I’m passionate about developing and maintaining a mindset that works for me rather than against me. For most of us, the mindset we start with is not one that we consciously adopted. Our mindset evolves as a product of experience, self-talk, the opinions of others, life lessons and the development of beliefs and attitudes that are not always home-grown.
It is on us to reflect on all aspects of our mindset and check whether it is fit for purpose or encompasses our true values. Optimal mindset programming is the phrase I coined to describe the process of identifying the thought patterns, attitudes and beliefs that will best serve us, and using tools to lean into them.
In Search of Improvement
Following the recent death of my eldest son, I have dived into some soul-searching and have even visited my local church in my quest for peace and a wiser perspective. Traumatic events present us with opportunities for growth and self-development.
You don’t have to be religious to discover value in the teachings of great people such as Christ, Buddha, and the prophet Mohammed. For clarity, I am not religious, but I don’t believe in throwing the baby out with the bath water either. There are many rich faiths out there, and we can learn from them when we open our hearts and minds.
As part of my quest for wisdom, I revisited the concept of loving my enemies. Forget full-contact fighting, freestyle rock climbing or swimming with crocodiles. Loving one’s enemies has got to be up there with the toughest challenges around.
The Truth, the Whole Truth, and Nothing but the Truth
Let’s start with the truth. I am not sure whether I have ever loved my enemies before. I am not even sure whether I have loved the people that I do love as well as I should. Where does that leave those who exist on the periphery or strangers in the street?
Historically, if you crossed my path, either I was out of there forever, bridges would be burnt, and I would be highly unlikely to rebuild them (or allow you to), or else there was all-out war. Whichever way it went, I would not think kindly of you, and I would soon search for and discover lots of other reasons to hate your guts. (Disclaimer: I am trying to be ultra-honest here, not leave myself open to hate-crime accusations, so assume some exaggeration in this paragraph!).
Was any of that healthy? Definitely not. Unnecessary stress, raised blood pressure, the heavy weight of borne grudges, (arguably) psychosomatic aches and pains, and type-2 diabetes to boot were, at least partly, the karmic rewards of my hot-headedness.
‘They’re The Cause of Our Stress.’
Then there are all these people out there with whom I could not and would not interact or even share a space. Life’s got to be easier than that, hasn’t it? Ah, well, that’s the point, I sense you thinking. It’s not our fault. It’s them. They’re toxic. They’re the cause of our stress.
How’s that mindset working out for you?
Harbouring grudges, allowing negative thoughts to fester, and spending any amount of time feeling angry, sad, or disgusted about anyone or anything only damages ourselves.
Why Should We Love Our Enemies?
As a kid, being told to love my enemies was no big deal. Firstly, I didn’t have any real enemies, and the people who came closest to being enemies were the ones I was supposed to love and who were supposed to love me. The thorn in my side was my father and for the first twelve years of my life, I bounced back from every abusive incident, forgiving, almost forgetting, and moving on as though nothing had happened.
As I entered my teens, I began to lose my innocence and was rapidly running out of forgiveness and amnesia. As my ego grew in strength, so did my ability to form solid friendships with the people in my tribe, but it was only a matter of time before I would make enemies. The stronger our self of self, the more Marmitey we become. It’s like a law of nature – with great likeability to some comes great dislikability to others. You can’t please everyone all the time.
What Makes an Enemy?
If we’re going to talk about enemies, shouldn’t we define the term first? Is an enemy someone whom we don’t like or someone who doesn’t like us? Does there have to be the threat of harm – either physically, psychologically, or spiritually? Do they need to be a threat to our growth and wellbeing, an obstacle to us reaching our goals?
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, an enemy is ‘a person who is actively opposed or hostile to someone or something’, so no matter how many times your pet cat pounces on you and tries to take the skin off your shins, he is not your enemy. And that Rottweiler that froths at the mouth whenever you pass its owner’s front garden, the one that you know would rip you to shreds if it could, is not your enemy either. The same also goes for viruses, bed bugs, sharks, flea-infested rats, demons, and other creatures of the night because they are not people.
Let’s stick with people then.
What is Love?
