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Under My Skin

I have got you, deep in the heart of me. So deep in my heart that you're really a part of me. I've got you under my skin.

The skin. The covering and container of all things internal. Also known as the epidermis, the organ. The epidermis contains four layers of unique cells that wonderfully protect us from dirt, viruses and fungi, the cold and hot, and keeps things from falling out. The skin contains pigment that comes in a variety of shades causing some no end of consternation. The color of our eyes, even our hair color, if honest, doesn’t seem to matter much. But skin color? Oh my!

Yet the skin is porous. Too much sun and the skin burns. Too much water, and the skin puckers up. Put a suction device, perhaps your mouth, against the soft skin of your lover’s neck; you’ll draw blood to the surface, resulting in a hickey. Remember? Remember how pleased your father was when he observed that big red circle just under your ear lobe? Thank god for turtlenecks!

If you must know, the four skin layers are called basal, squamous, granular, and finally, the horny layer- that’s the top layer consisting of dead, dried cells or keratinized stratum corneum. It’s a unique feature of human organization that we give things, even dead skin, long names. I’d be ok with dry, flaky skin from my ‘horny’ layer.

It’s rare but possible that unwelcome opportunistic organisms take up residence under our skin. I’ve seen images of worms, maggots, and other parasites that have invaded just below the epidermis, and it tends to be a bit disturbing. But some ointment or antibiotics and you’ll soon have the skin of a hairless Pachyderm (elephant) or that of a hairy Equus africanus asinus (donkey).

The act of falling in love in nearly universal. It crosses all pigment colors. Songs have been written that when smitten, your love interest has made his or her way under your skin. “So deep in my heart,” the song goes, “you’re really a part of me. I’ve got you under my skin.”

The idea of something getting under your skin has taken the strong emotion of love and placed it in a physical context. We can relate for we have allowed someone access to below what protects us. You are now vulnerable to whom you love. It has the potential to change you forever. It’s a wonderful metaphor and makes for a most beautiful love song.

Perhaps we could argue that love is the most powerful of all emotions. I wrote here of some interesting findings from social scientists on the power of hate. Tightly related love and hate and all the complex organic impulses they create originate from the same part of the brain.

What I don’t believe is debatable is the universal capacity of we humans to willingly allow hate under our skin. I can give you any number of personal examples, and I’m quite certain you could too. And once allowed in, it can become deeply rooted and now becomes a ‘part of me.’

Like love, where one has allowed another in to become metaphysically one, hate has the same powerful effect. Hate has the power to consume us. To agitate us. To change us. It motivates us to pursue justice by any means. To seek revenge. To demonize. To objectify. To corrode. To destroy.

Fear often forms the foundation of our hatred. The bully on the school yard is a target for our hatred because of our fear of the monster. The same can be said when a bully sits on the board of an HOA. The others sit in fear.

Today, millions will tell of their hatred for their political antagonist. Instead of a litany of policy differences, they will launch into the dirty laundry of personality. They will tell you that Mr. or Ms. Candidate is a tyrant. A budding fascist. Immoral and corrupt. And if honest, they will tell you the steps they think should be taken to keep that individual from the levers of power. Today, we form political alliances not from a shared political ideology- but from shared hatred.

Speaking to Psychology Today magazine, clinical psychologist Dana Harron believes that “the things people hate about others are the things that they fear within themselves.” She suggests thinking about the targeted group or person as a movie screen onto which we project unwanted parts of the self. The idea is, “I'm not terrible; you are.”

Another term for this is ‘projection.’ In the same article, psychologist Brad Reedy further describes projection “as our need to be good, which causes us to project "badness" outward and attack it.”

In his book, Overcoming Destructive Anger: Strategies That Work, Bernard Golden believes that when hatred becomes a shared experience, it fulfills a basic human need- it gives us a sense of “connection and camaraderie.” He thinks “hatred of individuals or groups as a way of distracting oneself from the more challenging and anxiety-provoking task of creating one’s own identity.”

Amongst us are those who stoke hatred by fanning our fears. You see it play out in all the various theories being foisted upon us. From climate to race to sexual identity, fear animates nearly every discussion. We are to fear and, by extension, hate this person or that group. Innuendo, lies, and, sorry to say, our tendency to project makes us vulnerable to these fearmongers.

It perhaps should not surprise us to see the efforts being made to keep our enemies, the object of our hatred, from the will of the people. Functioning democracies require us to ask the people from time to time what is your preference and then accept the verdict. Dysfunctional democracies look for ways to circumvent the people.

Those who hate project their own tendency towards tyranny and fascism. When asked to what ends would you keep your political opponents from a free and honest election, their behavior suggests by any means necessary. As the song goes, “you’re really a part of me. I’ve got you under my skin.”

There is a lot of hatred and emptiness in our culture today. I believe 1 Corinthians tells us why.

If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

1 Corinthians 13 is as beautifully written as the lyrics to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” Perhaps if something finds its way under our skin that bubbles and swears and irritates us into a frenzy of anxiety, we stop and read its verses.

Happy New Year! And thank you for the three minutes you took to read this. It’s true; you’ll never get it back.

If you’re okay with the last three minutes, please pass it on or subscribe. It’s free.

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