Misanthropy and “Hey, I’ve Been There” — or, I Hate You, But I Love You

Mis·an·thro·py (mis-an-thruh-pee, miz-) noun: hatred, dislike, or distrust of humankind (“misanthropy,” n.d.).

I hate people. I really do. They disappoint me constantly. They annoy me. They live recklessly and selfishly and destroy good things. Many days, I believe I would be happiest living in a little mountainous cave far, far away from them all. This makes me a misanthrope.

I lived alone my last two years of college. It was one of the most blissful experiences of my life. But before I go any further with this point, I must take some ownership here as to why my solo living was perhaps more enjoyable than a variety of roommate relations. I’m not terribly easy to live with either. When I get home from my day, I don’t want to talk to you; I want to be left alone to unwind. In the mornings, I’m known to be a sleepy grouch. My moods and interests are esoteric and mercurial, centering around giggling over rom coms while eating chocolate one moment to babbling some emo rant about entitlement babies and moron simpletons the next. It is my own experience with being a self-acclaimed curmudgeon that adds to the fact that living with other people can often lead to mass disgruntlement over time. Therefore, I’m not calling my past roommates bad people. In fact, most of them are pretty great people and I still like them quite a bit. What I’m more so alluding to is that perhaps living alone those last two years gave me ample time to keep my misanthropy at bay. I could escape as needed and then return to society when I was ready to smile and to love again.

But, this is a bit more theoretical in terms of my hate of people. I find concrete examples to be helpful; so, here is one, an example of the hideousness of humanity, caught in the wild. I was back home in June, and as I often do on these trips, decided to head out to my sacred space. My sacred space is located a little bit of a climb down the side of a cliff that reaches and stretches and plummets into the soul-soaked Pacific. When I reach the bottom, I walk out onto the gigantic rock that rests nearly level to the water, depending on the tide. Then, I stand there, as close as I can get to the force of the ocean without falling in, and just breathe for a while, emptying my thoughts into the sea. It’s a pretty groovy place to be. Although I can likely get to this location and find no other people around, it is clear that I am not the only one who knows of its blessed existence. I have somewhat huffed and puffed over the years over the names and various phrases people choose to carve into the sides of the cliffs formed by compacted sand and dirt. My solace with this act has always rested in the fact that erosion shall eventually take it all away, leaving once again only its beauty.

However, this last trip to my sacred space ended in the ignition of my bitterness towards human life. For this time, walking out onto the rock, I found garbage — remains of chewing tobacco, processed snacks, and fishing wire littering my standing point. Litter aside, what was worse was what was carved into those gorgeous cliffs. Someone (I reflexively linked them to the ignorant someone who had left the litter) had carved into the cliff a picture of a stick figure having doggie-style sex with another stick figure. Below this juvenile drawing were the words, “Fuck Niggers.” I was so angry. I was so disappointed. How could this repulsive act exist in my little northern Californian liberal oasis of ocean beauty? — How? Because people are awful. They’re terrible. They’re intolerant and unkind. Unproductively and impulsively, I immediately linked the person behind this assault of my sacred space with all of the redneck, uneducated stereotypes I could dream up. With some help from my dad, I angrily forced erosion upon the surface of the cliff until the violation was just a patch of loose earth. This is why I am a misanthrope. Moments like these.

But, alas, I am an unconventional misanthrope at best. Why? Well, because —

I love people. I really do. They heartwarmingly surprise me. They make me smile. They live with connection and purpose and try so hard to do good things. Many days, I long to sit in a bustling public place with wide, loving eyes aimed at the beautiful strangers surrounding me, ameliorating my own life.

Just a couple of days ago, I was sitting outside of my office eating lunch under the mood-enhancing sun when a woman I did not know came over and without question, simply sat down at my table with her own lunch. We exchanged smiles and “how do you dos,” and then we proceeded to both sit there, peacefully, absorbing the life around us. It was a mellow moment of human connection without obligation. There wasn’t a need to have false small talk. All it was, was the breaking down of the wall that instead makes us go back up to our office to eat at our desk with stale, circulated air when there isn’t an open table outside. I loved that she had broken down that wall. I loved her. I loved all people, at that moment, for these very reasons, these very actions.

And then there are those nights I would venture to say that the majority of people have experienced at one time or another over the course of their lives — the ones where you, expectedly or unexpectedly, come to the realization that you are a complete and utter hot mess and there is not much you can do about it until tomorrow. Examples — Perhaps in your solitude, you finish off a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Double Fudge Brownie ice cream and have to make that desperate call to your friend telling her you need her to bring over the antidote bag of carrots, ASAP; you meet her outside of the house in the pouring rain. Perhaps you miss the last metro home and find yourself sitting on a bench, again in the rain (we have a theme), making an instinctive, but mildly forbidden phone call. Perhaps you call a friend with woes and they listen through your indecipherable tears for as long as you need them to. Perhaps one night you find yourself out and about feeling rather woozy and a perfect stranger comes to dab your face with a cool cloth. Some of these examples are made up, some are based on the stories of others, and some may be somewhat in line with events from my own personal life. For those of you who know me well enough, I’ll let you play the game of which is which. But the point is, that for the times when this hot mess was, in fact, me — my apologies the next day for my hot mess-ness were quite often met with, “Hey, no worries. I’ve been there.”

