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Love to Hate 

Here she came a-paddling, kept afloat by oodles of floaties and noodles. I edged over to the side of the pool, already beaming at the light of her 3-year-old smile. She was the first to speak.

'Go away! I don't want to play. Go away! —

And the thought stopped and stayed a while: Three years old or not, granddaughter or not, this is a misanthrope.

(All right, messieurs and mesdames, no need to reach for that cobwebbed dictionary. It would tell you a misanthrope is a person who dislikes and avoids other people. It comes from the Greek words meaning "to hate" and "man.")

Way back in the 17th century, the great French dramatist Moliere wrote a comedy titled The Misanthrope, and the very first line uttered by the hero was, "Oh, leave me alone, please."

Sounds remarkably like what I heard in a 3-year-old accent that night in the swimming pool.

Now, I may be a teeny bit prejudiced, but this little girl is entirely lovable, and this illustrates one of the many paradoxes about misanthropes: Some of them can be quite lovable.

Skeptical? I offer as first evidence one W.C. Fields, whose recognizable profile could easily illustrate the word misanthrope in the dictionary. In one movie, he once raised his hand as if to swat his young daughter and his wife screeched a warning. "She's not going to tell me I don't love her," he griped. Yet, Fields struck a chord somewhere and we still love him.

Need more? Remember Snow White and her pals, the Seven Dwarfs? Know which of the seven was consistently found to be the most popular? Not Happy, not Doc, not even Bashful. No, the people's choice was Grumpy. That's right, Grumpy.

I don't know for certain, since my own time as a great athlete lasted only a couple of hours one April evening long, long ago, but my deep suspicion is that the truly great athletes are misanthropes.

Now you may counter that truly great athletes are always surrounded by adoring multitudes, but I would say that these people are not equals — or even near-equals — of the adored. I contend that the great athlete is not truly or closely identified with others, even those with whom they share a mailing address.

As evidence, I offer two names: Kobe Bryant and Alex Rodriguez. Bryant, while on trial in Colorado for rape, would go to court during the day then slip on his Nikes in the evening and drop in 40 points. Rodriguez, with every New York media outlet baying like yard dogs and his wife naming Madonna as co-respondent, had a great week at Yankee Stadium, winning home runs and the rest of it. "Normal" people would be curled up on their sofas, the Makers Mark and Paxil nearby.

Misanthropes can get things done.

Well, one easy answer may be that misanthropes usually do not join clubs, do not share their intimacies with psychiatrists or reality-show hosts. This saves a huge chunk of time that, if properly used, can be employed learning to appreciate the nature around us and the inner resources within us.

Now it's only common sense that some ways of making a living are more appealing to misanthropes than others; e.g. being a lighthouse keeper is preferred over selling cleaning brushes door to door.

What about the loathsome but entirely legal task of writing a newspaper column?

Minds more acute than mine have pointed out that writing is a habit best practiced alone in a room late at night. This is, of course, some sort of ultimate vacation for the misanthrope. He can usually work at home now, away from chatty colleagues and bossy editors who now resemble cowboys without a herd, thanks to the personal computer. The PC has even eliminated the writer's need for librarians and overdue book fines.

However, my guess is that misanthropes are intrinsically suspicious of technology. In the case of personal computers, they can't be too happy with the ultra-democratic aspects of the blogosphere and the notion that not only is everyone entitled to an opinion, but they also are entitled to share it with everyone else.

True misanthropes take umbrage — they're quite good at taking umbrage — with the notion that most of history's greatest criminals are misanthropes. Au contraire, counter the introverts. Most of the world's most infamous bogeymen — think Stalin, think Hitler, think Saddam Hussein, think Ted Bundy, think Bill Clinton — were popular extroverts, great at handshakes and smutty jokes.

Florence King is a self-described misanthrope who writes books and makes the case that her kind is too antisocial to do something so antisocial as crime. Here's her reasoning:

'We are law-abiding in the extreme, not because we are plaster saints, but because criminals must deal with people constantly. Most crimes require a gift of gab and an ability to inspire trust in the victim, so we do not become con artists. We do not take hostages because once you take them, you can't let them out of your sight. We do not commit serial murder because we recoil in moral revulsion at the very word serial. As for child molestation, in order to molest a child, you must first be in the same room as a child, and I don't know how perverts stand it."

Well, you may say, what about it, Mr. Crummy and Crumbling Columnist? Are you someone who would rather deal with others in a minimal and superficial way? Do you dislike and avoid other people?

I'm not saying. It's none of your business. Go away. I don't want to play. Go away.

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