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We must work together to combat hate

Once again, in the horrific killing of MP Jo Cox, we’ve seen violent tragedy strike at honourable and charitable people. Our hearts go out to Jo’s husband Brendan and their children.

As Brendan has said, we should “work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.”

We all share, I’m sure, Brendan’s views: “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous”. As citizens as much as psychologists, we need to review and consider how we work together to combat such hate.

Once again, we do not know the complex motives and reasons for the attack on Jo, just as we do not fully understand the background – political and psychological – of the homophobic attack in Orlando, the Germanwings tragedy or the neo-Nazi violence of Anders Breivik.

But in each case we see considerations of psychological issues – in each case there is a fierce debate as to whether we should locate responsibility within the individual or, alternatively, look to wider, societal, causes.

We need to understand the full background to such tragedies, and that includes the psychological of the perpetrators. But, in that examination, we must ensure that we cast our investigation appropriately broadly; looking not only at the psychology of the individual, and the experiences and motivation of someone who can convince themselves that to do such an act is acceptable and justified, but also the psychology of wider society - the hate and prejudice, misunderstanding and warped political ideology that also must be recognised as contributors to this, and similar, atrocities.

As I have read and watched coverage of this issue, I have been slightly concerned to detect a binary distinction – between ‘mentally ill’ on the one hand and, alternatively and in contrast, ‘politically motivated’ on the other. I do not recognise such a clear distinction.

Sad and vulnerable, lonely and confused, angry and alienated people are swayed by hate-filled rhetoric that blames their difficulties on other, different, people and offers them a distorted picture of society. Indeed, it seems pretty clear that sad, lonely, confused individuals are more, not less, susceptible to such messages.

This might make the picture more complex than a typical tabloid leader column, but it does, nevertheless lead to clear conclusions. It is vital and urgent that we put a stop to xenophobic, hate-fuelled, divisive and violent rhetoric in political and public life.

Find out more about my plans for this week.