I know who my enemy is: the individual who maliciously damages my property: tramps all over the flower-bed in the garden: scratches the car with a key: trashes the home during a burglary. I feel angered by anyone who threatens to harm my sense of well-being. These are the people I want to complain about and get my own back on. So how on earth does one stop hating such people. How do you ‘love’ your enemy? Here are some tips I find useful.
Tip 1 on how to love the enemy
Step back from a situation. Then you can start to observe your angry thoughts. Begin to reflect on where they are getting you. When you are feeling angry remember that bitterness will inwardly eat away at your sense of contentment. On the other hand a less negative attitude to the person who has offended you hinders this horrible emotion staying with you. You can’t be positive and negative at the same time. One attitude removes its opposite.
Tip 2 on how to love the enemy
Consider whether becoming calm about your enemy helps your loved ones and friends around you remain calm. They would be affected by your anger, having to listen to your moaning about the person you resent. However, unless you stop your enemy hurting you, your family will feel you are a pushover and feel frustrated with you for this reason.
Tip 3 on how to love the enemy
Understand the harm you could cause to the children in your life by voicing contempt for someone. Children copy the role models provided by the adults around them. A child can readily imitate the idea it is okay to adopt a hate-filled contemptuous attitude. And you will have harmed their sense of right and wrong.
Tip 4 on how to love the enemy
When reflecting on some injustice done to you, bear in mind that we get a more fractured and divided society the more people there are who are filled with feelings of hate; a society where conflict and social disorder are more likely to emerge. And the opposite is true — if we all can overcome enmity, and learn to forgive those whom have hurt us, then society is better off in so many ways. Reconciliation that involves compensation for injury can be extremely powerful and important. Getting on better with an enemy would improve the lives of two people at the same time.
Tip 5 on how to love the enemy
Make a fair assessment of your enemy’s actions. Try to hate the wrong-doing rather than the wrong-doer, the action rather than the perpetrator. This will help you to focus on trying to prevent any repeat of the behaviour that made you so angry.
Tip 6 on how to love the enemy
See times of hate within yourself as a challenge to your growing maturity. Don’t take the Gospel phrase about turning the other cheek in a literal way. The message is not about masochism but rather about not automatically fighting back when injured. Do what you can to stop the enemy behaving badly towards you whilst remembering that a heavenly state of mind is to take no delight in any act of retaliation or revenge. Our spiritual challenge is to adopt a charitable attitude to everyone including those who behave badly towards us.
Tip 7 on how to love the enemy
Try to establish lines of communication with your enemy. Look for some common ground. Reach out to them. Instead of fighting what has happened and who this person is, and wanting them to be different, try to accept them for who they are — warts and all. You won’t be able to change them only hope to affect their actions. Resign yourself to what has happened as a part of life. Put up with the fact that things can’t be different, because they have already happened.
Tip 8 on how to love the enemy
Get to know their perspective. Are you jumping to any conclusions? What is he or she really like? Try to understand why someone might have got to where they are and why they did what they did. Perhaps they have some mitigating circumstances — school failure, broken home, drugged parent, unemployment, being easily led, having a sense of frustration at feeling undervalued. None of these factors of course excuses criminal behaviour but might help to explain it and make you feel better about the person. Of course no mitigating circumstances may be found although bear in mind that any may be possible until you get to know the person better. Give the enemy the benefit of any doubt.
Tip 9 on how to love the enemy
Look for something in the person that is likeable. Everyone has a good side somewhere if you look hard enough to find it.
Tip 10 on how to love the enemy
Show them how hurt you have been by what they have done, pointing out the consequences of their misdeeds in a non-condemning way. You will feel better about them if they show some degree of acknowledgement of what you are saying. It is less difficult to have a charitable attitude to those who acknowledge they were in the wrong. Don’t be too quick to forgive someone who has done you great harm if they show no remorse: at least don’t try to forgive such a person in your own strength alone.
If these tips are not enough try attending an anger management class, professional therapy or ask for spiritual help. Many people say that prayer is an important component in their dealing with the difficult individuals in their lives.
Copyright 2011 Stephen Russell-Lacy
Author of Heart, Head & Hands Swedenborg’s perspective on emotional problems