The Futility of Hatred

Published on January 3, 2022

“Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty; always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

— Richard Nixon’s farewell address to White House staff, August 9, 1974

The fact that hatred can destroy is no secret. Ever since the dawn of humanity, continuous war has been the most obvious manifestation of mankind’s tendency to hate. Why is hatred so intractable?

Charlie Munger believes that just as man is born to like and love, we are also born with a tendency to dislike and hate. Modern civilization has channeled hatred in ways that can be less lethal, such as substituting elections for wars, but the underlying tendency never really goes away. We most likely inherited this tendency from our primate ancestors, and we can still see it manifested in monkeys and apes today.

It is obvious that hate has the potential to destroy. How many murders have been committed by people in an uncontrolled fit of rage? What is less obvious is that hatred almost always boomerangs in the end and negatively impacts the person doing the hating. A murderer who is apprehended and convicted of the crime will face decades in prison, often dying behind bars, and still has a chance of facing the death penalty in many jurisdictions. Sure, some murderers are never apprehended but do they really escape destruction in the end?

I am not aware of any religion that does not condemn cold blooded murder or promise consequences for such acts in the afterlife. But it isn’t necessary to delve into religion to understand how hatred can be corrosive to the person doing the hating. With some examination, it also becomes quickly apparent that hatred is destructive even when it falls far short of criminal activity. The mere act of hating other human beings unleashes highly dysfunctional psychological elements that can easily lead to destruction.

When I first read Charlie Munger’s speech on the psychology of human misjudgment in Poor Charlie’s Almanack, I could not help but think of former President Richard Nixon. Although President Nixon was in office when I was born, I was too young to remember his final disgrace and resignation in 1974. What I do remember in later years is the former President occasionally appearing in the news after engaging in various efforts to rehabilitate his reputation and honor. He was clearly trying very hard to appear rehabilitated and to improve his standing in the history books.

But I don’t think it really worked and I think that President Nixon almost certainly knew it wouldn’t work.

Can you image being President of the United States, resigning in disgrace, and then living nearly two more decades knowing that you’ve forever disgraced yourself and will forever appear in history books as the first President ever to resign from office?

I don’t have much sympathy for President Nixon’s plight since it was self-inflicted. He certainly harbored hatred for his political enemies, used the power of his office to battle them, and then covered up crimes committed during the Watergate scandal which ultimately led to his downfall.

No matter what you think about President Nixon, it is hard to not to see the poignancy of his words on hatred as he was leaving the White House. Those are the words of a man who realized his errors far too late.

Hatred is a corrosive force that robs us of our ability to think rationally:

“Disliking/Hating Tendency also acts as a conditioning device that makes the disliker/hater tend to (1) ignore virtues in the object of dislike, (2) dislike people, products, and actions merely associated with the object of his dislike, and (3) distort other facts to facilitate hatred.”

Poor charlie’s almanack, p. 459

Take political differences as an example of hatred in today’s society. The rise of social media and the resulting mob mentality has created an environment of intense hatred over the past decade. It is now common for people to not only disagree with friends and family members who do not share their party affiliation but to totally disassociate from them for no reason other than politics. We have divided ourselves into “red” and “blue” tribes that no longer merely represent political affiliations. I don’t think that it is hyperbolic to wonder whether our politics will eventually result in the murderous “Blue vs. Green” factionalism of the Byzantine Empire.

On a much more practical level, the world is too competitive to allow hatred to impact your dispassionate view of the facts. You may hurt your competitor with an irrational price war, but you also will undoubtedly hurt yourself. You will hurt the highly qualified minority applicant who you pass over for a job, but you will also harm your business by not hiring the best person for the job. Snubbing a longtime friend for posting a political opinion on Facebook that you disagree with may hurt your friend, but you’ve also deprived yourself of friendship.

It is one thing to intellectually understand that hatred is dysfunctional and quite another to decide that we are not going to hate others. After all, there are certainly people in this world who have done great harm, either to society at large or to us personally. Are we not justified when we hate someone who has caused pain and misery, especially when the action was personal and spiteful?

It is possible for two things to be true at the same time: We might be “justified” if we hate someone AND it is still in our best interests to refrain from hating.

Easier said than done, perhaps, but there are viable alternatives to hatred.

You can move from hatred to indifference.

If you have been treated poorly in a personal or business context, disassociate and move on.

Advice columnist Ann Landers had it right when she said that “hanging onto resentment is letting someone you despise live rent-free in your head.”

The only way to halt the boomeranging effect that hatred will have on your own well-being is to decide not to throw the boomerang to begin with.

Note to readers: This article is part of a series on Charlie Munger’s Psychology of Human Misjudgment.

The Futility of Hatred