Human Hate: Why We Do and What To Do About It

Similar to the “hate-watching” experience of viewing television programmes you don’t like because you enjoy mocking them, this can be seen as a mild form of “hate-reading.” Logging onto Facebook gives you the chance to be indignantly offended (or maybe just mildly piqued) by other people’s ill-informed views and idiosyncratic behaviour. And there’s a surprising amount of pleasure in that.*

Disappointing isn’t it. Not like we didn’t know. Still it’s unsettling to think about how much pleasure humans can take in feeling better than everyone else. Why all the hate? Here are two broad ideas on that:

  • Social Dominance: In animals, including humans, social dominance gives greater access to and control of life sustaining resources for the individual and kin group. Makes sense that we would be wired to take pleasure in the idea that we rank higher somehow, for how it has helped us to survive and to thrive as a species.
  • Social Bonding: Strength in numbers, i.e., individuals bonded together in a group had a better chance of overcoming natural and social threats than individuals who stood alone. Makes sense we would be wired for that to feel good too.

Short of it is that humans appear to be both competitive and cooperative and even cooperation can morph into hate. As the study suggests, people go to Facebook to bond – over 2 billion of them monthly* – but bonding is not all that’s going on there. Just as in the offline world of people, there is shunning, sneering, you name it… And some of it is pretty hateful in that ‘I’m better than you’ or ‘We’re better than you’ kind of way. My children, my social life, my vacations, my political party, my ethnic group, my gender group, my sexual preference group – better than yours. In its extreme, witness the violent protests in our streets. We are together – and better than you.

Here’s an individual example.** Let’s call him David. David, a successful attorney, has been widowed for years. Nice man. Attractive man. Pretty good catch for some good woman looking for love, as he is himself. When asked why this hasn’t happened for him, he said that he meets seemingly lovely women online, but when he tells the woman whom he voted for that’s the end of that. One woman’s family threatened to disown her if she brought him anywhere near them. How hateful is that.

Spiritual teachers tell us that these boundaries we create between ourselves and others are foolish and destructive falsehoods. From Ken Wilbur’s No Boundary: A Union of Opposites:

The war of opposites is a symptom of a boundary taken to be real, and to cure the symptoms we must go to the root of the matter itself: our illusory boundaries….When the opposites are realized to be one, discord melts into concord, battles become dances, and old enemies become lovers. We are then in a position to make friends with all of our universe, and not just one half of it.

Differences as dances. I do love that. And, if “life is what our thoughts make it” (Marcus Aurelius), why can’t we think of the world as, for the most part, a world full of many different kinds of friends with as much right to exist as we do ourselves. The more we hate, no matter how justified we feel in it, the more hate there is in the world, and the more polarized and extreme the hateful behavior becomes.

So the next time we find ourselves feeling “I’m better than you,” how about those 3 breaths, belly out on the in-breath, belly in on the out-breath…with a reminder “there goes human hate,” served us once, can hurt us now, letting it come and letting it go like a cloud in the sky, returning to love wherever, however, and as much as we can. Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* The real reason you can’t quit Facebook? Maybe it’s because you can judge your friends.July 13, 2017 by Philip Seargeant And Caroline Tagg, The Conversation

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.






Is There Something to Be Done Here? What to Do About Emotion.

emotion“…why do most people spend so much time working and doing housework when they could be engaging in leisure activities? And, perhaps more importantly, why do other people struggle to maintain steady employment and clean living conditions? The answers have a profound impact on the mental and physical health of individuals, as well as our survival as a species.” *

A smartphone application helped researchers track the moods and activities of 30,000 people. What they found was that people in good moods were more likely to do useful but not necessarily pleasant activities (e.g., housework, other work) within a few hours of reporting their mood, while people in bad moods were more likely to engage in a pleasant leisure activity (e.g., sports, hanging out with friends). The suggestion here is that people use activity to regulate their emotions – and that when people feel good they are thinking more about future well-being, while the more bummed out among us do things to feel better now.

Couple of things here. First, not everyone goes out to play when they feel crummy. Lots of folks I know** prefer to lay low. Well, okay. Maybe they aren’t exactly doing housework or work-work when they take a mental health day at home. Maybe some are, as the study suggests, doing a pleasant leisure activity because they feel bad and want to feel better; e.g., binge-watching HBO, with a big bowl of ice cream or chips close at hand. Yes indeed, there is a study to show that we eat healthier when we feel good than when we do not. Although, maybe you think we didn’t exactly need a study to tell us that.

And does anyone else see a chicken/egg issue here? What if the activity chosen to deal with the bad mood is contributing to the bad mood in the first place. That can happen. Avoiding work, due to work stress, can make the work suffer, feeding the stress associated with it, leading to more avoidance, more stress, and more feeling bad. Same for any kind of binging to dull emotional pain. So, for example, people who binge eat typically feel very bad after an episode of binging, leading them to binge eat all the more. Solutions that create problems can run in the happy direction too. I have heard it said that, because happy people give more, it is not a good idea to negotiate when you are flying high emotionally because you might give away the store.

