“Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy’s point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.”
― The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
In regards to people who annoy us or who we consider our enemies, it is common to ask: “how in the heck can they believe that?” “What is wrong with them?” “Why are they reacting this way?” “Can’t they see how much harm they are doing?”
Yes, they may actually be partly or mostly wrong and doing some harm. But what is a healthy way forward? Maybe begin by acknowledging the possibility that I may be partially wrong and doing some harm. It is really hard to get out of this life without harming others at times and getting a lot of stuff wrong. Even with the best of intentions. Even when we try hard not to. Which is why being curiously compassionate can be a real game changer. When we sincerely seek to learn why someone sees and feels a certain way and then listen carefully to the responses we begin to have understanding. Understanding often leads to compassion. And compassion can bridge divides and bring connection. It is so much harder to hold someone as an enemy who we feel connected to. Connecting in this way often leads to reciprocal caring for each other. And such caring can bring positive change. It may simply be a change of heart that allows us to kindly and respectfully live in difference. Or it may lead to a conversion from one side to the other. This is how we connect through our divisive times.
Last week I came across two thoughtful writings that touch on these themes. I hope you’ll take the time to read them. The first one talks about it and the second one is an example of it through a conversation between two beloved friends of mine who come at things quite differently but enrich each other’s lives.