“It is a man’s own mind, not his enemy or foe, that lures him to evil ways.”–Gautama Buddha
The above quote was block printed on a large “Post It Note” that I found inside my old address book in the middle drawer of my desk last night. I remember writing the pithy statement then sticking it there several years ago when I was quitting cigarettes. I had placed wise sayings on things and places I normally used or was at, in the home, at work, and the car. These helped keep me to focus on the main goal of quitting tobacco.
Seeing the quote from the Buddha, inspired contemplation and thinking about my past friends and enemies and how they helped to shape the ways I live. For whatever reason the brain has, my thoughts immediately went to my junior high best friend Jeff and my nemesis Ronald. The two were complete polar opposites from one another.
Jeff was the first kid to welcome me into the neighborhood when our family moved to Lincoln, Nebraska. Ronald was the bully I met two years later on the first day of seventh grade at Irving Junior High. Jeff had a sunny, positively mischievous personality while Ronald acted out the many chips on his shoulder as leader of the biggest, most threatening clique of the school’s bullies.
What was particularly interesting about the two boys was that both of them came from dysfunctional families. Their differences came from how they had adapted and learned to cope with the hardships of their home lives. To be fair, the familial dysfunctions were vastly different in both families. Jeff was the only child of an alcoholic mother. Ronald and his three sisters lived in the home of a convicted embezzler who had been imprisoned during Ronald’s early childhood.
I didn’t know much about psychology then, but I intuited that growing up in the alcoholic’s home and growing up in that ex-convict’s home presented completely different obstacles. Understanding Jeff’s situation caused me to sympathize with him and to enjoy our friendship more. Knowing Ronald’s situation caused me to pity him even though he was a very mean-spirited bully who frequently focused his wrath onto me.
How we view the people who we believe are our friends and enemies is an offshoot of how we categorize aspects of the external world. We learn early on to think of things and people as bad or good, they are valuable or worthless, or we are indifferent to any qualities or faults they might have. Most of this categorization is a subjective product of our upbringing and indoctrination. Oftentimes our particular groupings of people and things are irrelevant to them or have little or no objective meaning.
Understandably, I categorized Jeff as best friend and Ronald as worst enemy because of the ways they treated me and how they made me feel. In the objective world, these categories had little meaning and were obstacles to the search and development of impartial love of all living beings. The depth of love for one and the hatred of the other acted as barriers to more well-rounded spiritual growth.
It wasn’t wrong to like Jeff, but I viewed him through rose-colored glasses. It also wasn’t wrong to feel defensive around Ronald, but I viewed him through fear-tinted, grey-colored glasses. In a way, these distinctions distracted me from other needs of the maturation process. I suppose these lessons were just normal parts of early adolescence.
“Let our friends perish, provided that our enemies fall at the same time.”–Marcus Tullius Cicero
The point is that our concept of dividing people into friends and enemies leads to numerous serious problems like bullying and outright warfare. We hold on tight to our beliefs and discriminations at our own, and other’s peril. Instead of clinging to outmoded beliefs and discriminations, it might benefit us to ask ourselves why we choose to hold such opinions so dearly.
It is upon serious reflection that we can begin to understand why one person behaves in friendly ways and another person behaves in malevolent ways. This is how we can more authentically love our friends, and have compassion for our enemies. Perhaps, some day, an enemy may become a friend. Who knows?