Have you ever noticed just how draining negative energy is? Complaining, gossiping, being jealous—the days I find myself caught in these circles, I come home exhausted and need a nap in order to make it through dinner. I think it’s all done by Intelligent Design. Of course, the easiest choices ARE the ones to to complain, to gossip, to hate (that’s the root of who we are as people), but the healthiest decisions are to love, to forgive, to understand. I’ve been on a path to eliminate all of those negative facets from my life, and while it is very difficult, I can tell you it’s much better; I am more productive, I have more energy, my relationships are stronger. So, if anything else, I choose to love my enemies for myself; it makes my life less stressful.
1. Compliment them: Of course, humans come equipped with lots of pride, that we guard and protect, and sometimes that pride prevents us from telling people exactly how we feel. Perhaps initially, the compliment is surface level (“I love your new hair cut”), and moves into something deeper later on (“That was a really great idea you had!”).
Coming from the coaching world, I’m really judgmental whenever I see a team perform, for the mere fact that I WANT to watch them mess up so I can feel better about my own team’s performance. I’m constantly watching for bad formations, bad transitions, bad technique, and, as a competitive person, I am naturally trained to do this. So, when I watch a team, even though I am judging their performance, I also force myself to look at the things they are doing well. Maybe they have a really innovative lift, maybe their turn section was on fleek, or perhaps, maybe the beautiful costumes are all my pride can muster up.
2. Recognize their strengths: What often happens when we find people we don’t like is we tend to focus on all of their weaknesses, because that makes us feel better about not liking them. We think they aren’t very pretty, they don’t have any style, they are lazy and not intelligent; these comments allow us to see ourselves as prettier, more stylish, a harder worker, more intelligent (aka “better”).
As proven many times, we can train our brains how to think (SEE: Cognitive Shifting). So, if I allow myself to constantly ruminate on how ugly her sweater is, how annoying her voice is, how incompetent she is at her job, I am therefore also training myself to only focus on those traits, and my dislike for her grows deeper and deeper. Once we have allowed ourselves to dive into this territory, it makes it much more difficult to turn back. But, certainly everyone has something good to offer society. So, whenever I catch myself judging and focusing on her weaknesses, I force myself to also recognize some strengths. Perhaps she is really good at organizing, or is a great baker, or just has really nice handwriting. Just like everyone else, I, too, have weaknesses, but I also have strengths.
3. See them as human: In my class, we just finished reading the Holocaust book, Night, by Elie Wiesel, and much of our conversations stemmed around dehumanization. Often times when we create enemies, we are inclined to start making up nicknames for them, making fun of their nasally voice, looking at them as static and unchanging. Ultimately what all of this does is allow us to look at them as sub-human, and again, allows us to justify our hatred. It’s kind of like when you are at the mall; when you are standing in line and you don’t know the person in front of you, you immediately start judging their outfit choice, the way they carry themselves, the text messages they are responding to (because obviously, you are reading over their shoulder). But, as soon as that person turns around and starts up a conversation with you, you have invested a piece of yourself in them, and suddenly, your inclination to judge deteriorates, because you see them as human. See your enemies as human as well.
4. Treat them like you would any other person: Once we make enemies, our natural tendencies are to turn our backs when they are talking, refuse to participate in their conversations, avoid laughing at their jokes, don’t respond back to their requests, turn our noses up when we see them, exclude them from social activities. It’s the same tactic as treating them like they are sub-human; when we neglect to acknowledge their presence, we are therefore justifying why we don’t like them, which therefore makes us feel less guilty for doing these things in the first place. I’m under the impression that all people should be treated fairly, no matter what the situation is. If I’m throwing a football team party, then all members of the football team get to be invited, regardless of how I feel about them. If they participate in a conversation, I should look at them like I would anyone else. If I run into them, their presence should be acknowledged like I would anyone else, even if all I can muster is a half smile.
5. Ask them to do you a favor: Benjamin Franklin once said the best way to friend your enemies is to ask for help. These kind of situations often stem from a power play, and by asking your enemy for a favor, you are therefore allowing yourself to be in a vulnerable position, perhaps, if only metaphorically, admitting your subservience, and giving them an opportunity to help—and build compassion—for you (right, because we always like to see people in “lower” positions than ourselves). By all means—be careful what you ask for. Certainly, if they are your enemies, there is a chance they could have malicious intents, so its probably not wise to dump your whole life story on them or invite them into your personal territory. But, perhaps the favor is something small, such as holding open the door, picking up something that dropped from the floor, signing a card for someone else. Even if its illusionary, you are disrupting the power dynamics. Everyone likes their ego fed, right?
