The rise of public rallies and marches of Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups has, for many of us, stimulated deep feelings of anger, fear and even hatred. The goals of such groups — to cause suffering and pain for others because of their heritage, religious beliefs, or skin color — is indefensible.
But there is a subtle, yet critical distinction between condemning such beliefs, speech and actions and condemning, even hating, those who harbor such beliefs.
Exactly sixty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a sermon in which he challenged us to “love our enemies.”
“This subject — Loving Your Enemies. It’s so basic to me because it is a part of my basic philosophical and theological orientation: the whole idea of love, the whole philosophy of love. . . We have the Christian and moral responsibility to seek to discover the meaning of these words, and to discover how we can live out this command, and why we should live by this command. Now first let us deal with this question, which is the practical question: How do you go about loving your enemies? I think the first thing is this: in order to love your enemies, you must begin by analyzing self. And I’m sure that seems strange to you, that I start out telling you this morning that you love your enemies by beginning with a look at self. But it seems to me that that is the first and foremost way to come to an adequate discovery to the how of this situation.”
So King is suggesting that if we believe in love and we want to bring love into this world we have to start by taking an honest and sincere look at ourselves. Self-reflection. Self-examination. Our natural response is to put our attention on the transgressions, faults and selfishness of those around us – those whose actions are indefensible. But King says if we want to end the chain of hate in the world, we need to start by looking at ourselves.
But wait – it gets harder.
“A second thing that an individual must do in seeking to love his enemy is to discover the element of good in his enemy. And every time you begin to hate that person and think of hating that person, realize that there is some good there and look at those good points which will over-balance the bad points. I’ve said to you on many occasions that each of us is something of a schizophrenic personality. We’re split up and divided against ourselves. And there is something of a civil war going on within all of our lives. There is a recalcitrant South of our soul revolting against the North of our soul. And there is this continual struggle within the very structure of every individual life. There is something within all of us that causes us to cry out with Ovid, the Latin poet: “I see and approve the better things of life, but the evil things I do.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
The first thing we need to do is to examine ourselves and the second thing is to find the element of good in our enemy. So are we to search for the element of good in Nazis? No – we are to look for the element of good in Joe Johnson, or Lisa Little, the people who are marching with swastikas and confederate flags. We’re looking for the element of good in each human being – not in a belief system. And we’re asked to recognize that we each have a struggle inside, a struggle in which we know the right thing to do and yet sometimes . . . we don’t do it. We give in to ego, to self-centeredness, to vengeful feelings, to cravings and sexual desires. Who amongst us has a past which is pure and untainted with actions and words that were mean or selfish?
I came across King’s speech this past week. I read it and listened to it. It’s inspiring. It’s timely. It’s worth 10 minutes of your attention. I’ve posted it below (video).
Gregg Krech is the author of several books, including Question Your Life: Naikan Self-Reflection and the Transformation of our Stories, which is about to be released. He has been teaching Japanese Psychology at the ToDo Institute for the past 28 years.
Gregg Krech Author, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (2002)| Author, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness (2004, 2011)| Author, A Finger Pointing to the Moon (2000)| Editor, Thirty Thousand Days: A Journal for Purposeful Living (1993-Present)| Director, ToDo Institute (Vermont) (1992-Pr......