All of this makes it not that hard to understand why so many people try to make the emotions just go away. But then they feel dreadfully empty inside, something I hear over and over again. And decision-making gets really hard when we don’t know what we feel about the thing we are trying to decide. Now, it’s true, our responses to emotions can make a mess of things, if we are not paying attention. So let’s just slow down, pay attention – and ask this question: Is there something to be done here that will make me feel good in both the short and long term?

Sometimes the answer is ‘Yes but not right now’, or ‘Yes but not by me’. And sometimes you have already done what needs to be done, or there never was anything for you to do at all – in which case the answer might be to do nothing but breathe. Three luxurious breaths. Belly out on the in-breath. Belly in on the out-breath. And if you don’t know the answer to the question, then experiment. Try something and keep an eye on the consequences, to use or correct for next time around. The emotions are our friends. They provide information to guide and enrich our lives, once we learn to put our responses to them under our more conscious control. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* Maxime Taquet et al. “Hedonism and the choice of everyday activities.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1519998113

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Raise Your EQ: Eat Your Fiction

Eat Your Fiction“The most important characteristic of being human is that our lives are social,” says Oatley. “What’s distinctive about humans is that we make social arrangements with other people—with friends, with lovers, with children [with coworkers]….Fiction can augment and help us understand our social experience.” *

I have heard this before and was glad to see an actual study in support of this idea that fiction supersedes non-fiction for enhancing emotional intelligence. Truth be told, I have always been a bit of a snob about non-fiction over fiction, wondering what there was to learn if the stuff wasn’t even true. But now I take in fiction, not just to raise my EQ (emotional intelligence or empathy quotient) but because stories feel good.

Click here for a beautiful piece in Science Magazine on ancient campfires and storytelling. We talked before about the human love of landscapes and food sharing as reminiscent of our earliest days on the Savannah. Storytelling can be reminiscent of our earliest days as humans too – storytelling to expand the mind after a hard day of physical work, and to improve social bonds and relations or, in short, to enhance EQ.

To this day, there are pretty significant benefits to enhancing EQ. EQ is the ability to read, understand, and use the emotions effectively. Paula Durlofsky, PhD tells us that people with well-developed EQs can “communicate better, reduce their anxiety and stress, defuse conflicts, improve relationships, empathize with others, and effectively overcome life’s challenges.”

That sounds good but what do we mean by “use” the emotions? Use them for what? A lot of people I work with don’t want to go anywhere near them, fearing that to let them in at all is to face an overwhelming tsunami of useless emotion from which they may never recover. Emotions have had such a bad rap that my clients** and I spend large swaths of our work unraveling this mistaken idea. Once we do, miracles can happen, because emotions are information that tell us where we want or need to go in our lives.

The one who is understandably furious about race in America discovers the depths of his rage; unleashing this rage in doses he can tolerate allows him to channel the emotion – to use the emotion – in highly constructive ways for himself and so many others. The ones who are filled with shame about childhood behaviors bring the shame to the fore, informing them of the huge part this shame has played in shaping their lives, information directing them toward far less punishing, more joyful, and productive lives going forward. The single ones who let in how envious they are of the married ones move away from the already taken, opening themselves to the possibility of partners with whom they really can love and be loved. The ones who use their heads so much that they cannot feel their hearts begin to come alive in connection with themselves and others – in work, play, love and life – at the least little feeling, doesn’t even matter what it’s about.

They always want to know, all of them, if they are the only ones struggling with emotion, trying not to feel what they feel, trying with all their might not to be who they, as human beings, really are. Of course, they are not the only ones and fiction can tell them so. Jane Eyre. Anna Karenina. You name it. And doesn’t even have to be an 800 page classic:

“What’s a piece of fiction, what’s a novel, what’s [a] short story, what’s a play or movie or television series? It’s a piece of consciousness being passed from mind to mind. When you’re reading or watching a drama, you’re taking in a piece of consciousness that you make your own….That seems an exciting idea.”*

And it can be, but doesn’t have to be, just you. Join a book club. Or a movie club. It’s always interesting to hear other people’s differing interpretations of the exact same thing. Read their minds. See if you are right. Make it a game. Sharpen your EQ and improve your life. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*Trends in Cognitive Sciences, Oatley, K.: “Fiction: Simulation of Social Worlds,” , DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2016.06.002

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


International Day of Happiness: Missed it? It’s ok.

Happy people are healthier; they get sick less often and live longer. Happy people are more likely to get married and have fulfilling marriages, and they have more friends. They make more money and are more productive at work*.

