“Form an opinion, say it often enough and pretty soon everyone’s saying it right back at you, and then it becomes a conviction, fed by unreasoning anger and defended with weapons of fear. At which point, words become useless and you’re left with a fight to the death.”
“A fight beyond death, I would say.”
“True enough. Generation after generation.”
– Torvald Nom & Karsa Orlong, House of Chains
Malazan Book of the Fallen, by Steven Erikson
This little exchange is part of a much longer dialogue talking about how illogical and unreasoning people can be. Torvald is a bandit and a rebel while Karsa is a walking slaughterhouse not remotely above almost every barbaric act in the book. Right now, however, they are walking a desert land that has been conquered within their generation, and many an argument can be made that the people of the land are better off for it. No more blood feuds of mutual extinction, no cults preying on children in the streets, no slaves in chains, merchants have never been safer on the road, and so on. Yet the people of this land are about to rise up in rebellion and commit unspeakable atrocities against their conquerors. They have only one reason: hatred.
Worse, it’s not a hatred born on any particular ill deeds their conquerors have done to them. That would be a reasonable anger, and one which might distinguish between the guilty and innocent if held on a short enough leash. No, this is an anger born of rhetoric and blame, of people who lost power muttering their anger into the ears of others for years on end, carefully fanning a few coals to stay hot and spread their heat to those around them, until every corner of the land is burning with it. And no one is willing to listen to anything that isn’t a repetition of their own fury.
That is how the cycle of hatred is born, how it moves forward to grind everyone beneath it, and how it becomes so strong and pervasive that entire peoples cannot imagine their lives, their very identities, without it.
Humanity is rife with such feuds that are ultimately nonsense. English vs Irish, Arab vs Israeli, Republican vs Democrat, black vs white, tribe vs tribe, family vs family… how many people have suffered for hatreds that were not born with them? How many grudges have gone on so long past any point of reason? How many of us are still so consumed by our petty differences that we are blind and deaf to reason itself? How much of our hate is simply because that has become our way of life, and we no longer question it nor tolerate any questioning of it?
The one thing I will disagree with is that words are useless. Words are almost never useless. Oh, they can fall on deaf ears, which they seem to do more often than not. But a hatred born of words can still be countered by words. Words of love, of forgiveness, of grief, of healing, of hope, these still have power to heal even ancient divides. As long as such words can be uttered, there is still hope, still a chance for peace.
Words, paired with action born of sincere intent. This is what can bridge the impossible chasms. If we just let each other speak freely, and listen.