This week Stephen Hawking, physicist, cosmologist, and subject of the Oscar nominated movie, “The Theory of Everything,” warned that the greatest threat to humankind is “human aggression.” He didn’t always see the world this way. Over the years he has opined that “asteroids” (2009) were the greatest threat to mankind, then in 2013 it was “artificial intelligence.” But after years of studying the outer realm of man’s world to explain all things, his attention is now drawn to the complex inner realm where most problems find inception. And his conclusion is that man’s worst enemy is—well, man. All one has to do is look around to see that there are a lot of bullies on Earth’s playground who seem to enjoy fighting or slinging mud. Why can’t we all just get along and play nice?
Intolerance and aggression, whether physical or verbal, are played out on many fronts. I was recently invited to an Oscar Awards viewing party at a friend’s home where I witnessed a shocking display of it. Guests I did not know, got down and dirty, making a sport of trashing many of the celebrities attending the event. I’m not talking about remarks such as, “Ooh, ugly dress. What was she thinking!” but actually criticizing body shapes, facial characteristics, breast sizes, beliefs, personality traits, and artistic abilities. I heard the words “I hate him/her” lobbied about like a tennis ball. This was directed at everyone from Sean Penn to Oprah. I inquired “why?” they hated the person, and heard such irrational remarks as, “I just do,” as if that was sufficient enough.
One always finds oneself weighing the pros and cons of challenging such comments. I’ve done it on occasions only to find myself then on the receiving end of their criticism. I didn’t want to ruin the party, especially since one of the biggest offenders was a family member of the host. Yet, as they say: “Tolerance does not mean tolerating intolerance.”
My silence made me feel sick inside. I wanted to ask, “What have you done to make the world a better place like Sean Penn has done for struggling Haiti, or Oprah has done through her countless charitable works, not to mention her programs that have inspired generations?” Would it have made any difference, I wondered? Instead, I took a moment to silently celebrate and acknowledge the work of each of these defamed celebrities, as well as the millions of other people who are helping to make this planet a better place. I hoped the energy of another person’s hate towards them would hopefully be neutralized by my simple grateful thanks. The more I thought about it, I knew the best thing to do is to just send LOVE to all parties.
These days, I try not to read the comments below Internet stories, written by those “anonymous” persons who have entirely too much time on their hands spending precious life minutes tearing down someone else. There is no excuse for spewing toxic hate towards others. We’ve all been on the receiving line of it sometime or another, and we know it hurts. Best to remember—“Hate Speech is not Free Speech.”
Interestingly, what may play a big factor in human aggression is the psychological construct pointing to an ambiguity to tolerance-intolerance. This means the person has difficulty relating to stimuli and/or events that challenge their world views. The more entrenched they are in black or white thinking, the more they see differences as a threat. This causes much anxiety which can lead to aggression. This is probably why there has been more than a 30% rise in the use of anti-anxiety drugs in the last few years.
I’m hoping that next year Stephen Hawking observes that the greatest threat to mankind is no longer human aggression (wishful thinking), but something like too many lovefests or over-imbibing Starbucks lattes.
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