“Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.” – Martin Luther King
It certainly sounds like an impossibility. If you have an enemy, how can that person ever become a friend? This isn’t the recommended religious practice of turning the other cheek that we’re familiar with from the Bible, but close. Still, something about the process involved in transitioning from enemy to friend seems rather difficult.
Maybe not. Here are some examples of effectively transitioning from enemy to friend. Hint: A lot of the transformation has to do with attitude, mostly yours.
Consider politics, always an arena of intense interpersonal relationship dynamics. Even if you don’t like certain politicians because of party loyalty, personal convictions or personalities, the fact is politics is rife with enemies and friends. Sometimes it’s even difficult to tell the difference. Keeping track of the back and forth is interesting, if nothing else. That’s because in the political arena, opponents are considered enemies – until they’re not. Often, as in the case of the aftermath of political primaries, former enemies form alliances, endorse their previous opponent, and may even get named to positions within the potential administration.
Enemies turn into friends, at least, friends of an arm’s length sort. They probably won’t be erstwhile friends, those you feel you can turn to in your most dire need, but friends in contrast to enemies.
What has this to do with love? Just that it takes a bigger person to overlook enmity, to see the individual underneath the swagger and braggadocio, to separate the rhetoric from the underlying facts.
Or goodness, in the case of many.
THE EXAMPLE OF THE BULLY
Another example involves the bully. Think about the playground bully, someone bigger and stronger and seemingly out to get you. Many of us struggled to escape the attention of these mean kids in elementary school. We remember vividly how he or she pestered and tormented us or another kid, usually someone smaller, different, more vulnerable. If the targeted child continued to cower and show fear, the aggressive behavior on the part of the bully often continued and perhaps intensified. Standing up for him or herself, however, doesn’t always take the form of physical fighting. Sometimes, just a direct look – a nonthreatening, but unafraid look – will turn things in the opposite direction.
This isn’t to advocate that anyone act in a foolish manner, putting themselves or others at avoidable risk. It is, however, just an illustration that enemies can become something other than that, if not a friend, at least a non-enemy.
What about the co-worker you’ve competed with for a task, coveted assignment or promotion? During the so-called contest or rivalry, you quite naturally see that individual as your enemy, someone you feel compelled or pressured to beat. After one of you wins, though, you have the option of continuing the adversarial stance separating you, opting to adopt a kind of truce, or joining forces to advance.
Who knows? You might even become friends.
While this is not love in the romantic sense, it is love in the human sense. It stands to reason that we all do better together than when we fight each other needlessly.
TRANSFORMATION: FROM ENEMY TO FRIEND
To transform an enemy into a friend requires one person to step forward and initiate the change. That’s often propelled by love, the kind of human emotion that forgives all slights, looks past harsh statements, past injustice, social pressure and aggressive actions and finds common bond.
It is also part of what resonates so strongly in Jesus’ statement during the Sermon on the Mount: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
Even if you don’t regard yourself as particularly religious, it is possible to see the wisdom in those words. Turning an enemy into a friend is how humanity learned to survive and become the dominant species.
Think about that the next time someone cuts you off on the freeway. Instead of reacting, just let them go. Call it being friends in humanity, rather than competitive adversaries.