Learning from our Enemies

In the days leading up to the inauguration, Katie Couric asked ex-President Obama what books, besides the Bible, he considered the most essential for his Presidential role. His answer: Team of Rivals.

Team of Rivals is about Abraham Lincoln, Obama’s hero, and some of the members of his cabinet that he personally selected. Instead of selecting members that fully supported him and saw things as he did, President Lincoln selected men who staunchly opposed him and even treated him badly.

It takes a man or woman of great strength to gather a team about them, composed of the very individuals that have disagreed with them, opposed them, and even run their name into the ground.  Abraham Lincoln saw, and Obama sees, something most of us don’t see, but need to understand — we can learn valuable things from our enemies.

Our enemies have valid points of view on certain things

The older I get, the more I realize that even those that I have been deeply hurt by have thoughts and opinions on things that I can learn and benefit from. Everyone, no matter who they are or what kind of hurt they bring into our lives, have knowledge of things we don’t. They can see things in ways we can’t see them and shed new light on situations at hand.

Our task is to not let our emotions get in the way of logic. I have been guilty in the past of being so hurt and angry with a person that I refused to do something the way they suggested or view a circumstance in the way the presented, because I didn’t want to give them any ground in my life. Now I’m realizing it’s not so much giving them ground as it is adding to my own knowledge to consider their viewpoint.

Our enemies make us stronger

I think of the butterfly story I once heard. A man was watching a butterfly struggle out of its cocoon one day, and taking pity on it, decided to help it out. He broke the cocoon open and let the butterfly out. Hours passed and the butterfly’s wings dried, but they never opened. They stayed shriveled up and useless. It was the process of the butterfly struggling to break out of the cocoon which helped pump the blood into the butterfly’s wings. This made the wings open up and be strong enough for flight. Without the struggle, the strength never came.

It is the same way with relationships. Relationships bring struggle into our lives via conflict, betrayal, and rejection. These are things that seemingly crush us beyond repair when they first take place, but in actuality they strengthen us.

The deeper we hurt, the deeper we love. The more shocking the betrayal we experience, the more intensly loyal we become. The rawness of rejection turns us into people who accept even those who are deemed unacceptable by others. Because we have been hurt by our enemies we know how to be better friends.

Our enemies teach us who not to be

Similar to the above statement, we learn invaluable lessons from our enemies — namely, how not to act. When I was in high school and being subjected to the snotty girls’ nasty behavior I would often come home crying. My mom’s wise words were, “Learn from them. Learn how not to act.” It is a lesson I still learn as an adult. Every time someone hurts me or makes my life difficult I remind myself, “Learn how not to act, Melissa.”

We watch those who are cruel and determine we will be nothing like that. We hear the gossip that gets back to us and it teaches us to not talk about others, no matter how tempting it is. A spouse leaves us for another and we enter a second marriage with an even stronger determination to love and be committed. When people insist on lying about us, it makes is long to live in truth. When they pick fights with us every time we turn around, we have more of a passion to pursue peace and live a peaceful life.

I can say that a large part of who I am today is from learning to live completely opposite those who have hurt me the most. For that, I owe them a huge thanks!

Our enemies show us our flaws

Although our friends and family can help bring our flaws to the surface, our enemies do so even more. Who we really are and what’s deep in our hearts will inevitably rise to the surface when we’ve been wronged.

I have seen ugly flaws in myself, such as wanting revenge, being prone to hate, and having impulsive urges to slander those who have hurt me. In my younger years I gave in to those things. In the past few years I’ve learned to replace those things with their positive counterparts instead. Slowly but surely my innate flaws that rise to the surface after being hurt are being replaced with calm, quiet, and peaceful non-reactions when being hurt. I love seeing the growth in my life regarding that. Not only is it a good feeling to know I am maturing with grace, it’s also a great feeling to know I’m not stooping to my enemy’s level of cruelty!

Our enemies can teach us how precious our friends are

Never have my friendships been more meaningful than when I run into their safety and security after a particularly painful experience with someone who is not a friend. I would not have the appreciation for my friends that I have if I had not been so deeply wounded by others in my life.

When friends encourage me and uplift me, it means everything to me and I take nothing for granted. Why? Because I know what it’s like to have words thrown my way that cut me down and tear me into a million pieces.  Those who have hurt me have only succeeded in making my friendships and time with friends all the more precious!

Life is predictably going to have hurtful people in it. Some will remain on a level of simply being annoying people we have to live with, others could easily be placed in the category of enemies. These people can whittle our lives down to hurt and bitterness or they can make us stronger and better people in the end.

“We can learn, even from our enemies.”  — Ovid

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