walls that we build to keep out the same thing which is fear and the wall also makes us feel safer/protected by the the wall that can keep us safe from fear and any other bad emotions. Can’t wait to read upcoming blogs!

  13. I really didn’t know that Hate and fear would be in the same category but the walls you described helped understand that their not so different at all. I think personally having so much hatred in your life can become very toxic.

  14. It amazes me how we just say I hate so often without even thinking about its true meaning. I say this almost everyday to my wife that kids react to what they are taught and if we teach our kids love, empathy and patience instead of teaching them hate, fear and entitlement this world would be a better place. Great post and I appreciate how passionate you are about these words.

  15. Dr. Urban,
    What a great blog! Now-a-days is it very easy to say that we hate object and thing like the examples you used, I hate the weather today or I hate that food. Know that only person that is being affect that those comment are you. Taking it one step further direct that hate to a person or a group such as a religion or I hate that person, it takes on a totally new meaning.
    Hatred is without-a-doubt a learn behavior and fear consequently is a byproduct of that hatred. Trying to learn from each other so we can better understand each other will help bridge the gaps with society ultimately turning the hatred into love.

  16. I found his article amazingly interesting. I can speak for myself and say I build walls with many relationships in my life. I actually remember when it began, my teen years. With that, I obviously notice what I am doing but it is to prevent the highs and lows we feel in life. Maybe there is more to it in my case, but ever since I have done this my relationships have improved. In my opinion at least.

  17. I will admit that I sometimes use the word hate as you’ve described in this post. And I can remember my mom telling me long ago not to use that word because it’s such a strong word. But there are many other everyday words people use that are just as strong…like love, stop, and black. It all depends on the context in which they’re being used.
    I agree that in some situations the words hate and fear do go together. But in contrast, just because I say I hate eating frog legs doesn’t mean that I’m afraid of them. And yes, both hatred and fear causes us to build walls to “protect” ourselves; whether it be something emotional like our hearts or something physical like our homes. It’s important that we don’t get stuck in this state of fear and hatred and be willing to open up and experience all that life has to offer.

  18. This article is full of great examples of how two things that seem completely different are in fact more or less the same exact thing. I found it interesting to read about the newborns who cry when the others cry a means to get the adults. In my opinion I see more, especially at workplaces, a “child cry” and the newborns around actually make the child cry more while staying quiet when the adult is around , using their weakness as power. It is amazing that things that seem so tiny at such an early age really make a big impact on our life. I personally know someone who has dealt with anxiety since they were 10 years old. It was only now, at 31 that they have come to realize by stepping away from the situation, that the main reason for their anxiety was fear based. Growing up, both of their parents would create unnecessary fear all the while trying to be teachers and keep their child “safe.” In reality they were creating a child afraid of everything, losing, failure, the unknown, change. Once they grew into an adult and started to tackle these fears, they realized how irrational the fear based teachings were. This was a great article I truly enjoyed.

  19. This article reminds me of the importance of teamwork. Teamwork should not only be something we think about or do at work while working on a project or getting things done. I think we should build a teams in our personal lives. Surrounding ourselves with people we can count on help us to overcome fears. Having a large group of people or teams who have different experiences and background help us grow as individual and help us to overcome our fears.

  20. In this article id have to agree with the points that most of childhood fears are determined by our parents guidance. I remember that my father used to always tell me that if I didn’t brush my teeth every night my teeth would fall out. So I always remember that when I would forget to or have a sleepover at a friends house I would have a bad dream that my teeth would fall out. That was the fear that I would have just because he told me that they would fall out. When it comes to realization that you can’t believe everything you see on the tv, the internet, and social media good luck. In the world we live today kids mostly learn everything from those three so its impossible for them not to be influenced by them in the way they want to. I do agree though that we all must make our own judgement on people and fears when it really comes down to it though.

  21. It’s really sad to think of how fear and hate are taught directly and indirectly to our children. There are so many children out there that are bi-racial and they just identify mommy for mommy and daddy for daddy. When they see a woman they associate it to their mother despite the color and when they see another man they associate it with their father. For example, my niece is 5 years old and is Puerto Rican, Irish and Jamaican. My sister is Puerto Rican and Irish and extremely fair skinned and her husband is Jamaican and much darker than my sister. My niece has never once made any distinction between their skin color and only sees them as mommy and daddy. It pains me to know that sooner than later someone will ruin that innocence for her. On top of that, she’s overweight and I have taken her to parks where the children AND parents look at her funny. I have had parents motion for their kids to not play with her as if something was wrong with her and I have had white parents (mainly foreigner like Russian and Albanian) motion for their kids not to play with her because of her skin color, so I have said loudly, “That’s ok baby, Titi Mel will play with you!”

    I think more people should read this article and adopt even an 1/8th of the way you think because the world would really be a better place.

  22. Dear Diane,

    This is a great post, I thing we can all stop and think about our choice of words. I agree we use way too often strong words unnecessarily that depending of the audience it could be irresponsible of our part. In the other hand a better selection of words can help find the light or solution easier and avoid frustration, is very true that ultimately we are the ones directly affected by it. I am looking forward to use words wisely since these words create emotions; I like the explanation above that: “They are set in motion by the hypothalamus and trigger our autonomic and endocrine systems to activate In essence, they both involve the arousal of our “fight or flight” response.”
    Reading about walls and the different connotation they have between the physical walls and the psychologically speaking walls well here is another great opportunity to get rid of the self impose walls that keep us from growing, it is very truth that we learn and progress the most when going outside of our comfort zone.
    I also agree with the last post: “I think more people should read this article” it could be very helpful to see the big picture.

  23. I believe this is my favorite article. The world 🌎 is much more than the bad stuff that the every day news show to us. There is so much love and kindness that doesn’t make it to the news, let’s open our eyes and be kind with each other
    Thank u professor for this article and i have to say that I miss being in your class. Eventually i will like to take life span, if you teach that class i will definitely sing up with you 😊.

  24. reading this post I began to see a lot of it in me. Growing up I would always isolate myself and try to limit my interaction with people because I was to scared to ever get close to anyone just because I felt they would do me wrong. It sort of is ingrained in me in that growing up my parents would always tell me there is bad people out there and to always be careful. So my selection for people I let in is super intensive. When you wrote that building walls leads to lack of empathy I also agreed so much with it as avoiding certain situations just to make yourself comfortable distances your connection with others and leaves you detached and cold to everyone’s emotions. I do feel that people should stop trying to impress people and live in this facade. People should stop being so scared to be themselves and let others in so others can start doing the same. Now saying this sounds way to easy I know but I feel that if more people realize that others are also in the same place instead of acting better or okay, people would relate more to others and be more social. Over all though I really enjoyed this post and I really feel this should be discussed more as being more open and not always on edge is so mentally healthy for everyone.

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