Hate is defined as an “intense, passionate dislike” between people. Individuals can hate other individuals, or groups can form based on their hatred of people they perceive as different from them.
Perhaps you’ve been treated hatefully by someone else, or you’ve seen a friend or family member be treated that way. And perhaps someone has told you that you shouldn’t hate that person back. But how do you do that if you’re still healing from the pain of hatred? Here are some steps you can take to respond to hate with love.
How to Love a Hateful Person
1. Understand Why Love is Important
Since hate is such a destructive, toxic force in society and relationships, responding to hate with love is a powerful way to break the cycle of harm and abuse that hatred can often bring with it.
Loving actions often have a way of disarming people. Being treated lovingly by someone from whom they expected hate may surprise them. Maybe your actions will interrupt their plans for more harmful words or behavior. Maybe it will diffuse some of their aggression. Maybe it will help them think about the consequences of continuing to harm someone who has been kind to them for their own emotions, their conscience, or their reputation.
Being loving instead of retaliating also frees you from starting or continuing a cycle of harm. When deciding to love, you are releasing yourself from the rage and bitterness that fuels retaliation and leaving room for healing and growth.
2. Follow the Example of Radically Loving People
Many leaders throughout history have adopted this philosophy and had a great impact on the people around them. If you need inspiration or courage when learning how to respond to hate with love, learn about loving people and follow their example.
- “Whenever you are confronted with an opponent, conquer him with love.” - Mahatma Gandhi
- “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”- Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
- “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”- Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount
Aside from historical figures and religious leaders, you can probably find examples to follow in your own life. If someone you admire is a very loving and forgiving person, ask them for help as you try responding to hate with love.
3. Remember: Love Isn’t a Feeling
Many people may bristle at the idea of responding to hate with love because they think to love someone is to have warm, fuzzy feelings about them, or to approve of everything they do. But love isn’t a feeling. Love is a decision you make and an action you take. There are lots of loving things you can do for people who hate you that won’t put you in a position where you have to be okay with what they did or get close to them if you’re not ready or don’t feel safe. Loving someone who hates you could mean doing things like:
- Telling them the truth about how their actions affect others.
- Interrupting or stopping harmful words and behavior when they are happening to someone around you.
- Holding someone accountable for their decision to say and do harmful things. [You can do this with the help of a school administrator, a work supervisor, a guidance counselor, or a peer mediator.]
4. Practice the Golden Rule
You’ve probably heard the Golden Rule before: Treat others the way you would have them treat you.
If you had the choice, you wouldn’t want the person or people doing hurtful things continuing to harm people with their words and actions. While you can’t control their behavior, you do have control over what you do.
Choosing to be loving instead of hateful models how you want to be treated for people around you. It shows others that hate, rage, and bullying aren’t the only options when they’ve been harmed or mistreated. You can have a clear conscience because you aren’t adding to the immense amount of unkindness in the world. You are choosing to make a different kind of impact by changing the world around you for the better.
5. Give Yourself Time
It’s important to give yourself time as you try responding to hate with love. Doing so is a lifelong process, and it doesn’t happen in a straight line. Some days, you’re not going to act in the most loving and forgiving ways toward people who hurt you. That’s okay. No one is perfect.
You don’t have to beat yourself up if you don’t love people exactly how you’d hoped to, and it doesn’t mean nothing you’ve done matters. Just decide you will act in love next time. Instead of thinking “I have to be loving toward everyone who has ever hated me or anyone else”, which will get overwhelming quickly, try breaking it down into choosing acts of love and forgiveness, one day at a time.
6. Get Support from People Who Understand
One of the things to remember if you’re making the decision to respond to hate with love is that it’s not a popular choice. Yes, people share those quotes by Martin Luther King and Gandhi and Jesus all the time. But imitating that kind of radical love is a lot more difficult than sharing their quotes on social media. Not everyone will understand your desire to love people who hate. Some people, meaning well, will try to encourage you to fight fire with fire, or to “give them a taste of their own medicine”. It’s important not to be swayed by that. You’ll need to get support from like-minded people who understand why you want to respond to hate with love, and who respect and support your efforts to do so. When things seem difficult or overwhelming, go to these people for support. That could mean talking to a leader at your faith community, getting advice from a friend or family member who's loving and forgiving nature you admire, or talking to a HopeCoach who is trained to offer guidance on how to love your enemies in a healthy way. Whatever you decide, know you are not alone in this journey. There are many people working to respond to hate with love. And every act of love you attempt will make an impact, even if you can’t see it right away.
Are you struggling with the conflict that is going on in the world? Are you confused about how to respond? Discover the most important question to ask yourself first.
About the Author: Brooks Gibbs is a school psychologist who has spent 20 years helping students of all ages manage their emotions and solve their social problems. His online training videos have been translated into 20 languages and amassed more than 250 million views.