The pros and cons of hatred

A friend of mine recently mentioned that he had made a New Year’s Resolution to hate things less. His comment hit me as if it was a stone and I a pond. Hate things less! It had the unmistakable stench of undeniably good advice. Suddenly I saw myself in a new, and distinctly unflattering, light. I thought how often I go for the easy put-down, the cutting critique, the scathing dismissal; how many times I’ve been motivated to write letters to papers and magazines out of animosity for something they’ve written; my general tendency to regard people I don’t know as hostile and to feel hostility for them in return. I realized I could do worse than to second my friend’s resolution. However, aware of how much work it would take to actually enforce such an overhaul of the personality, I quietly filed it away under “Epiphanies that were good while they lasted.”

Just the other night, though, I was lying on my couch flipping through an issue of Cosmopolitan someone had left on the free shelf in my apartment (see, I didn’t buy it…it was just lying there) and watching a movie I’d checked out from the library, Autoportrait d’un Inconnu, a cinematic self-portrait by the avant-garde French artist Jean Cocteau. In the midst of this film, amongst many wonderful quotes which should be chiseled on tablets of granite alongside the Ten Commandments and other immortal words of wisdom, Cocteau says: “I’m happy, and I’ll tell you my secret: I hate hatred. I love others, I love to love things. I try hard to understand and accept that which is strange. My friends’ success reassures me, and I’m surprised people can be jealous.” At least, that’s what the subtitles say he said. It’s been a long time since my high school French classes.

Anyway, all thoughts of Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and his “pillowy, begging-to-be-sucked-on lips” disappeared in a cold flash. When things repeatedly pop up in my consciousness that way, I’ve learned it’s wise to pay attention to them. Again I took stock and found myself guilty of quite a bit of what I would term “hate-motivation.” I have the intuitive feeling that it can’t be good for the soul to be angry and seething all the time. The other day on the bus I overheard the driver unburdening himself to a passenger about how tiresome it gets to be bombarded by other peoples’ bad attitudes all day, every day. “No one smiles, everyone’s in a bad mood, frowning, pissed-off, no courtesy. You know, it just gets old.” It kind of surprised me, because I’ve heard Portland described as a friendly place where “people heartily thank the bus driver before they step off,” something I myself do most of the time. So I was feeling all melancholy and pensive, until suddenly I noticed the woman sitting across the aisle, who seemed to be freaking out for no apparent reason. “What’s wrong with this bus?” she cried out suddenly to no one in particular. “It’s falling apart!” she yelled a minute later. I was able to forget my disturbing meditation on the general misanthropy of humankind and laugh out loud. Crazy people on the bus are so fucking funny!

OK, back on topic. Hatred is bad. Or is it? The other night I was listening to my favorite Air America personality, Mike Malloy (yeah…I listen to Air America sometimes…SHUT UP), and he was ranting on this very topic. “Hatred doesn’t have to be a bad thing,” he ranted. “You can hate cancer. You can hate Republicans.” And the list went on, but those are the two best examples he gave. (Not that the Democrats are looking particularly good – or looking like much of anything, really – right about now.) Doesn’t he have a point? Hatred can be creative. Or to put it more accurately, hating something can lead you to create something new and better in its place. Doesn’t that neutralize, or redeem, its negativity?

Of course, there are things you both love and hate. A juicy example: The Portland Mercury. Like many people, I believe (and I’ve had quite a few conversations on the subject), I have a confounding love/hate relationship with this particular local weekly. On the one hand, they have the best covers of any free weekly Portland publication, by far; they generally make me laugh out loud at least once ?” if not more ?” in every single issue; and they seem to be absolutely fearless about what they say or who they piss off, which is all the more amazing considering that they are almost as beholden to advertisers as their arrogant predecessor the Willamette Week. (WW is like a 45-year-old who shops at Buffalo Exchange. Don’t you think? It’s slightly embarrassing. Not that they don’t print some great pieces from time to time.) On the other hand, sometimes they piss off the wrong people (I love when they interviewed the drag troupe Sissyboy and Splendora, a seven-foot-tall, tattooed, bald drag queen from Texas ripped them a new one right in the middle of the interview), and their relentless antagonizing of “hippies,” or anyone more radical than their befuddled, television-addicted editor, Wm. Steve Humphrey, starts to look questionable after awhile. It makes a person wonder, do they actually have convictions, or is it a lack of any genuine conviction of their own that drives them to provoke and offend regardless of who they’re offending? Is being offensive an end in itself rather than a means to an end? Sometimes I feel the Mercurywants me to hate them. And I politely oblige.

There it is! I’ve rationalized it. Some people want to be hated, so you’re doing them a favor. That must be why I felt so ecstatic when I discovered the world of newspapers. Here, in the hard-living, hard-drinking, trash-talking world of journalism, I can indulge all my vices and character defects without remorse. I swear I’m going to work at becoming a kinder, gentler, more positive person; but please, for your own safety, don’t hold your breath.