As a follower of Christ, I hear Jesus invite, plead, command me to love my enemies, not just my family, friends, neighbors or those who are part of “my group” – i.e. my race, religion, nationality, gender, (insert subgroup name here). The genius of this divine exchange is that we can not both love and hate. There is not room in the human heart and imagination for both at once. When people say they have a “love – hate relationship” with something or someone, they usually mean that they vacillate back and forth between loving and hating – it is a schizophrenic sort of experience. We may go back and forth, but the more we move toward one, the further we are from the other.
I also think that we typically use the idea of enemy to refer to groups, not just individuals. Simplification relieves stress, so we simplify the arguments and the adversaries into manageable categories.
We also would rather accuse others than accept responsibility. In a conflict, it is easier to see how the other has wronged us, failed to understand and appreciate our position. Yet we have trouble recognizing how we may have unintentionally offended, incited the other, aggravated the situation. And when someone tries to give us that feedback, how difficult is it for us to hear? How often do they need to use just the right approach for us to receive what they offer, which is for our benefit anyway?
Most people have a reason for their beliefs, words and actions. These may make no sense to us, and may even be unknown to us. But they are there just the same. A great resource for learning to hear and communicate is the book Crucial Conversations. One useful phrase they offer in trying to hear, understand and appreciate the other (particularly our adversary/enemy) is “Why would a reasonable, rational, decent person say/do such a thing?” You may argue, “But they aren’t reasonable, rational, or decent!” That may be true, but the refusal to ask the question prevents us from learning, from honoring the other as a fellow human with the same basic needs.
Whether we are struggling with a family member or coworker, engaged in a religious or political debate, assessing the statements and actions of our leaders, or analyzing the global news, we do well to remember the humble and gracious Servant of All who invites us to learn from him how to love the unlovable. This must surely be an act of Spirit and an essential expression of our transformation and maturing.