While sitting on the subway, a mother and son pair entered and sat across from me. The mother was kind of non-descript, but the 13ish year old son was a walking cliché: greasy hair, pale complexion, glasses, metallic braces brackets parting his thin lips, white button up shirt that is one size too big, black pants that are one size too short, and black Velcro shoes. He was, in a word, a nerd. In case you needed some more justification to invert this kid over a toilet, call him a “goober”, and steal his lunch money-- he was reading The Financial Times. Hold that thought.
While I was rudely staring at this kid, a threesome of 20 somethings entered the subway and sat down around me. They were vivacious youths, and quite chatty. They sort of held their own conversation, bringing me into it in that sort of “we’re speaking loud enough for everybody to hear and hopefully realize how cool we are, and we are also going to include that quiet guy sitting next to us because he seems nice enough not to tell us to fuck off and spineless enough to let us kind of pester him thereby indeed further proving again how cool we are” kind of way.
The bomb was dropped when the young guy sitting to my left said to his friend, but obviously including me in the aside, in hushed whispers “I wonder what it’s like to sit next to those Jews.” He was referring to the nerd boy and his mother.
I sort of looked at him and said nothing. The conversation stopped. He said “I’m part Jewish, so I can say that.” I said “so am I.” Nothing more was said. The girl changed the subject after an awkward pause.
I don't even know what that remark even meant, but when I got home that night I grabbed my notepad and wrote the following:
“…It made me lose hope in the future of humanity. One needs to live in a specific place and receive a specific education just to learn tolerance and respect. 98% [of people] never receive that. So many carry an Original Hatred that I can’t foresee being extinguished.”
I don’t entirely disagree with that thought reading it again now. But, to put a somewhat positivist (or maybe simply an idealist or realistic) spin on it: maybe the great majority of people on the planet are not born with Original Hatred (what I would define as the “hatred of the other”, while having little to zero knowledge of the other, but possessing the hatred purely because comes naturally), but learn Original Hatred, or are passed on an Original Hatred by their parents and communities.
In that case, hatred or xenophobia isn’t inherent, it’s learned.
What do you think? Is hatred towards others inherent in humans and tolerance must be taught, or is hatred learned? Either way, tolerance (a word and phrase I hate, as it denotes almost reluctant acquiescence rather than active appreciation and acceptance of differences, but use the word because I can’t think of a better one) must be taught. That kind of sucks. It would be great if that was not the case. Perhaps this is the goal of “education” in its broadest sense. I like to think so.