This message is for anyone who is currently living under conflict where you perceive you have an enemy. Let me begin by saying that I cannot hope to understand the agony of your losses. The price of conflict is high and I’m profoundly sorry that you ever had to experience paying it. No matter what side of the globe you are on I want to do all I can to prevent you or your children or anyone else and their children from going through the gut-wrenching sensation of sudden and violent experience.
The media—the people who seek to describe the conflict—focus on defining two (or more) groups and they also create the frame for the intractable disagreement. But in daily reality these groups of people are casually described with a single word when in fact they are vastly diverse individuals that have unique opinions even within within their own social, political or religious subcultures. So the name that we throw over any group is effectively useless when trying to define who is for or against us because everyone would use the same words to define different groups based on their own subtle interpretations.
So imagine your enemy is a Canadian. Imagine you’re an American at war with the us (okay, so maybe it’s a hockey game). We can say that you are pitted against a Canadian. A Canadian against an American. But hold on—your enemy’s Mom was born in Boston and she went to school there and later in Virginia because her Dad moved around because he was a Commander in the US Navy.
So your enemy lives in Canada and has Canadian citizenship but half his DNA is American. Then add to that the fact that his Grandmother on his Dad’s side was a Navajo born in Los Angeles, so he’s one-quarter Native-American on that side too—so he’s 3/4’s US blood but you’ll hunt him because he wears a maple leaf? Do you get my point? Where’s the line in these words? Who gets to say who is what? What’s Black? What’s White? What’s Old? Young? What’s mine, what’s yours?
This same truth holds for countries. We can name them whatever we want—and we often change the names—but whether it’s called Bombay or Mumbai it’s still the same place to tangibly live. Likewise, the concept of nations are quite recent and many are changing today much like the names of cities and countries. Borders are generally decided by post-war bureaucrats who lack sufficient knowledge of local history and culture to make wise decisions, which is why they’re later fought over.
So why would we shoot at someone or hate someone just because they ended up on the other side of a bureaucrat’s pencil? We’ll hate someone—call them enemy—because they live just down the road but on the other side of an imaginary line??? We’re that inhuman that we can’t see ourselves in this other-named person?
I’ve travelled a lot. I haven’t met any bad people anywhere. I’ve very occasionally met misguided people, desperate people, angry people, oppressed people, fearful people and people who took labels too seriously, but I’ve never met a bad person. I’m not saying people can’t do atrocious things but if we don’t think that the horrors of war would change us for the worse then we simply lack humility.
All experience changes us. I can assure you, if you were mistreated long enough you would eventually be capable of doing very ugly things. So we have to be careful or we’ll end up accidentally doing ugly things to a decent person just because of fears and definitions, not because there’s an actual issue between us and them.
If you shoot an enemy or blow him up or poison her then you incur the wrath of their entire family and all of their loved ones. So your one enemy has become six. There is only one true way to get rid of an enemy, and that is to rename them. We must be like Abraham Lincoln who said, “Have I not destroyed my enemy when I have made him into my friend?”
You have met misguided, desperate, angry, oppressed and fearful people. Some of them have labels that you have been taught things about for your entire life. Can you still see their need? Recognise their humanity? Embrace them with compassion and allow yourself to lower your labels and love them? For just like you they want their children safe and their futures bright. And one way to accomplish that would be to have more friends.
Now go be friendly. You’ll save the world and you’ll have a pretty good day yourself.
peace. literally. s.
Scott McPherson is an Edmonton-based writer, public speaker, and mindfulness facilitator who works with individuals, companies and non-profit organisations locally and around the world.