hatred and growth

a few weeks ago a child at my table announced that he hated spinach. a young adult, also at my table, responded immediately. “oh,” she said, “you mean you haven’t learned to like spinach yet.” in that moment bells and whistles went off in my mind. what a fantastic reframe she had just offered to everyone present. we are all so quick to know that which we hate or dislike or are uncomfortable with. “i hate...” “i don’t agree with...” “i’m against...” even “i don’t believe in...” peppers our thoughts and language (as though not believing in spinach could make it not exist). there’s so much safety in using such language. it’s definitive. it’s declarative. it’s final. no ifs, ands, or buts. 

i hear such statements all the time. from the mouths of others and myself. “i hate rain.” “i don’t believe in exercise.” “i’m against tofu.” “i despise going to movies by myself. or concerts. or dinner.” “i hate sundays. or parties. or my job.” so many of these are said with so little thought. they are made as declarations and, as such, frequently side step a good pondering.

i’ve thought about this alot lately as i’ve come to realize that some of the experiences i love most in life are ones that others abhor. and vice versa.  why is this? while it’s healthy to know ones limits and appropriate to be in touch with ones preferences, why do we have such a need to express them (even to ourselves) so emphatically? do we really want to define ourselves by our dis-likes and limit ourselves by our hates?

in life there are risks worth taking and so many of them are so readily available. we just haven’t learned to like them yet.

there’s a benefit in trying foods i think i hate. doing so enables me to be a gracious mealtime guest, an open-to-where-i-am traveler, and a healthier person. there are growth opportunities in exploring why the word “hate” rolls so immediately off my tongue when i talk about certain forms of entertainment, groups of people (i do not like admitting this), and experiences. do i genuinely hate these things or have i become lazy with my language? might i be uncomfortable, inexperienced, or uncertain about them rather than truly harboring hatred? if i use more accurate language might i identify where i need to grow?

later today i’m going to walk with a friend. this will not be a leisurely stroll. it will be fast, it will be long, and it will be (mostly) uphill. as i’m remembering this, i’m saying to myself, “i hate walking with people!” while this is true, it makes no logical sense. i love walking. i love this friend. our schedules don’t allow us much free time so this is a way we can accomplish both a deep discussion and our daily workout. even still, exercising with people is something i don’t enjoy. when i use this kind of language in place of “i hate walking with people” i afford myself an opportunity to explore the source of my strong feelings and understand how they are stirred. come to find out, as i consider it now, i don’t like exercising with people for a couple of reasons. first, the more deeply i settle into myself, the less i like doing more than one thing at a time. second, when trying to walk and talk i fear i’ll be exposed as out of shape. i’ll sweat and i’ll breathe heavily. i’m afraid i won’t keep up and then i’ll see myself, and others will see me, as weak. in reality, it seems, i haven’t learned to like walking with people yet because i fear exposure and vulnerability. this is much more complex than mere hatred. hatred assumes it’s about the walking. my new insight assures that it’s about me. 

perhaps there are other things i haven’t learned to like yet that are really more about me and my lack of flexibility, resilience, and/or grace and not about the object (or idea or activity) at all. maybe i don’t actually hate people who ascribe to different values than i do. perhaps i simply haven’t learned to like them, or respect them, or even interact with them effectively yet. when i own this, the impetus is on me to determine my responsibility in responding to the “hated group’s” presence in this world rather than on them to change (or at least be quiet/silent/invisible) just to be tolerated. or, more to the point at hand, perhaps i won’t press myself to walk with my friend anymore, choosing instead to talk with her when we can sit and linger face to face. or, better yet, maybe i’ll tackle my fear of being exposed so i can make way for some enjoyment in the shared exercise experience. either of these options provide so many more opportunities for growth than merely hating walking does.

today, i embrace the opportunity to consider what i haven’t learned to like (or respect or value) yet. life is too rich with possibility to cut my experience short by settling with dismissive hatred in places where expansive growth could reside. and with that, i am off...to conquer my fear of vulnerability with a good long walk and lots of sweat.



walking into target is rarely an occasion for me. i’m typically in a hurry, ready to grab what i need and go. tonight, however, was different. rushing through the parking lot i looked up and caught the eye of a friend i hadn’t seen in quite some time. as soon as she recognized me she lit up and ran to hug me. literally. she ran. we had a really wonderful (all too brief) time of catching up on some basics and then it was (all too soon) time to say goodbye. in response to my “it is sooooo nice to see you” her husband responded, “it is so nice to be seen.” we laughed and hugged our goodbyes and went our separate ways. later, as i walked back to my car, i realized i was still smiling. it’s been a complicated season and i’m a complicated person (who isn’t) so i never know for sure how people will feel when they see me. cristi’s response to me, however, left no doubt. she lit up. she ran to me. she held my gaze and didn’t let me avoid answering her questions about me. she saw me. in so doing she, quite literally, welcomed me. all of me.

this experience is convicting to me and causes me to consider how i welcome others. in person. on the phone. via email. or text. 

brene brown says that one of the best gifts a parent can give a child is to simply light up when the child enters a room. this could apply anywhere. the best gift a partner might give could be to light up when their partner arrives home from work. or a run. or a nap. the best gift a disgruntled caller could give the customer service rep might be a lightness in their voice. a child could answer their phone in a voice that says, “i welcome your communication” when their parent calls rather than sounding as though they are barely conscious. actually listening for the answer to “how are you” might be an offering. it is, however, so painstakingly difficult to give such gifts.

welcoming others requires effort. it also requires vulnerability.

while i’m quite confident that cristi’s response to seeing me was automatic and authentic, it was also risky. i could have made a “you’re crazy” expression and postured for a quick, dismissive side hug. her husband and daughter could have teased her for her squeal and unabashed excitement. it’s vulnerable to fully welcome someone. you often have no idea what you’ll receive in return. 

what if i run to you and you turn from me? what if i greet you with the cheeriest of voices and you roll your eyes? what if i welcome you graciously and i can tell you have no interest in sharing time or space? what if i initiate and you never respond?

welcoming others without regard for what we will get in return is costly. too often we’re more concerned with how we will be seen than with how we will see those we encounter. we edit and posture and position ourselves. we weigh the possible outcomes and offer up only as much enthusiasm as is “warranted,” making sure we don’t give more than we might receive back. in all, we’re too preoccupied with our own self consciousness and how we might look to authentically welcome others.

we all love to watch others be welcomed wholeheartedly. we can’t look away from reunions at airports, banners in lawns welcoming babies or soldiers home, or bold declarations of love on youtube. last week i cried when a teen ager yelled out from the silence of a waiting crowd, “that’s my sister!” before her drum corp took the field for a very formal performance. what must it have felt like for him to yell from a hushed and full grand stand and what must it felt like for her to hear his voice? i am guessing that the last thing on either of their minds was how he looked as he yelled.

what might it take for each of us to forego our self conscious editing to welcome others boldly, meaningfully, and “loudly,” thinking not of how we will look but of how the other will feel? if you need to practice, i invite you to practice with me...i will receive your welcome and welcome you in return. fully. with running abandon.