January Practice: Transforming an Enemy to a Friend

Heart image with title: Practice

Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy to a friend. We never get rid of an enemy by meeting hate with hate; we get rid of an enemy by getting rid of enmity. By its very nature, hate destroys and tears down; by its very nature, love creates and builds up. –-Martin Luther King, Jr.

Enemies take many forms. We all have people in our lives whom we’ve had difficulty with, if not a complete falling out or estrangement. And, there may be those whose transgressions have deeply hurt or outraged us. What might it take to shift feelings of anger, hurt, or hate to understanding, possibly even love?

Imagine stepping into the shoes of your “enemy.” While in jail for nonviolent civil disobedience as part of the Montgomery bus boycott King wrote his famous sermon “Loving Your Enemies.” In it he says “we must recognize that the evil deed of the enemy-neighbor, the thing that hurts, never quite expresses all that he is. An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy…and evil in the best of us.” 

Beginning to see each other as complex, fallible beings who are capable of striking out from a place of pain, fear, or alienation, helps open a space where empathy can enter. It doesn’t justify or condone transgressions, but may help us see others in a more holistic way. Are there insights into the life or predicament of your “enemy” that could help you soften your heart toward them? What are they? If it’s safe (physically, psychologically, spiritually) for you to do so, try to create a broader understanding of your enemy and their motivations.

This practice is inspired by conversation cards focused on love, forgiveness, and compassion, a resource available from the Fetzer Institute.