Suzanne Norman

Enlightened Living Articles

love thy enemies

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you,.."  Matthew 5:44


I am not a religious person nor I don't profess to know much about the bible, but I do know that some consider this to be one of the most important verses in the entire New Testament and is what separates Christianity from all earlier religions.  I suppose most of the verses in most of the religious text are subject to personal interpretation, translated based on our own perceptions, conditionings and beliefs.   But this one is powerful and appears fairly straightforward to me.

But these modern times, especially In light of the recent events in so many parts of world, this ideology seems to be lost, forgotten, or ignored.  How does one "love thy enemy" when there is such hate, violence, and destruction imposed upon human beings by other human beings.  How can we forgive? How can we begin to heal as a species, a planet, a collective consciousness?  These questions keep many of us awake at night, worrying for our future.

I turn to the teachings of the wisdom traditions when I feel lost and disheartened.  Time and again, regardless of the problem I am seeking an answer to, I am presented with one simple idea…change your perception. Clear your lenses and try to see through new eyes.  This is empathy.

Empathy is not sympathy.  Sympathy is the outpouring of pity or feeling sorry for someone(s).  Empathy is the ability to step into the world of another person, what is it like to be in the skin of another, feeling what they feel, trying to understand.   Empathy is easier when its our neighbor. We can more easily step into the shoes of those near to us, especially if they are "like" us.  But empathy doesn't work so well at a distance.  For instance, how can you step into the shoes of an Isis operative to understand their motives?  How do you try to empathize with someone you hate in order to understand them? 

This is where Gandhi was so ahead of his time.  Gandhi, who was Hindu, said "I am also a Muslim, a Christian, a Buddhist, and a Jew.."  He saw the power in this, the power of empathy to bring about peace.  Gandhi dedicated his life to satya (truth) and peace. One of his more famous quotes of "an eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world bind", supports his renown as  a pacifist committed to non-violence and conflict resolution.

For those not so steeped in the ideology of those like Gandhi, the militarist Robert McNamara, a former U.S. Secretary of Defense famously said that the number one rule in all foreign policy making should be to empathize with your enemy. He didn't mean to befriend or agree with them, he meant that to think smart, you had to understand what it is that drives them. Because if you don't understand them or where they are coming from, then all of your strategies to defeat them will be a failure.  While his motives were different, he understood the value of empathy.

Empathy is vital to any form of relationship, business, familial, or global.   So how does one begin to develop empathy?  There are many techniques or ideas you can consider to begin to open yourself to this ability, but one of the simplest ways is to simply be curious.

Develop and nurture your curiosity of another person, a stranger. Ask the Muslim guy that sells you your morning paper about his life, his world. Ask the Hindu in the tea shop about her family, her dreams.   Act as if that person is more interesting than your are.  Then you will begin to soften your fear and perhaps your hate,  and empathize (feel) what another person feels. You never really understand a person until you've stepped inside of their skin and walked around.

This is the only way to begin to heal, to build healthy and peaceful relationships toward a common goal. 

"A man is absolutely free only when there is no identity left.  You are neither a Christian nor a Hindu nor a Mohammedan; you are neither an Indian nor a German; you are neither a man nor a woman.  You are just a pure consciousness, and that consciousness is eternal." 

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