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Monday, March 25, 2013


Some years ago, when I was being interviewed for a retail position, I was asked the most unusual interview question of my life. The shop I was hoping to work for, and eventually did, was a franchise of a company started in England. They sell naturally-based cosmetics (that includes soaps, lotions, makeup, etc.) and didn't do any animal testing. They also tried to create products using fair-trade principles. This was a company that that believed in inclusion rather than exclusion. Everyone was important, no matter what category they might fit into. After a round of the usual types of questions, Bridget asked me, "Whom do you hate?" It didn't take me very long to come up with an answer, which was that the only people I might hate were the ones that made a habit of hating others, for whatever reason. She was pleased with my answer, and told me that it was a question she had been asked during the process that determined whether the company wanted her as a franchisee. Her answer was pretty much the same as mine.

Over the years, every time I have thought about this interview, this is the only part of it that has really stuck in my memory. I believe that the question is one of the most brilliant ways to get a glimpse of what makes a person tick. When I think about it, it occurs to me that who you hate says just as much about you as who you love. We aren't born hating. It is in our nature to love and accept people as they are. But the things we learn from our families and our circumstances can impact our opinions of others. There is a profound song in the musical South Pacific that includes these lyrics: "You've got to be taught before it's too late, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate, you've got to be carefully taught!" Often we become a product of these teachings, whether by following them, or by going against them.

Hate is such a strong word, and a strong emotion. I was fortunate to realize at the age of fifteen that any hate I might have toward another person (in this case it was my father) does not hurt them or affect them in any way. It only hurts and affects me. I can't say that there aren't things about people that don't rub me the wrong way. One thing that really irritates me is people making assumptions based on who they perceive me to be. An example is two customers who co-owned a business that had their accounts in the bank where I was working as a teller in the drive-through. They assumed that since my skin was pale like theirs, that I was going to appreciate the terrible jokes they made about other ethnic groups. I started to get stressed out knowing that they might be driving up to make a deposit and force me to listen to their mindless drivel. 

One day I decided to talk it over with one of my managers, who just happened to be latina. I really hated their jokes and didn't want to hear them. What should I do? She said, "Katrina, if you don't like hearing their stupid jokes, then tell them!" I was pleased but also a bit scared. "But what if they get mad at me and close their accounts? I don't want to get fired." She looked at me and said, "You will not get fired for telling them not to talk to you that way. Besides, if they leave the bank, so what? We don't want jerks like that as customers anyway!" I felt so relieved. She had given me the power to do what I felt was right. The next time they drove up to my window, I greeted them with my usual courtesy. One of them started telling a joke that included the infamous "n-word." I very calmly and quietly told them that I really didn't care for ethnic jokes, and would they please not tell them any more. They sat in stony silence while I finished off their deposits, and although they didn't close their accounts, they never came to my window again. The funniest thing about all of this is that in shunning me, they had to go to one of the other two commercial tellers - both of whom were latino!

So in a nutshell, I try not to hate other people, although I sometimes hate their behaviors or beliefs or assumptions. Don't assume that as a practitioner of a Christian faith, I hate people who are LGBT and/or think that they should not have rights equal to mine. Don't assume that as a caucasian, I think my ethnicity is better than anyone else's. Don't assume that because I don't have a degree, I am stupid or uneducated. Don't assume that because I don't have any kids I am too stupid to give you advice about yours. And don't assume that because my hair is mostly gray and my body is showing some wear and tear that I am cranky and set in my ways and intolerant and unimportant. My point is this: we are all sort of like the facade of a building. The exterior may be fancy or plain. It may look well maintained, or very worn. But you can never tell from the exterior what you will find inside. You may dislike the impersonal looking brushed stainless steel exterior and find the inside is warm and cozy. But only if you have the courage and intelligence to learn what is inside rather than letting your hate hold you back. If you think about it that way, hate just stems from our lack of understanding about what is on the inside. Kind of puts a whole new twist on things, doesn't it?