I prefer to classify this section under the term contempt rather than more common terms such as hate, anger, resentment, disdain, scorn and many others. I prefer the term contempt because it denotes a willful act of the mind, in contrast to the more innate reactions such as anger, rage, or resentment which seem to be less conscious. For example, the criminal charge “contempt of court” refers to an act of willful disregard or open hostility for the authority of the court.

There are certain things which should be treated with open hostility—even a court of law, if it becomes an agent of injustice. However, in ordinary daily life, there are certain things which must be handled with hostility and, occasionally, the use of force.

I have used the example of the rattlesnake in bed on the page titled “Don’t Tell Me How to Feel!” and on the page titled “STRESS ! ! ! ! !”. A snake in your bed is not an everyday situation, but it illustrates the point that the innate response of fear works toward the snake’s advantage and has done so for over 150 million years. Fear is, in many cases, a poor advisor. Contempt places the human intellect in charge of the situation.

Use Contempt with Caution

As I said repeatedly on the page titled “Grief”, Contempt is often the go-to emotion for a situation that actually calls for Grief. Contempt is one of the emotions that is used in the wrong place at the wrong time or is not used when it should be.

Scorn vs. Compassion (the Contempt vs. Love conflict)

There are three innate reactions that nearly all animals seem to experience when meeting another animal:

  1. attack/flee
  2. mate/reject
  3. nurture/be nurtured

These reactions exist even in simpler animals that lack a pre-frontal cortex (the part of the brain that processes emotions with cognitive thought). It is the first reaction (whether to attack or flee) that causes our brains to misuse Contempt. My dogs make this mistake frequently. When they see a puppy, their first reaction is often to attack it, not nurture it. These situations amuse me, and I must watch the older dogs closely until the puppy is safely accepted. But humans are really no smarter unless we make an effort.

The attack/flee mechanism is really in charge for much of our waking lives. When driving a car, for example, the so-called “alligator brain” is handling much of the motor control so that we don’t drive into a bridge or another car. This is why another driver’s honest mistake makes me blow my stack initially. “Oh! Nice drivin’, you fuckin’ mongol– . . . !” I’m getting better at catching myself. And I find my reaction amusing, as well.

Unfortunately, we leave the “alligator brain” in charge when we get to the mall and start walking around and meeting people. Someone who should have selected clothing with much more material in it will provoke hostile comments which we keep under our breath for the most part. We are using hostility against a person who is not a threat of any kind. It’s not a big problem, and, again, it’s rather amusing between friends.

That reaction becomes an immense problem, however, when we take it to the office or the classroom or any place where we must use our pre-frontal cortex instead of the “alligator brain.” What happens when we feel hostility or Contempt toward a client, or a student, or a co-worker, when the situation calls for pity and compassion? If a situation calls for pity which stimulates compassion, we should be showing some type of Love toward the person, not Contempt which is Love’s opposite.

Practice Your Skill

Think before using Contempt. Does this person or animal pose a threat to me? Why am I feeling contemptuous? What is the correct emotion to feel? The table below lists some common stimuli, a common mistaken emotion and then the correct emotion.

Stimulus Mistaken Emotion Correct Emotion
Puppy This is for the dogs. Contempt (attack) Love/Compassion (nurture)
Annoying co-worker Contempt Love/Compassion stimulated by pity
Erratic driver Contempt Compassion stimulated by the desire to be compassionate
Someone abusing children Anxiety/Fear Disgust or Contempt (whichever produces the most benefit)

Notice that in the final item in the table, I allow a switch from Disgust to Contempt. An illustration on the page titled Pleasure explains why Contempt worked better for me in that situation a couple of years ago. The illustration falls under a paragraph titled “Hearing.” It also explains that if you intend to use contempt, you had better be prepared to back it up and not back down.

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