Andrew Fiala

Let’s all stop hating, quit violence and take a sabbatical from negativity

Roman emporer Marcus Arelius, the Stoic philosopher, once said that we should try to teach people to be better if we can. But if we can’t educate them, we should learn to leave them alone.
Roman emporer Marcus Arelius, the Stoic philosopher, once said that we should try to teach people to be better if we can. But if we can’t educate them, we should learn to leave them alone.

Negativity is easily rationalized. In a recent interview, Hilary Clinton said, “you cannot be civil with a political party that wants to destroy what you stand for.” Soon after, somebody sent Clinton a bomb — along with several others.

This is the “toxic political environment” that Nikki Haley denounced after announcing her resignation as ambassador to the United Nations. Haley said, “In America, our political opponents are not evil.” She is right. An even more direct response came from Donald Trump Jr., who has also received threatening mail from terrorists. He tweeted, “This crap has to stop.”

He’s also right. Let’s all stop hating. Let’s go cold turkey on violence. We need a sabbatical from negativity.

The problem, of course, is that negativity is addicting and contagious. Anger give us a quick rush. Toxic reactions spread like wildfire. And once we are habituated, we fall into negative ruts, even though those hateful habits are self-destructive.

One solution is to seek a more positive philosophy of life. Such a worldview is not hard to find. No religion celebrates hate. No ethical tradition promotes anger and cruelty. No philosophy praises short-sighted egoism. The wisdom of the world calls for creative vitality.

The sterility of negativity is obvious. Violence takes us nowhere. It has no policy. Spite does not invent new technologies. Anger does not build businesses. Resentment cures no diseases. Hatred nurtures no one.

It is creative activities that are fertile with possibility. Creative vitality is an expression of love. It is joyful and exuberant. The creator believes in the future. She affirms her love of being by adding to the world. She loves life — her own and her neighbors — enough to expend her existence on behalf of the future.

This may sound abstract. But it’s common sense. It is love that brings us together. The labor of birth is accompanied by hope. The next generation is welcomed with delight.

Those who are busy giving birth to the future have no time to hate. The passion of creativity is the polar opposite of the despair of destruction. Life becomes meaningful when lived with the loving spirit of creative vitality.

This secret is hidden in plain sight in the world’s wisdom traditions. The world’s religions teach us to cultivate peace, love and joy. They celebrate birth and rebirth — not death and destruction. It is hope that keeps us moving toward the future even in the face of injustice. Violence closes off the future. Hatred is fearful, not hopeful.

The world’s traditions also encourage patience and toleration. Take the long view. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Accept what you can’t control — including other people. Avoid fault-finding and nit-picking. And develop compassion for those who are suffering or afraid.

Marcus Aurelius, the Stoic emperor, once said that we should try to teach people to be better if we can. But if we can’t educate them, we should learn to leave them alone. Yelling at people does nothing. An insult will never change the person it is flung at. It is wiser to mind your own business.

Life is precious and precarious. Given our short time on this planet, there is no point in adding to the darkness. The dark side leaves no legacy. Use your short time creatively to shed light. Build something of value. Fashion your life into a model of creative vitality that others can follow. You only get one chance to live a life of dignity, compassion, and light.

The common sense of human wisdom is, of course, easy to ignore in the heat of the moment. We get angry and lash out. We get stuck in dark places. Haters become obsessed with their enemies. Jealousy and resentment fester. It sometimes seems easier to hate our neighbors than to love them. But it is love that builds the future and transforms the world in its own image.

That’s why we need time off from negativity. Refuse to get angry. Respond with compassion. Say a prayer. Write a poem. Make music. Make love. And rediscover the joy of creation. The world won’t improve without your creative vitality. And you can’t change the world without changing yourself.

Andrew Fiala is a professor of philosophy and director of The Ethics Center at Fresno State: @PhilosophyFiala
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