Wanna be one? Move to Denmark. Just kidding. Although the UN just proclaimed the Danes the happiest people on the planet – again – there is also some research to suggest that it is in their genes so just moving there might not work. And, maybe you missed the UN’s “International Day of Happiness” on March 20th, but it’s ok. You can be happy anyway. Let’s call it International Week of Happiness, or Year of Happiness, or Decade, or Life. Whatever you want. And here are 5 science-backed ways to make it happen. Check out Kira Newman’s article* for a variety of more specific data backed exercises but, briefly, they are:

  1. Acknowledge the good (e.g., write down 3 things each night for which you are grateful)
  2. Add happiness through subtraction (e.g., imagine life without someone or something you cherish)
  3. Find meaning and purpose (e.g., imagine yourself as the best possible you in the future)
  4. Use your strengths (e.g., pick a core strength and apply it in some way every day)
  5. Connect with others (e.g., perform 5 acts of kindness daily in connection with another person)

What if any of this works, you may worry. What will become of me if I’m in la-la land all the time? Will someone else envy my good nature and fortune? Well, maybe. For at least one client this was the case, but was her wallowing in their pit really helping anyone. Wasn’t it better for her to lead a way that they could follow out there into the sun**. If they cared to. Only if they cared to… Or you may worry that you might miss something that you need to take care of. No worries there. We are all hardwired to keep an eye out for trouble coming down the pike. And a happy head is a very good head to take on problems that may arise.

Okay then, what about sadness? Who wouldn’t want to cherish the memory of a loved one even if it made us sad? What if we were so happy we couldn’t even feel sad? Doesn’t work like that. One of the finest moments in my study of philosophy was when a tutor said, “You know, Madelaine, it is possible to feel happy and sad at the same time.” Duh, but somehow it seemed a gigantic revelation nonetheless – that, as with Rumi’s poem, The Guest House, when we are open to whatever comes, be it joy or sorrow or anything else, emotionally we get to do and be and have it all. This openness to experience that can enrich our entire life experience can take courage and practice. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you. Write or call:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

“5 Science-Backed Strategies for More Happiness,” Kira Newman

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



What to Do About Envy

Including but not limited to Facebook…

Which is easier, finding someone to share your pain or someone to share your joy? If you think it’s the latter, it’s not just you and it’s not just humans either. A new study finds that a monkey will topple another monkey’s table of food if the first monkey thinks the second monkey got more. This, of course, suggests that the roots of punishing envy are more deeply embedded in our psyches than we may know.

There was a time when we might have completely denied that we ever envied anyone. ‘Who me? I’m not like that. Why would I be?’ Now that’s all changed. Maybe not as much for boomers, let’s say, many of whom may still insist they have nothing whatsoever to do with that particular emotion, but more for the younger set anyway. Enter Facebook. For them envy is not only an epidemic but has morphed itself into a social norm. Now it’s okay to feel envy of other people’s achievements, vacations, social connections… Now it’s okay to feel that life just isn’t fair when others have more. Some people just get sad, some get mad, and some get mad enough to punish. The punishments may be less blatantly obnoxious than throwing someone else’s food on the floor; sometimes the envious may just try to topple the reputations of those they envy instead. Gossip is good for this. Or mess with their self esteem. Shunning is good for that. But does anyone really think that envy does anyone any substantive good – when study after study suggests that envy tends to backfire in depleting one’s own satisfaction with one’s own life.

So is there any kind of envy that can do any good? Actually there is. Victor Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” A working, single mother (we’ll call her Nancy)* once told me, in a rather disagreeable tone, how upset she felt when she noticed my nice new car in the lot. I asked her what my new car represented to her that she wished she had more of in her own life. “Security and Stability,” she replied. Nancy and I worked together in that space between her envy and her punishing behavior to find her freedom and growth. By the end of our work together, Nancy had used this new awareness to find herself both a new job she enjoyed and a loving marriage to go with it. As with other emotions, envy can be useful information if we use it that way.

Nancy is a fine example of how we can use envy constructively when we notice it in ourselves. What to do when we feel it from others? For this, we choose very carefully how and with whom we spend our time, including but not limited to Facebook browsing time. Notice your responses, and spend more time where and with whom you feel nourished and inspired, and less time where you don’t. Envy in any direction can be painfully depleting. Too much time in the faces of envious others is not good for you – and not good for them either. I know, it’s true, sometimes these people live and work with us, so for that we take replenishment breaks. Nourish yourself. Refine your self-talk. Allow yourself to see that in this very moment you and your life may be just fine. Thoughts are not facts; they are creations of our minds. If we are creating them in a not so hopeful and helpful way, we can recreate them in another better way. This takes practice. Practice, practice, practice…

For help with this or something else, call or write for an appointment today:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

Kristin L. Leimgruber et al. Capuchin monkeys punish those who have more, Evolution and Human Behavior (2015). DOI: 10.1016/j.evolhumbehav.2015.12.002

*Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.