Loving Your Enemy – the paradox

Photo by William Noland

The commandment to “love your enemy” is pure paradox. After all, the two words are mutually exclusive, strictly speaking. The verbs to defeat and to nurture do not go together. How do you engage your enemy and love him/her at the same time? It just doesn’t make sense. But this is, in fact, what the teaching says: Love your Enemy. So either the teaching is wrong, or there is something deeper.

Many people see paradox as a mental trick, as in, “Everything I say is a lie.” There is no logical conclusion to be had in that statement. It can neither be right nor wrong. Even the Belgian painter, Rene Magritte, who illustrated the difference between a real object and its representation only got it half right. Of course the painting of an apple is not an apple. Representations of things are not the things themselves.

This is not an apple

Paradox is more than a trick; it is a technique. Paradox is taking a real apple, holding it in your hand, and saying with certainty, “This is not an apple.” Absurd, right? That’s what your brain will tell you. In fact, your brain has already told you what an apple is. It has told you what it is, what it was, and what it will be. You “know” what it will taste like even before you bite into it. You know it so well that anything that doesn’t fit in with your preconceptions about “apple” will go by completely unnoticed. Your experience of “apple” can only occur through the filter of what you already know about it. The net effect of holding a real apple and declaring, “This is not an apple,” is to cause your brain to look deeper, to look again. Your refusal to filter the object will reveal more of what it is, above and beyond what you already know.

Using paradox in this way can be a source of great insight and revelation. But it is almost entirely an intellectual exercise. The situation changes drastically when you apply it to your enemy. Here, we encounter more than our intellect – a lot more. If you’ve ever squared off with another human being who intends to do you serious harm, you know what a difficult experience it can be. If you pretend that the person facing you is not your enemy, you are in denial, and you will get clobbered. If you try to reason with your enemy, he will in all likelihood use it as an opportunity to learn your weaknesses, and you will get clobbered. If you lay down your arms and refuse to fight, he will think you a coward, and you will get clobbered. In short, if you regard your opponent as anything but what he is, you are going to lose, possibly in a big way.

The word enemy has a specific meaning. It implies a certain parity, at least at the outset. In a fight, anything can happen. Nothing can be taken for granted, as history has shown us in countless examples. Size and strength, while intimidating, do not always win. So at the critical moment, which can be at any turning point along the way, the ground can shift, and the sure thing can be upended. A real fighter knows this and is always looking for the dime on which to turn. But to hold that consciousness, he/she must never see the opponent as anything other than an enemy. If he sees him as the person who’s kicking his ass, he is no longer an enemy but an oppressor. Parity has been lost. Eye to eye has become flat on the ground looking up. You become the victim and he the perpetrator. Suddenly you are different. You are you, and he is the other. The connection has been broken.

The chances that war and fighting will vanish any time soon are less than 0.00% Small gains have been made in treating the enemy with respect and dignity. The real crime is not so much warfare as it is hatred. Warfare will always be with us, but hatred kills from within.

This entry was posted in Lessons. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s