If you were listing who has made a big impact on the 20th century, chances are you would include the name Dwight Eisenhower, the 34th President of the United States of America. Back in December 1999, he was included on a poll of most widely admired people of that century.
During the Second World War he was Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe with responsibility for planning the successful invasion of France and Germany. He died in 1969. This remarkable and courageous man had an ordinary childhood with a number of personal obstacles he had to overcome. There was one in particular—let me tell you about it.
An Irascible Boy
As a boy, Eisenhower had a fierce temper, likely to explode at the tiniest provocation. Once, when he was 10-years-old, Eisenhower’s parents gave permission to his two older brothers to go ‘trick or treating’ in their hometown of Abilene, Kansas (An American childhood tradition at Halloween time). Dwight was told that he was too young for such an adventure.
He writes about the incident in his book At Ease: Stories I Tell to Friends:
I argued and pleaded [with my parents] until the last minute. Finally, the two boys took off. I have no memory of what happened immediately afterwards, but I was completely beside myself. Suddenly my father grabbed my shoulders to shock me back into consciousness. What I had been doing was standing by an old apple tree trunk and pounding it with my bleeding fists, expressing resentment in rage. My father legislated the matter with the usual hickory switch and sent me off to bed.
An hour or so later, Eisenhower says, his mother came to his room. He was still sobbing in his pillow:
Mother sat in the rocking chair by the bed for a long time. Then she began to talk about temper and controlling it. Eventually, as she often did, she drew on the Bible, paraphrasing it, I suppose. This time she said, ‘He that conquereth his own soul is greater than he who taketh a city.‘ Hatred is a futile sort of thing, she said…the only person injured [by our anger is ourselves]…This was soothing, although she added that among all her [six] boys, I was the one who had the most to learn.
Ida Eisenhower proceeded to bandage young Dwight’s hands. Writing more than sixty years later, Eisenhower said:
I have always looked back on that conversation as one of the most valuable moments of my life…she got me to acknowledge that I was wrong and I felt enough ease to fall off to sleep. The incident was never mentioned again. But to this day I make it a practice to avoid hating anyone.
That simple incident, remembered vividly by Eisenhower until his dying day, may tell us everything we need to understand him. Why were the leaders and the people of the world willing to repose so much power and responsibility into his hands? In large part, it must have been because as a boy, his softly-spoken Christian mother, showed him the simple truth that over the long haul, whether here or in eternity, the best blessings don’t belong to the arrogant, the rude, the pushy, the self-serving, the angry, or the tyrants. He had learned not to hate other people.
What is Hatred?
So what is hatred? The dictionary says it’s to ‘feel hostility or animosity towards somebody, or to detest them’. Dr Martin Luther King Jr (1929-1968) said: “Hatred paralyses life; love releases it. Hatred confuses life; love harmonizes it. Hatred darkens life; love illumines it”
If by hate you mean belittling people, calling them names, denying them a place in society, free speech and human dignity, then hate is wrong. It’s wrong to:
- make fun of people in a way that hurts them inside.
- yell at people and humiliate them.
- call them derogatory names.
- lie about them and misrepresent them before others.
- treat people differently and deny them love because you don’t like how they look or the things they can’t change about themselves.
It’s wrong for us to do anything that contradicts God’s love for all people. After all, Jesus said, “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hurt you. If you love only those who love you in return, what good is that? Everybody does that. Love those who don’t love you and I will reward you in heaven.”
In 1 John 2:9-11 it says: “If we claim to be in the light and hate someone, we are still in the dark. But if we love others, we are in the light, and we don’t cause problems for them. If we hate others, we are living and walking in the dark”
From Hatred to Forgiveness
When Corrie Ten Boom, who spent several months in a German prison camp during World War II, met one of the soldiers from that same camp a few years after the war, she was able to forgive him. That is amazing! It takes our breath away to consider it. How can anger and hate be transformed to forgiveness and love? It seems truly impossible.
I remember hearing of a man who travelled some distance to a prison in order to extend forgiveness to the man who murdered his wife. We all know stories like this. And they always thrill and baffle us. These stories give us hope that what is horribly broken can be changed, healed and made right.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote a book called No Future Without Forgiveness about his experience with South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. He says that forgiveness involves much more than a sort of unselfish devotion to the cause of others. He even says that “to forgive is a process that does not exclude hate and anger. These emotions are all part of being human.”
He says, “You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things; the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.” He stresses that:
However, when I talk of forgiveness I mean the belief that you can come out the other side a better person. A better person than the one being consumed by anger and hatred.
Remaining in that state locks you in a state of victimhood, making you almost dependent on the perpetrator. If you can find it in yourself to forgive then you are no longer chained to the perpetrator. You can move on, and you can even help the perpetrator to become a better person too.