Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin split: Enough ‘hating’. It’s time to grow up

Why expend your time and energy on something you dislike? Stoking negative emotions can cause untold misery


Richard Nixon, who knew a thing or two about being hated, advised his staff in 1974: “Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you. Those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them. And then you destroy yourself.”

On the face of it, it doesn’t seem likely that a disgraced former US president would have much in the way of advice to offer a Hollywood celebrity going through a difficult personal time, but these days anyone in the public eye needs a policy on being hated, and right now Gwyneth Paltrow needs it more than most.

Last week, the actress announced that her 10-year marriage to the British musician Chris Martin had ended, and the stream of abuse to which she is usually subjected became a flood. She followed this by saying she thinks her lot is tougher than that of an average working mum’s.

On Friday, I looked up her name on Twitter and watched for five minutes as hundreds of insults were hurled. I read words such as: “Obnoxious, elitist … idiot”; “Narcissistic entitled twat”; “Uggh”; “Offensive”; “Insufferable”; “Awful person” and “Angry”. One person announced that she “Makes you want to punch something”, while another wrote: “I hope Gwyneth Paltrow’s kids learn to cuss her out in spanish french and english … what a hateable pretentious C word”. People tweeted her personally to tell her: “You should be ashamed of yourself”, and “You were never any good … you sucked.” But the word I saw most was “hate … hate … hate …”

Two things struck me about the people who hate this woman they have never met. One: they seem to know an awful lot more about her than I do. Two: it sounds exhausting.

Why do people expend so much energy seeking out that which makes them angry? One even tweeted,   à propos of nothing: “I don’t even know what she did today, but the very mention of Gwyneth Paltrow goes right to my last nerve and jumps on it.” And yet he had “taken to Twitter”, as they say, to mention her. Another tweeter wrote: “I hate celebrities.” He must live in a state of constant fury.

Is it something about the social media generation that makes people excessively prone to hatred, I wonder? True, you can fit more “hate” into a 140-character tweet than you can “dislike” or “ambivalence”, but it can’t be just brevity that leads to all this anger. As a newspaper columnist, I suppose I should accept some of the responsibility. I used to write a column in this paper called “Rant & Rave”. It was not my natural state of mind but it sounded more catchy than “Take it or leave it really, on the whole”. Maybe extremity is addictive.

Even so, I don’t recall using the word “hate” about an individual – I can’t think of anyone I care enough about to hate. Maybe a government policy, or a frustrating situation, or ironing, or mushrooms. After all, if you hate the author of a slightly tedious blog, where is there left to go for genocide? If evil is measured in degrees of proximity to Adolf Hitler (as size is generally measured in multiples of Wales) and a good-looking actress is evil, then what have you got left for Stalin and Pol Pot?

It’s easy to be amused by people who go out of their way to be hateful. They’re like Kevin the Teenager, slamming doors and shouting “That is so unfair, I hate you!” without the slightest provocation. But accepting hate as an everyday emotion can’t be healthy.

So says a new novel by Alan Gibbons, called Hate, which is inspired by the murder in 2007 of the “goth” Sophie Lancaster. Gibbons has spent time with Sophie’s mother and is well aware of the impact that real hatred can have. He says: “The loose use of the word ‘hate’ is irresponsible … Hate causes untold misery. When people use the word about a football team or a celebrity they are demeaning and minimising a real social problem.”

No doubt the family of 11-year-old Michael Morones would agree: the North Carolina boy is still in hospital after attempting to hang himself in January as a result of being bullied for liking My Little Pony. Kids at his school really hated My Little Ponies.

Some people will say that bullying in schools is to be expected. That some 11-year-olds will always hate other  11-year-olds who are a little bit different from the norm. That’s as may be, but shouldn’t adults be setting an example? Isn’t hating a bit childish?

Nixon was right: hating says more about the hater than the hated, and it is destructive. Not only that, but who has the time or the energy? If you’re not keen on Paltrow and her blog, here’s an idea: just ignore them; there’s a whole internet out there full of things that might put a smile on your face instead. Unless you also hate funny-looking kittens – in which case you really are in a bad place. Even so, I still wouldn’t hate you for it.

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