Is Hate Contagious?

On February 22, a murder in Kansas drew national attention. Srinivas Kuchibhotla, who had moved from India to the United States to study aviation engineering, was relaxing in a bar with a friend. A man started shouting racial slurs at the pair and told them to “get out of [his] country.” A fellow patron in the bar tried to intervene. The man left the bar and returned with a gun, shooting all three—Kuchibhotla fatally.

Contagious of Hate

The hatred of that incident was like many others before it—both individuals and groups trying to blindly wall off others deemed somehow “lesser.”

It reminded me of one of my least proud moments in life, when I was 12 years old. There was a girl in my neighborhood who was unattractive and awkward. The boys I played ball with would talk derisively about her, and would sneer and laugh when she walked past. One day, I did the same; as she approached I found myself, like a programmed parrot, delivering the same negative words about her back to the boys I was playing with. One of them grabbed me and shoved me into a parked car, telling me to shut up about her. That shove knocked me out of my robotic state of mind. I realized how unkind and unfair I was being. 

New York Times on Indian murders

That moment has lived with me all these years. It was so easy to take on the hostile, negative attitudes of others with regard to that neighborhood girl. I did not observe and evaluate the truth of those I hung around with; it was so easy to slip into an almost unthinking, negative state about someone or something. I still feel bad and wish I could personally apologize to that girl. But what came out of that experience for me was an understanding of how easy it is to fall into the social trap of marginalizing and negating others.

Contagion of aberration sweeps along like a forest fire.”

There is a phenomenon L. Ron Hubbard describes in his book Dianetics as “contagion of aberration.” Aberration is defined as any deviation or departure from rationality. Mr. Hubbard writes, “Contagion of aberration sweeps along like a forest fire.” He further states, “A race is as great as its individual members are self-determined.”

I was swept up in a contagion of aberration myself, and didn’t even consider the effect my words would have. I regret not having been more self-determined in how I treated that girl.

But beyond such one-on-one interactions, there is a forest fire of aberration alight in so many areas of life today, resulting in the unfair, unkind and unacceptable ways individuals and organization are thought of and treated. Dr. Clif Cleaveland wrote in a recent article in the Chattanooga Times Free Press about the Kansas murder, “Perpetrators of hate crimes do not necessarily belong to a distinct hate group. Their thoughts and subsequent actions may, however, be influenced by the venom the groups endorse and spread.”

Let’s help extinguish the contagion of aberration when we see and hear it. Let’s be truly self-determined and treat others the way we want to be treated. And, key to it all, we must observe the truth for ourselves.

Photo by: Tok Nas /

Bernard Percy
Author, educator, international lecturer, proud dad of three adult daughters, husband (for 45 years), and a Scientologist (since 1968). He has had eight books published on education and family relationships; he was a New York City elementary school teacher for 12 years and he has a master's degree in childhood education from Columbia University.