A man with no enemies is a man with no character – Paul Newman
It’s an expression as old as the Bible itself. ‘Love Your Enemies’ – a sentiment that seems easy in principle but much harder to put into practice. I believe the concept is about extending kindness and empathy to those around us, who to all intent and purpose are ‘not good’. Who would seem more content in striking us down than supporting us up – or better yet – keeping their distance and politely letting us be on our way.
You can find potential enemies in a number of life’s avenues. Work colleagues, work competitors, acquaintances who are threatened by the way you style your hair every morning, your ease with clients or your ability to craft an eloquent business email. They might be that ex-lover you inadvertently ghosted or that ex of your current partner who can’t seem to dredge up enough self-awareness to accommodate politely pretending they haven’t seen the two of you out together. They might even just be that disgruntled barista who always serves your coffee to you lukewarm despite your continued polite requests for it to be a little hotter than one might normally ask for.
In modern times our enemies, especially with the invention of social media and social media stalking, don’t really know us – they only know what we chose to reveal of our lives to the general periphery of society. Even with that awareness, they are more likely to manipulate the information we provide to suit their narrative of us as the ‘enemy’. We can all comfortably find material to feed these narratives, if we dig enough.
It’s quite a conundrum. I don’t really want to live my life worrying about these particular people and how they might decide to crop up in my life. Neither do I want to hold my awareness of certain individuals along the lines of ‘enemy’. I’d rather a healthy thought process about someone, and if that isn’t available – no thought process at all.
Deepak Chopra argues that the path of personal transformation is at the heart of really beginning to love your enemies. At the heart of it, our enemies are actually the subject of a hot anger we feel towards them – for some wrong doing against us or those we hold dear, perceived or actual. Chopra goes on to say that in order to start ‘loving’ our enemies we have to examine the root of this hot anger – and will it to be released. We have to let go of that angry energy to fully come to a peaceful acceptance of our ‘enemy’:
“Releasing the hot energy of anger can be done. Sit down and revisit a memory that arouses your anger. Your mind is filled with reasons for how you were wronged. Now pause and feel the actual energy of your anger. Your body may be tense, your skin warm, breathing ragged, heartbeat increased. The physical side of anger is the key to releasing it, because rationales go on forever.”
As a work in progress, I often find myself reluctant to fall into the ‘loving of enemies’ narrative completely. A part of me can’t help feel that by doing so we are putting an amount of trust in our perceived enemy, that they will extend the same kindness back to us, but what if they don’t? While I know the purpose of true empathy and kindness is not founded on reciprocation, what if our enemy continues on a spiteful path?
I’ve no doubt I’ve made several enemies in my lifetime, and I’ll reluctantly admit I’ll probably make more as I continue to grow into this mould that is me. While I enjoy the quote I have included with this piece from Paul Newman as it reassures my sense of character, I know that to have the peaceful existence I am beginning to crave will require a little more work from me and how I tap into the notion of empathy towards those whose intentions I have doubts over.
Perhaps, as a starting point, instead of ‘loving’ our enemies, we can be amicably indifferent to their existence from a distance instead? In the hope that distance can’t be misconstrued and manipulated, perhaps then our enemies could politely reciprocate this back to us. I feel this might be a much more manageable approach than outright ‘love’.
I’d much rather save such an eloquent, yet overused word, to express my gratitude for those people I truly do, well, love. And I’ll admit I could do with stock pile of empathy for my worst enemy – myself.
But that is another conversation entirely.