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The Value of Enemies

Feb 27

I’m writing this brief piece to those of you who have contacted me and told me of how angry, discouraged, and hopeless you feel in response to the way you have been treated by your employer.  It is very human to view those who oppose, attack, or frustrate you as enemies and to want to strike back at them in kind.  I’m sure that most of you haven’t considered this, but the toughest times in your life can often be the most rewarding.  When all is well in your world it’s easy to form the expectation that it should always be that way.  It’s during the tough times that we see life is more about constantly meeting and overcoming challenges; and within all that adversity discovering a multitude of opportunities to build character and resilience.  If we are open to the experience, we can come to recognize that some emotions are counterproductive; and those individuals who frustrate us are sometimes deserving of our gratitude, as they provide us with opportunities to build our mental toughness.  The great Japanese baseball star and home run record holder, Mr. Oh, did not regard the opposing pitcher as an opponent (or enemy); he viewed him as a collaborator, providing him with opportunities to blast more home runs.

During adverse times we can build our resilience, courage, and determination; we can forge the grit that will allow us to lean into the challenges we face.  If we allow ourselves to weaken in the face of oppression, we will have denied ourselves the opportunity to build mental muscle.  Instead, we can welcome the tough times as they are the ones that allow us to push out on the edges of our own resilience.  Anyone can handle a carefree existence, it takes a mental master to flatten the demands we face.

I ask you all, can you remember when you were carefree and all was well?  Do you recall how content and oblivious you were before things “turned sour”?  In those days you may have even looked down on others who were in your present position.  Personal resilience and leaning into challenges weren’t even on your radar.  But now in the wake of whatever has put you on your back foot – now it becomes critical that you gain control of your mind, that you direct your own emotions, that you activate your natural tendency to “bounce back”.

I want to provide you with a concrete and specific skill that you can use to do what I am suggesting here.  I will share with you one of the mental tactics employed by martial artists of the mind; those who can hold their centre in the face of an oppressor.  It is so simple, however, I predict you will write it off as more, ineffective, psychological “mumbo-jumbo”.

The western version of the tactic could be called “reframing”.  Zen masters would call it “compassion”; showing compassion toward those you see as your enemy (I hesitate to ask you to show compassion toward those who you likely despise, as I imagine you would think I have lost my mind).  Compassion (or reframing) has the power to undermine crippling emotion, to release your resilience; and is best deployed on an enemy.  Compassion, for our purposes, involves reframing your enemy’s behaviour (remember Mr. Oh?).  Your enemy’s behaviour doesn’t change, but you put a new frame around it, making him your ally.  You imagine that your enemy is intentionally mistreating you, so that you may have the opportunity of strengthening your ability to “bend not break”; to “bounce back” in the face of adversity.  You appreciate the challenges your enemy offers you, as you know they will assist you in developing your inner strength and building the courage you need to lean in, rather than fold up.  And above all you come to recognize that it is not your friend who can give you this gift; it can only come from your enemy.

Your anger toward your enemy can neutralize your resilience and render you useless as a problem solver.  You need your enemy to bring out the best in you; and from this perspective you can even be grateful to him.  In this regard your enemy is your teacher (sensei).  This is why he deserves gratitude and not (self-crippling) hatred.  He may be motivated to make your life difficult, but he can do you a world of good.  Contrary to popular belief, and in the long view, enemies can be more valuable than friends.

Dr. Mike Webster, R.Psych.


From → Resilience

  1. Rolly Beaulieu permalink

    Wise words.


  2. Aught Buck permalink

    This advice is well timed for me.

    I am feeling better lately and can now see the possibilities.

    Thanks Dr Mike.

  3. Bullied Municipal Employee permalink

    I just wanted to say how much I appreciate your words of wisdom Dr. Webster and the others for taking the time to post on this site. I also wanted to acknowledge all the great members I had the pleasure to work with over the years, minus the ones that contributed to my demise. it’s interesting to read all the posts and realize that the abuse is primarily at the hands of those in “leadership” positions, which would denote a certain “era” of the RCMP….I could always tell who a new recruits trainer was just by watching his progression from recruit to member, good members were a result of good trainers who had integrity and ethics…apple…tree. So until someone wants to step up to the plate and start holding the bad ones accountable right from the top on down…it’s never going to get better. Politics and who owes who and who your daddy is…has cost the RCMP greatly.


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