Love Your Enemy

We usually think the command “Love your enemy” is an order to suppress our emotions of dislike and then pretend to like the other person, or at least be nice and polite.

That’s okay, but it’s an immature response. Sort of like– after a spat on the playground the teacher says, “Now I want you two boys to be friends from now on! Go on. I want to see you shake hands!” So you shake hands, scowling all the time and you go away plotting your revenge.

What if loving your enemy meant you really did love your enemy–at least you loved what your enemy has to offer you? What I mean is this: if you have a critic the inclination is to dismiss them at once, argue why they are wrong and why you are right. But what if you considered your critic to be your best friend? The one thing we are blind to is our faults. We think we’re delightful. Would that we had the gift to see ourselves as others see us!

Your critic may just be giving you the gift of seeing yourself as others see you. You can then (if you’re big enough) accept how you come across to others–even if it hurts. In this way you can “love your enemy.”

Here’s an example. I am very often a “man with a mission”. I go marching around with my head busy solving a problem and my body busy on this project or that. I’m not good at small talk. I forget to stop and see people and take a few moments to ask about their day and inquire after their family and take their temperature and so forth…Combine this with my bald head and often a frown of concentration on my face and I come across as a grumpy–even angry person. Problem is–I don’t actually honestly feel that way (at least not all the time) So when someone–let’s say Harry– says to me, “Look here, you’re a grumpy old so and so. Do you know how scary you are? You scare people. They don’t want to talk to you because you’re intimidating. Furthermore, you’re arrogant. You think you have all the answers.”

“Moi?” I reply innocently and honestly.

“Yup. That’s right. It’s you.”

So my feelings are hurt. I want to correct that person because it’s just not true. I scare people!? Come on. It’s their problem. Why don’t they grow some backbone? Anyway,  I don’t really feel that way, and furthermore, I really thought I was a kind, nice and approachable person. Ouch. So what do I do?

Grumble and grouch about what a stupid person Harry is? Possible. But then again, if I love my enemy, (and Harry feels like an enemy because he’s hurt my self image) I will see that Harry has actually given me a gift. He’s helped me to see myself as others see me. I guess I do come across that way even if I don’t mean to. I need to slow down and smile more and show that I really am a pretty happy guy most of the time.

Take this to an extreme and posit that even when the negative comment is actually ill intentioned, even when the other person means you harm, even when what they are saying is totally untrue, we still do well to stop and consider it seriously. Why would someone say that or do that against us?  Let us examine ourselves. What have we done to produce that response? Is it our fault? Even a little? Probably. So even then our enemy has done us a favor and we can learn from it.

I learned as a beginner writer that the compliments feel good but the criticisms do good.

A criticism tells us where we’ve gone wrong, where we can improve and where our life can move forward. So this is a way to “love your enemy”–take every criticism and embrace it as a saint might roll in the snow or jump into a briar patch.

If someone gives you criticism take it. It will do you far more good than praise. Furthermore, if they give you criticism it is far more likely that they are being honest. Lots of people lie when they give praise. They exaggerate how wonderful you are in order to please you and make you like them. Praise is often subtle and deceitful.

Criticism? That’s straight.

  • Will

    There have been many books and articles written about dealing with difficult people. The problems tends to be repetitive, not just one incident.

    Praise that reinforces good behavior is worthwhile. Perhaps I have lived and worked with honest people because I cannot remember a time when my behavior was praised in a deceitful manner.

  • doughboy

    loved this – thanks!

  • Alex

    Great post.
    I took “love your enemies” as my personal scripture in HS, but now I can see it is even more applicable. BECAUSE I HATE CRITICISM. What a great reminder about how I should use it. Thank you. This post seems like it could have been written with me as the subject!


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