Teaching and Unlearning

One of my favorite Christmas songs is based on a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who lived and wrote during a horrific time in United States history. In the 1860s, he lost his wife in a fire and his eldest son joined the Union Army without Longfellow’s consent and was wounded.

Longfellow wrote the poem in 1863 as the Civil War raged on.

And in despair I bowed my head;

“There is no peace on earth,” I said;

“For hate is strong,

And mocks the song

Of peace on earth, good-will to men!”

from “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

According to Wikipedia, the poem was put to music nine years later.

If you have time, you might want to watch this video. It’s on the long side but it’s narrated by the late Edward Herrman and tells the story of the song and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, his family and the background to the poem.

I suspect the song is not on the list of most people’s favorite Christmas songs, but for me it is a poignant remembrance of what the holiday should be about.

For a shorter listening of the song:

And, I’ve been thinking a lot about the line: for hate is strong and mocks the song. Where does hate come from?

Photo by Alyssa Stevenson on Unsplash

I wrote a very simplistic poem:

Babies are born a blank slate

Teach them love

And they will love

Teach them hate

And they will hate

Fortunately

Hate can be unlearned

Unlearn hate.


I firmly believe that it’s possible to unlearn hate just as we can unlearn bad values that were instilled in us. We can learn to love people we were taught to hate–this reminds me of a 1949 song from Rodgers and Hammerstein: “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught,” a song about being taught to hate people who are different from you. The song almost killed the musical by people who thought it was inappropriate.

Obviously the “hate” battle has been going on a long time by individuals who consider themselves the top creature on this planet. How little we know!

Not only are we embarking on a new year, we’re are going into a new decade. Oh, the possibilities!

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5 replies »

  1. I like this post. So much positive thought here. I have to believe that hate can be unlearned because today there seems to ba a resurgence of hatred. Today I watched a video of Andrea Bocelli singing a lullaby to Elmo. I loved it and I decided I wanted to live in Sesame Street just for today!

    • Thanks, Anne. I have found it very easy to wallow in the past couple of years over what has been going on in the world. I am trying a new tactic: promote optimism, kindness, love. Even if I’m not feeling it, I can try to find it. Re: Andrea Bocelli and Sesame Street. I love that! The world needs more.

  2. your poem was simple and straight to the heart, eerily I have been humming the same carol this week, I heard a modern version and could not stop thinking about bells. I am glad you wrote this I love Longfellow’s words. Be blessed!

    • Thanks, Gina. With everything he went through, he came out with hope, which I think may be a lesson for us all. What is the modern version you heard? I was looking for one but found versions that didn’t sit as well with me.

      • Oh he is such a fierce heart and knows the has found home with you. The version I heard were by The Mayries, you can find them in Spotify. This is my current fave version.

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