6. Resist the temptation to gossip about them: I remember going on an overnight field trip in 6th grade, and my room was the only room without parental supervision. There was a group of boys right next to us, so naturally, we stayed up and listened to them through the wall. Especially with social media, this same temptation follows us in our adult lives. When we encounter another individual who has gossip on our enemy, we want to hear it. When we see our enemy posting some weekend picture, we want to judge it. When we see our enemy engaging in conversation, we want to spy so that we have ammunition to again, criticize and judge, which then allows us to feel power and control over that person. And, the more we allow ourselves to engage in these behaviors, the more we will look for these behaviors, the further we fall into hatred and malice. I always use the mentality that, if I were to snoop on my significant other and I found something I didn’t like, I would either (a) have to admit I was snooping or (b) bottle it up and not say anything about it. I’d prefer just not to know. Same thing with my enemies, because inevitably, all that spying, snooping, and gossiping only harbors my emotional state.
7. Always assume good intentions: Since you deem them “your enemy”, there’s a good chance you have limited interaction with that person, meaning you also have limited information on their lives, and limited information on their motives. Perhaps that stinky face WAS directed towards you, or perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps that comment WAS targeted at you, or perhaps it wasn’t. Perhaps that move WAS intended to stamp out territory, or perhaps it wasn’t. I always just assume good intentions, and try not to take things personally.
8. Say thank you: “Please” and “thank you” are, again, power plays. “Please” sometimes means “I’m in a position of vulnerability”, and “thank you” sometimes means “I’m recognizing your position of authority”. For example, say your enemy is the gatekeeper of all the computer passwords you need to access your files. Saying, “Could you please come type in the password”, first of all, invites your enemy into your territory, and second of all, admits to your enemy that they are the gate keeper of information you need to finish your project. When your enemy gives you the password, saying “thank you” is therefore recognizing their position of authority, and refusing to say “thank you” is just promoting the power plays at work. So, just always say “thank you”.
9. Try to understand their viewpoint: As Atticus Finch famously said, “You don’t know a person until you crawl around in their skin”. Often times, some of the largest wounds and dislikes towards people stem from miscommunication and misunderstanding. When we perceive someone having a different viewpoint or different lifestyle choice than our own, that difference threatens our sense of “truth”, and therefore, its easier for us to create enemies, ostracize them, instead of taking the time to consider “the other”.
I recently went to an EDM concert. There are all these perceptions of people who listen to EDM music; they must do a ton of drugs, they must not work, they must not shower. It’s definitely not my kind of music, but I made myself go, because I wanted to understand what attracts people to this kind of music. And, by attending the concert, I gained a new sense of appreciation—an understanding—as to why people like this music (although I still haven’t switched my Pandora stations).
10. And, of all else, forgive them: My new mantra is, “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). It’s often not until we are removed from a situation, or we gain some significant piece of enlightenment, that we gain perspective. As humans, we yearn for social acceptance, so its really easy for us to participate in mob mentality and group think without even being aware of it. I am 100% guilty of this myself; I, too, have been part of gossip circles and bitch-fests, and it was not until I removed myself from those situations that I realized just how corrupt those environments really were. So when I look at my enemies, I always remind myself of this verse: perhaps they really DO NOT know they are motivated by insecurities, power struggles, jealousy. Perhaps they really do not know what they do.
I always think its really unnatural for us to impose all of these social institutions where we force people who don’t like each other to get along: work, school, the bus stop, neighborhoods. We are not constructed to get along with everyone, and there is a strong likelihood that, at some point in our lives, we will offend someone, we will cross a boundary, we will uncover a wound—we will create an enemy.
Of course, like anything in our lives, it’s a journey, and our wounds may be too raw at the moment to even think about loving our enemies. Perhaps right now, you are just a little too prideful, and it will be insincere for you to ask for a favor. But, perhaps you can start forgiving them. Or, perhaps you have already forgiven them, and you are ready to start looking at their redeeming qualities. The point is to work towards loving your enemies, if for anything else, to alleviate your own emotional turmoil. It’s a sad, miserable, lonely, unproductive life, living in hatred and malice.