Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves. — Carl Jung

If you hate a person, you hate something in him that is part of yourself. What isn’t part of ourselves doesn’t disturb us. — Hermann Hesse

So. Here are two variations on a theme. They might seem to be saying the same thing, but are they? Not quite.

Hesse is saying that which you hate is part of what you are. If you hate someone for being lacking in compassion, it is because you lack compassion yourself.

Hmmm. Ya think?

It’s kind of hard for me to parse this quote because I’m not much of a hater. Hating takes a lot of energy that could be better used for other things. But when I think of qualities in people that I might find hateful, they are not qualities I see in myself.

For example, I hate it when people say things just to get a rise out of other people. I am no pot stirrer. I can be confrontational, but usually only when I want to accomplish something. Like when I need an air-clearing fight with a friend, for example. Or if a problem client needs to be set right.

But I’m not the kind to toss incendiary comments into online discussions, just to watch the fireworks. That seems hostile and I’m uncomfortable when other people do it. I don’t hate pot-stirrers—I’m sure they have many fine qualities aside from that– but I don’t like pot stirring. Love the sinner, hate the sin and all that.

Actually, I don’t even hate it. I find it irritating.

Which is where Jung enters the discussion.

Jung’s quote is more general. What irritates us can bring us to an understanding of ourselves. “Irritates” is more relevant to day-to-day living. “Understanding” is a nice, broad, inclusive term. I can work with that.

What does my irritation with pot stirrers say about me? It could be that I don’t have convictions strong enough to fight for and feel inadequate next to people who do. It could be that I fear and avoid disagreement. Maybe I’m a delicate blossom and easily upset. Or want everyone to be happy. Or can’t deal with people being angry at me. Maybe I’m just a big coward.

I’m not sure which one of those (if any) is the correct insight, but you get the drift. There are insights to be gleaned from examining the things one finds irritating. Figure out what pushes your buttons and you can figure out what those buttons are.

OK, but maybe Hess is talking about true hate. Bigotry. For example, research has found that homophobic men are more sexually aroused by homosexual erotica than non-homophobic men. And perhaps sexist men fear their own sensitive, womanly side.

What about racism? Does it work for that? Isn’t racism hate for the “other” rather than hate because of something shared? Or do racists hate the shared humanity with other races?  That’s a pretty big contortion to make in order to make the wisdom fit.


After careful consideration and crunching the numbers, I think the Hesse quote sounds wise but doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.

And so, as referee of this smackdown, I declare Jung the winner.