We Should Try to Understand and Respect, if Not Love, Our “Enemies”

According to a news report last week, “President Trump brought his trademark disruptive approach to the National Prayer Breakfast on Thursday, telling attendees of a gathering meant to promote reconciliation, unity and prayer that his political opponents are ‘dishonest and corrupt people’ and that God is on the side of his supporters.

“The president’s speech at the annual breakfast followed a stream of addresses and prayers by other members of Congress and keynote speaker Arthur Brooks, author of last year’s book “Love Your Enemies.”  Each emphasized the Christian call for forgiveness and humility.  Speaking just before Trump, Brooks called on the audience of more than 3,000 at the Washington Hilton hotel to spread the faith by modeling unity in a divisive time. … [He cited the Biblical verse, ‘Love] your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’”

“I don’t know if I agree with you,” said Trump.

Dr. Brooks published his speech, which I found quote moving.  He describes a “crisis of contempt” and decries “the polarization that is tearing our society apart.”  He cites a definition of contempt as “the unsullied conviction of the worthlessness of another.”

His message certainly resonates with themes in our movement to promote respect, understanding, and sympathy, such as in the pieces by Grande Lum and Rachel Viscomi in the Theory-of-Change book.

Indeed, this is much of the day-to-day work of dispute resolution professionals.

Of course, there are limits.  Unfortunately, some people don’t deserve respect and, in fact, deserve contempt.  Some people act out of hate, spreading lies and purposely inflicting pain on others.  Without sincere remorse and efforts to make amends, they deserve contempt and condemnation.

The lesson from Dr. Brooks should be to limit contempt only for those who truly deserve it and avoid indulging in it too easily, without sympathetic efforts to see the world through the others’ eyes.  We also should avoid labeling others as “enemies” unless they truly and resolutely seek to harm others without justification.

We might reframe the message to “look hard for the good in others before judging them harshly.”  Not quite as catchy, but perhaps a better practice.

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