Are Hate and Empathy Mutually Exclusive?

There is a classic trope in movies and books: the hero will often say of (or to) the villain, at a climactic moment, that she feels bad for him.

An interesting question arises in these scenarios though: is it truly possible to feel for someone (to have empathy) and to hate them at the same time? In other words, are hate and empathy mutually exclusive?

First, let’s outline some definitions.

Hatred can be defined as “intense feelings of ill will towards another”.

Let’s define empathy as “seeing ourselves in others and the ability to understand how another is feeling or why they may act a certain way”.

If you say that, yes, these concepts. are mutually exclusive, then anyone you hate is not someone you can understand in any way. You can’t conceive of why they would ever act in the way that they do. They are so bad or evil that you could never feel anything for them as you would for a loved one or even someone of whom you have neutral feelings. You have condemned these people forever. At least. until you. stop hating them.

On the other hand, you may say no: one can practice both empathy and hatred toward another. This means that. even though you wish ill upon this person, you can still understand why they’ve done the things they’ve done. You can still see yourself in them and can accept that they are flawed, even though you want something bad to befall them.

In my mind, the only way you could both hate and empathize with another would be for you to hate yourself. If you see yourself in another person and can understand why they do the things you do, yet you wish ill to befall them, you’re essentially wishing the same outcome upon yourself.

Take a current target of extreme hatred in the world today: Donald Trump.

I know many people who hate Donald Trump. They have said things that have been downright concerning, such as wishing serious ills upon him and his family.

Could these people actually claim to have empathy for Trump while also calling for him to come to harm? If they were in the same position as he, would they truly think that they, themselves would deserve to suffer a horrific fate?

In the end, this question is ultimately meaningless, outside of being a good philosophical and linguistic exercise.

The main point is: we should limit our hatred to concepts, not people. Bad people, good people, and everyone in between deserve our empathy, not our hatred. Bad concepts deserve our unrestricted hatred.

To put it in religious terms, we should truly be trying to practice hating the sin, while loving the sinner.

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