Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Galen Pearl

Thanking Our Enemies

Our enemies are our greatest teachers. ~The Dalai Lama

The Dalai Lama fled Tibet to avoid being imprisoned or killed by the invading Chinese. For decades, he has lived in exile. If anyone has a right to be unforgiving or hateful towards enemies, he does. And yet he doesn’t exercise that right. Instead, he offers compassion. He knows, as Buddha said, that hatred does not end hatred. Only love ends hatred.

In my martial arts school, we avoid adversarial language. For example, we spar with a “partner” instead of an “opponent.” We don’t compete for points. There is no winner or loser. Sometimes, when one partner uses a particularly effective technique, the other person might say “thank you.” Why? Because the technique revealed a weakness or vulnerability that allowed the attack to be successful. We learn from these “failures.” As one of our training slogans says, we “invest in loss.”

I used to spar with a guy named Billy. Billy had a great side kick that got through my defenses every time. Even when I knew he was going to use it, I still couldn’t get out of the way or deflect it. So when I sparred with him, I always asked him to use that technique so that I could learn. I didn’t shy away from it or get upset with him for using it. I thanked him for it. And when one day I managed to defend myself against it, we were both very happy.

In a sense, Billy was my sparring “enemy” but really he was my teacher.

The world today seems so full of enemies. What could I learn if I took one individual or group that falls in that category, and instead applied the label of teacher instead of enemy? What would I see in myself that needs work?

I had a supervisor once who was, in a word, mean. He seemed to go out of his way to keep the people he supervised on edge, wary. He delighted in bringing attention to mistakes (sometimes real, sometimes not) in a way calculated to embarrass the person. His own mistakes were always blamed on someone else. A request or suggestion to him was often met with a knee jerk denial, but if the suggestion was a good idea, he would then promote it as his own. You get the picture.

I dreaded going to work, and tried to avoid him as much as possible. Over time, however, I realized that he was not going to change, and so it was up to me to find a way to succeed in this environment. I gradually learned to adapt in a way that kept me out of direct confrontations. For example, if I needed his okay on something, I would go in his office and propose the opposite. He would predictably shoot that down and demand the option I supported. I would praise his insight and march off with the approval I needed to proceed with what I had originally wanted.

Rather than fighting him, I learned from him, and in the process became much better at my job, which involved a lot of negotiating. While we never were buddies, I had a successful working relationship with him, and his tactics no longer bothered me. Years later, after moving on to other jobs, I could look back and appreciate how much I had learned from him. He was indeed one of my greatest teachers.

Is there someone in your life you consider an enemy? It might be a family member, a neighbor, a coworker, a person who voted for (fill in the blank), a person who belongs to a group you oppose. Try for just a moment to think of that person as a teacher. What can you learn about yourself from this person? And if you can’t bring yourself to feel gratitude towards this person for what you can learn, can you soften enough to feel compassion, both for the person and for yourself?

16 thoughts on “Thanking Our Enemies”

  1. Thank you. I have been working on an issue for almost two years. Maybe with this insight, I can successfully call it complete.

  2. If we could only see this as a way to better understand our political, religious, and other positions vs being "attacked" things would be much less adversarial.
    I suspect that the reason many people feel attacked is they are really not able to logically defend their position. Not that they are right or wrong in the position just they are not able to argue it much beyond an emotional level.

  3. That's an insightful observation, Bill. We feel attacked when we feel vulnerable. We might feel vulnerable when we can't defend our position, as you suggest. So many aspects of our system in the US are set up to be adversarial–our political system, our legal system, to name two. Because the system itself is set up this way, it makes it even harder to find a way to avoid the adversarial perspective of attack/defend or win/lose. One reason I switched to a different martial arts style was because the one I practiced before was very competition focused. The one I practice now, as I described in the post, is not. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  4. What an amazing and helpful way to look at our "enemies," Galen. Seeing their adversarial stance as an opportunity for us to learn and grow sheds a whole radiant light on any given situation. This attitude certainly makes Jesus' command to love our enemies just that much easier.
    Thank you for your wisdom and insight!

  5. Bill, thanks for your follow up comment, which read in part:

    "This is the third thing I read today that reinforced this idea. Why does seem like the cosmos is in agreement with this idea?"

    I apologize for not posting the whole comment, but being tech-challenged as I am, I was concerned about posting a comment that had other links.

    But the story was great–about a computer programmer whose programs kept getting messed up by a certain user/tester. Once the programmer started to learn from the tester, instead of just being frustrated, he was able to craft programs that were much better. He ended up thanking the tester for challenging him.

    As to your point about the cosmos, three times are a charm! When I keep running into the same idea over and over, I start thinking that there is something important for me to pay attention to. The fact that you are seeing this message in so many variations is a gift from the universe directly to you!

    [What was the third context??]

  6. The third context was somebody actually agreeing with me when I posted this idea on another website comments section. Usually all you get is "flamed" for an idea like this. Maybe there is hope yet.

  7. I doubt I would be as gracious as you with a boss like that. I had close to that in an old plant mgr, Mr Furlow. If you wanted to get something approved, I always said, you had to "phrase it in the form of a Furlow."

    Just for a speculation- I wonder (not doubt, but wonder) if the Dalai Lama would be so magnanimous if he were the one with the 100 million man army and tactical nukes. Easy to be gracious on the outside if you have no choice.

  8. CW, I don't claim that I was gracious at the time! I was trying to survive and succeed in a very difficult situation. But it is true that as time went by, I came to appreciate what I had learned, and was genuinely grateful.

    As for the Dalai Lama, no one knows what would happen if circumstances changed. However, although the Dalai Lama might not have his finger on the nuke button, he wields tremendous power in the world. As as far as I've seen and read, he walks his talk sincerely and consistently.

    The story is told of the samurai warrior who threatened the old monk sitting serenely before him. The samurai brandished his sword and said, "Why aren't you afraid? Don't you know I can run you through without blinking an eye?"

    The old monk replied, "And I can be run through without blinking an eye."

    Who was the more powerful? Armies and weapons have never defeated the power of the heart/mind.

  9. I love the quote by Dalia Lama! The Savior taught similar teachings. "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”—Matthew 5:44
    I had a boss similar to yours and I loved how you handled your boss. I think I just prayed for mine. i did learn some great lessons from the experience. Thanks for this one; I really related to it. Hugs!

  10. I like that Matthew verse, too, and mentioned it in a recent post. It can't be an accident that different wisdom teachings all teach us to love or thank our enemies. It isn't just an ideal; it's a practical method of defeating or avoiding an attack. And it's the only way to really make a change in the world. Yeah, I bet many of us can relate to that boss! Thanks for commenting, LeAnn.

  11. At the risk of sounding like I'm objectifying people, I'll share something that helped me. A friend said, "Stop blaming reality," like the old put on slippers rather than carpet the world, and that was easy to see. I thought, what if individual annoying persons could be seen like that "reality"? Sure, people are dynamic and not objects. But interacting with how you want them to be or how they 'should' be instead of interacting with how they are actually currently acting is a recipe for distress.

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