In a recent group conversation focusing on the topic LOVE, it was acknowledged that loving one’s enemy is oftentimes nearly impossible.
Why? The actions of our enemy represent values contrary to our own. Our enemies can be scary. Many people absorb the feelings of others and we want to stay far away from people whose feelings we don’t want to absorb. We don’t like them. We don’t want to be around them. They make us angry, resentful, frustrated and more! We hate them!
But, what do you do if you really do believe in love? What if you believe in compassion or empathy? Should we only express those emotions when it is easy? But, but, but…..
I told the group about a sermon I heard years ago that really impacted me. The minister told us about a time when she was demonstrating against racism at a KKK rally when she saw something that stopped her dead in her tracks. It was a woman who lovingly straightening the folds in the white robe worn by her young child. While she obviously understood the horror of what that white robe represented, for a flash she saw the humanity of that woman. She saw a person worthy of empathy and compassion. And yes, even love. Confusing.
Why would anyone even want to waste any energy even thinking about loving your enemy?
All the reasons for NOT loving one’s enemy are very easy to understand.
Feelings of resentment, anger, and others are completely normal. There is no value to feeling badly about experiencing these emotions. It’s what we do with them that matters.
But at the risk of sounding grandiose or preachy, here are some reasons for wanting to learn to love our enemy.
Does it make you feel happy to distain and loathe others? Does hate encourage healing or the change that we really hope for? Does carrying hate make you proud of yourself? This is NOT to challenge your good values. Instead, these questions are to help you examine the value of old ways. You really will feel happier if you can live a loving and peaceful life and release hatred.
Harboring hatred is not only exhausting; it can literally be harmful to your health. So, if you think your hatred is hurting the other person, think again! It’s likely that you are harmed the most by harboring your hatred, resentment or any other negative emotion!
Even if it isn’t your intention to change anyone, love and respect are literally powerful tools. Someone who might be used to being disrespected and hated will be shocked to their core if they feel your love and / or sincere respect. This shock can fuel positive change. They may begin to even subconsciously think, “Maybe I can act differently if this person sees me as worthy.” This can be a surprise but potent impact of loving your enemy.
You can feel satisfied about the example you are setting for others, especially children. You know that displaying hatred and bitterness impacts children. Demonstrating how to love, even under extremely difficult situations, is a powerful lesson for others.
It is better for the community. Loving others brings out the best in them. If a person sees themselves as a “bad person”, they will take hurtful actions. If they see themselves as a valued and productive part of the community, they will take ownership for the health of the community.
What does it really mean to love thy enemy? Let’s say it means to set aside whatever it is that makes them your enemy and to muster the feelings that will allow you see the humanity of this person. It doesn’t mean that you need to invite them to your home for dinner or to love them like you love a friend, family member or respected role model. But, there are lots of different kinds of love. The kind of love that we’d give to our enemies would be to open our hearts to them and to have some loving feelings toward this human spirit. It might mean you’d say hello to them and maybe even smile if the situation called for that. A greeting or a smile to an enemy doesn’t mean that you have changed your values. It means that you really do believe in treating all people with respect and dignity. It means that you really do embrace love, compassion and empathy as your spiritual path. It demonstrates that you have the spiritual strength to take action on your values even when those actions will not be understood or even accepted by many.
If you can remember that you are accountable to your own self and your own values, you will ultimately feel comfort in your decision. And you will eventually find internal peace because you’ll feel comfortable with your choices and unburdened by the need to constantly carry hatred and resentment.
Again, we all know how hard this is; almost impossible for many. It’s a very emotional issue. It’ll only happen with people who really want it. Maybe these few words might help someone move closer to being able to love all.
Loving one’s enemy is a life-long challenge. Isn’t spirituality a lifelong practice too? One is a reflection of the other.
“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into friend.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Danger can lurk behind platitudes.
But what is a platitude anyway? It’s a statement that is offered as if it is a wonderful, moral, or deep thought. Generally it’s a statement that is overused, trite and therefore empty. But is it just that?
I don’t think so.
Here are just a few of the most common platitudes we all hear regularly.
Good things happen to those who wait.
It was meant to be.
You reap what you sow.
Time heals all wounds.
Everything happens for a reason.
Anything that doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.
This too shall pass.
Typically a lot of energy goes into determining if these statements are true or not. Below are a couple examples of these efforts. I’m not saying that there isn’t validity in the analysis presented here. Instead, I’d like to look at platitudes from a different angle!
Let’s not debate about if this or that platitude is correct or not! Although I do think that danger can lurk behind a platitude, I don’t want to criticize anyone who relies on platitudes. Let’s instead look at WHY people might resort to these shallow bits of un-wisdom.
Frankly, some people don’t have the intellectual capacity to comment beyond the platitude. That’s OK. Everyone is just able to do what they are able to do. No danger here.
Some people have used these statements so often in their lives, that they derive comfort from them. All good. No harm done.
Sometimes platitudes are spoken by capable people during emotionally stressful moments when that person really doesn’t know what to say. They feel awkward. They feel embarrassed. So, they look for something to say that might pass as meaningful. That’s pretty common and pretty inane.
So, where is the alleged danger?
OK. When someone covers up low self-esteem with a steady stream of less than inspiring platitudes, trouble could be right around the corner. Platitudes could be an attempt to cover up feelings of inadequacy. Low self-esteem comes with a built-in negative filter. This filter provides a less-than-helpful negative interpretation of life, people and interactions along the way. As these negative incidents happen, typically a passive or passive-aggressive response is given. During a difficult moment, a confident person would normally respond calmly in a respectful but assertive way. Their goal would be to resolve any misunderstanding so that both sides feel good about the outcome. But over time, inside the person with low self-esteem pressure accumulates as negativity festers. Eventually defensiveness and aggression explode into an irrational and unproductive display. These incidents are dangerous, indeed. They are especially dangerous if these outbursts become a persistent and predictable pattern.
Or, maybe there is a person whose self-esteem is healthy enough but they haven’t yet mastered how to handle their anger. Anger is a normal emotion which can be very instructive or very destructive. If it isn’t used to provide a positive lesson, it can set the stage for an outburst that creates harm in the short term and potentially the long term. Again, irrational statements are blurted out and bad decisions made are often regretted later.
So, what is the point of all this? It’s not to criticize or judge others. Rather, it could serve as a reminder to look at oneself. The only person we can change is ourselves. Ask yourself these questions to see what is possible.
Do I often use platitudes rather than making appropriate and authentic personal comments? Do I listen well so that I can even know what is appropriate? Are my responses to others superficial or sincere? Do I need to learn how to move towards a better self-image? If yes, what will I do now to avoid making unfounded negative interpretations? If I respond in a passive or passive-aggressive style, where and how can I learn how to switch to healthy assertiveness? What I get angry, do I wallow in that anger or am I able to step back from it to look for the healthy lesson? Where and how can I learn how to better deal with my anger?
Best wishes and love coming your way!