How many enemies do you have?
I know, I know, we are not supposed to call anyone an enemy. And I realize for many of you it is difficult to admit out loud that some people may even get the title. But we all know who they are in our circles. It does not mean they are bad people, they simply play an adversarial role in your life. It is hard to see them as a potential for good, especially if you dread every social situation where you may have to interact with them.
And guess what? If I asked someone else the same question they might put your name down as that person!
A valuable life lesson in leadership is to not look for enemies. Or, don’t go out of your way to make enemies. Something we all struggle with is separating actions and words that are against our ideas, our thoughts, our plans, from the deeper feelings of hate or anger. We all want people to agree with us. We all want to be liked. We all want to just sit down with a group and have everyone laugh at the same jokes, and nod along to the same ideas, like we all came up with these things together. A little life experience will show that life just does not work that way. Even our closest friends will not agree with us on everything.
We give people space to walk closely without demanding complete agreement. That is a freedom which comes with our own being at peace in our own skin.
And some people may just always be in opposition to us. Maybe intentionally, as they are unaware how to allow this dichotomy to live in their mind, or maybe it just seems natural. And they may not necessarily hate you. You have no control over it if they do, so you work with what you can control in your interactions, giving them space and learning from the interactions.
We in the brick-and-mortar churches struggle with this paradox of living in community, and many do not know how to address it, let alone how to live into it as a reality. The Bible, especially the letters to the young churches in the New Testament, is clear about doing your best to live at peace with others, and be harmonious with one another. It can easily be forgotten that people back then were probably dealing with the very things we deal with today, just in a different context. And this leads to problems as we attempt some of these common coping mechanisms:
- Appeasement. Finding the path of least resistance when there is resistance, even if it means going against our values as a community.
- Avoidance. We just will not talk about certain things, then pretend they do not exist.
- Accommodation. This often happens outside of official meetings and decisions, where an unofficial status is granted to items and people to work their way around what the group wants to do.
- Attention. Allowing every meeting and gathering focus around this one issue, and this one person or group, giving it/them priority over all matters in your context.
You could add more to this list from your experience, I am sure. The reality is each scenario is based on not accepting and addressing the fact that these things are happening in your community, and the fallout then becomes normal.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,”
is part of the process of learning to live in harmony. This is different than peackeeping, because keeping something assumes you already have it. If you do not already have peace in your midst, how do you intend to keep it? People leave who disagree, or feel hurt, people word hard to remain ‘nice’ for the sake of group appearances, but secretly wrestle with what is happening, and on it goes. Peacemaking means addressing what happens in your community so that you can learn to love with freedom. Even someone who is adversarial.
Loving in community means people cannot simply hide behind or become the issue they present.
So how do you treat your enemies? Admit you have them, address within yourself why they are an enemy, then address the issues. If it is community disagreement, you create space that is safe to disagree and work things out. If you are being hurt, you address wrong behaviour, individual or in the group. You start with the fact that a person is in your midst for a reason, and then choose what it means to be in community together.
For me, especially in the last number of years, it means adding to my list of ‘ships’ in personal development, and learning from each one. Frienship to my side, mentorship ahead of me, discipleship behind me, and maybe ‘enemy-ship’ in my blindspots. They all teach me something about how I lead and gather as a person.