Related to this, for those of you who have been reading the blog for a while now, you may remember my post from back in November when I met Leonard while being freshly unemployed and trying to reconcile that reality on a park bench in downtown D.C. Leonard’s words to me had been, “Oh baby, I know how that goes. I have been there. Trust me, if you just keep smiling like that, good things will come your way. They will. The world needs that. I’m just saying, I’ve been there, baby. And I was told that someday if I saw another like me in need, that I would return the favor.”

And that’s just it, Leonard. That is exactly how it connects, the misanthropy with the love — through empathetic compassion.

com·pas·sion (kuhm-pashuhn) noun: a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering (“compassion,” n.d.).

em·pa·thy (em-puh-thee) noun: the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another (“empathy,” n.d.).

People embarrass themselves. They have indiscretions. They wind up in tough situations. But does one bad act, or even a handful of transgressions, automatically make someone a bad person? I sure hope not. Because, I don’t know about you, but my road has had its own little bumps here and there, and I still like to think that I have a fairly good heart and live with fairly good intentions.

Here’s an example of someone who fell from grace, but for whom I was eventually able to forgive through this idea of empathetic compassion — John Edwards (I can already feel the wrath of many ladies brewing). I was one of his biggest fans. I loved to watch interviews with him and Elizabeth. They captured my heart — they really did. They were some of the first politicians going for a major office that had the courage to utter the unmentionable words during campaign season — poverty, homelessness, the poor. For so long I had been disillusioned with the focus of party politics on “the middle class,” and here was this presidential hopeful talking about people living on the streets, people unable to find a meal to eat each day. I fell hopelessly in love. With both of them. They were one of my favorite couples.

The day I learned about the indiscretions of John Edwards, I hated him. I could never support him again. He had completely broken my trust in him. The day Elizabeth Edwards died, I cried. I was so hurt by the loss of her shared dreams. My loathing for John Edwards became ripe once more. But then, months later, I read Elizabeth Edwards’ last book, Resilience. And I learned that although she had been deeply hurt and although these acts had left wreckage and pain, she had at some level been able to forgive him. Most importantly, she had done so by seeing through his flawed acts to the core of who he was, what he wanted to do — his tireless work for those living in poverty, their shared interest.

When I finished her book, I was able to forgive him too. I acknowledged the brokenness that can exist in any one of us at any time. I felt the hurt that I imagined he felt not being able to be taken as seriously anymore within his work to do good things for others in need. I didn’t support his recklessness, but I forgave him with the knowing that he, and others who have fallen, should not let their downfalls stop them from doing good work in the world — for John, this meant his Center on Poverty, Work, and Opportunity at UNC-Chapel Hill, his support of a greater number of housing vouchers to promote mixed-income neighborhoods, etc.

People can be far less than desirable, but do we forever cast them aside in hate and disregard, not acknowledging or salvaging any remaining value because of this? Or, do we realize that at some level we are all connected, and reach out a hand to build each other back up? Do we recognize an existent or potential, “Hey, no worries. I’ve been there,” within ourselves and choose to cast aside our misanthropy for a moment of unconditional love?

When one mentions “the homeless,” people’s minds immediately envision chronically homeless people — the ones people see on the street, sleeping on park benches and under after-hours storefronts, often mentally ill or stricken with substance abuse, often veterans. Generally, I hear about how people don’t like the chronically homeless — They make them uncomfortable. If they wanted to help themselves, they would. They’re mean, they’re unpleasant, they smell bad. My response to these remarks is a blog post of its own for another time. But, for now, I’d like to acknowledge the truth in these comments. Yes, the chronically homeless who are living on the streets can sometimes be rather unpleasant. Yes, it’s not nice of them to yell profanities at passersby. Yes, they can be terribly ornery and difficult to work with and unstai-love-you-balloonble. I, too, have had my moments of discomfort walking past some of them before.

But, I was sitting in Penn Station in New York City a couple of years ago, watching the busy bustling of everyone rushing to
anything they could possibly be doing. And amongst the hustle was a moment of stillness. One of the chronically homeless persons I described above was digging through a trashcan. He looked tired and anguished as he looked for sustenance amongst the discarded. Then, I saw his face break into a wide smile with beaming eyes. He reached down a little deeper and then pulled out one of those foil balloons that come attached to a plastic stick and last forever. The balloon was a red heart with the words, “I Love You,” written on it in white cursive. Perhaps he is not the most pleasant person to pass on the street, but the man stopped to pull love out of garbage. As a result of our own misanthropy, do we ignore, do we disregard his remaining value? Do we hold him in contempt as an unfortunate drain on society? Or, do we salvage this precious moment that still exists within him and lend him a hand because we could be there too?

I do hate people, but I also have so much faith in them in the end. They surprise me with their swoon-worthy moments that are born out of rooted empathetic compassion (some just use theirs more instinctively than others). I have faith in humanity, as much as it lets me down sometimes. I have faith that someday, someone will make the racist cliff carvers from my ocean spot understand why their actions were so deplorable. I have faith that this will happen because I have faith that, in the end, there are more people like my dad and me erasing that hate than there are people creating the hate. People innately want to love and care because they’ve been there, or they know someone who has been there — they understand. And so as much as I hate everyone — I love you all so very much. I’ll save my misanthropy for solo time in my studio.

compassion. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved August 27, 2012, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/compassion

empathy. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved August 27, 2012, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/empathy

misanthropy. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved August 25, 2012, from Dictionary.com website: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/misanthropy

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