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Acknowledging our darker impulses is humbling

From This Perch

As a children, my sisters and I were not allowed to use the word "hate."

If I came home from school and said something like,"I hate that arithmetic class!", my father would appear and say: "You don't hate it, you dislike it."

So then I'd say, weakly, "OK, I dislike that arithmetic class." But it just didn't have the same punch.

The word "hate" seems like such a loaded word that it deserves to be in italics, followed by an exclamation mark.

While I'm pretty sure hate has been part of the human fabric for a very long time, I've noticed that it has come out of the closet in the past few years and especially in the past year.

One example, out of many, is a recent story about a man in Buffalo, N.Y., who wrote some really hateful things about the Obamas.

What probably made it a story is the fact that he was Donald Trump's New York state campaign co-chair and also serves on the Buffalo School Board.

His hatred came out when a Buffalo weekly paper contacted various community members and asked what they hoped for in 2017.

It seemed like a fun, light-hearted chance for folks to share their holiday-inspired and hopeful thoughts about the coming year.

The paper made contact with this man, and he responded with vile.

So what happened when the stuff hit the fan?

"All men make mistakes," the man said, after explaining that he had intended to send his answers to a couple of friends — as a joke.

But in the process he hit "reply," thus sending his answers to the paper, instead of "forward."

So his vile "hatred" got published.

I guess he felt his mistake was that he hit the wrong key.

I notice that it's tempting to get on my high horse and righteously condemn that man. Yes, his words made me sick, so there, I've said it.

But then what?

Searching for perspective, I remind myself that I don't know the first thing about the Buffalo man, except that he's like all of us in one sense: The course of his life has included countless influences that have shaped who he is today.

I have no idea what those influences have been been. His words lead me to do some guessing, but I really don't have a clue about him, other than the fact that he apparently has hatred toward the Obamas.

What I can do is look in the mirror and recognize that I too am capable of feeling hatred. Maybe I manage it better than the Buffalo man, but who knows what circumstances might trigger me into displaying hate?

St. Francis of Assisi asked this question: "Can true humility and compassion exist in our words and eyes unless we know we too are capable of any act?"

My own wish for America in 2017 is that our potential for hatred can be seen and understood, with an aim toward forgiveness and healing.

Editor's note: Keith Rodli is a retired attorney and mediator. He lives in the town of River Falls with his wife, Katharine Grant. His column "From This Perch" will appear regularly on the Journal's op-ed pages.