I guess we also have to look at what love is, and this is where thinking about the rabid dog, pugilistic cat, or any other dangerous but innocent animal comes in handy. Millions of people look after dangerous pets – snakes, big cats, poisonous spiders, etc. – and if you were to ask them what they think of their pets, they’d tell you they love them. Does loving those creatures mean throwing caution to the wind? Of course not, so loving something dangerous doesn’t have to mean putting ourselves in danger.
Is Love Interactive?
Loving someone, therefore, is not the same as exposing ourselves to their toxicity. Medics wear appropriate PPE when they treat the sick, and zoo workers follow safety procedures when they clean out the lion’s den, so it’s sensible to keep a safe distance from those who may do us harm.
Do we have to look after someone – feed them, house them, and keep them comfortable – as we would a pet? No, because you are not responsible for them, but if they were to come to you for help, what then? Surely, turning them away would not be a very loving thing to do.
Where an enemy needs help, weigh up the risks? Do they genuinely need your help or is it a trap? That’s a tough one. A lot of the time, you won’t know unless you get stuck in.
What if we Can’t Stand Them?
Where there’s history – a broken relationship, perhaps – the person we think of as an enemy may not wish us any harm or ill will in any way. They may find us just as annoying as we find them, but that doesn’t mean they are plotting our execution. Surely, it’s possible to love them even if everything about them irritates us. We can still wish them the best.
What Have They Done Wrong?
If someone’s a compulsive liar, can’t be trusted, steals from you, beats the cat when you’re not around, or forces you to watch YouTube reruns of The Housewives of Atlanta, I feel your pain; however, the things that bug us are usually much more trivial – the noise they make when they eat cereal, or the fact that they put the toilet roll on the holder in that way – you know what I’m talking about!
If people can’t stand you for being you, for your oddities, for the individual way you do things, that’s on them. Their frustration is on them, and it is none of your business. Likewise, if you don’t like their idiosyncrasies, get a life. Don’t sweat the small stuff. You have better things to do.
And, yes, of course, you can still love them!
What about the more serious stuff?
Hate the Game, Not the Player
Are you a parent? Have you owned a pet? How about an old banger?
Parents love their babies, right, but when your newborn is regularly filling its nappy with the wonders of digested baby food, frequently puking down your freshly ironed shirt, or keeping you awake at four in the morning, it’s not always fun, and that’s if you’re the male parent. Some mothers have to put up with having their nipples chewed on for prolonged periods.
The Kids Know Best
As they grow older, our children learn that they know best, that we are stupid, that everything bad in the world is because of us and our generation, and finally, when they’ve really matured, they tell us they hate us. We love them anyway. That’s the game of parenthood. (Disclaimer: not everything I say should be taken literally; I do have a sense of humour sometimes.)
I have an indoor cat. He’s destroying my house. The one saving grace is that he has always known what his litter is for. He also has his own uses for every surface, any tissue paper that is left within reach, and any other objects that can be played with. The wallpaper of every wall in my house has been destroyed, and tissue paper’s been unravelled, thrown in the toilet, or wrestled with to the point of being unusable.
Did I mention that he’s an expert flycatcher? That’s not a good thing. Those who know know. Hate the game, not the player. Cats will be cats, and some of their antics are antisocial, but they’re also cute, amusing, smart, occasionally affectionate, and always fascinating. I love my cat.
Many drivers love their old bangers, even if they don’t own a vintage vehicle, but second-hand cars – even new ones – often need a lot of love, care and attention. If the bearings don’t need replacing, it’s the brake pads, and if it’s not the brake pads, it’s the bodywork. We’ve all been there, but many of us still love our old cars!
On Friday, the thirteenth of last month, I kid you not, I discovered that the front of my car had been redecorated with bird poo. When I say redecorated, the windscreen and bonnet were covered. To make matters worse, my car was out of windscreen wiper fluid. I won’t be parking my vehicle under that tree again if I can avoid it, but I have as much love for the local bird community as I ever did.
Love is Not Rocket Science
Love is expressed in many ways. Nobody is suggesting that you have to express your love in the same way toward all living beings in every situation. Come on, I’m not asking you to make love to the cat or to allow the postman to suckle on you – not unless you like him anyway!
What counts is what’s in your heart. The people who annoy us, that one person who really would like to see you fail at everything you try, and the one whom we hope will move to the other side of the world never to return; these people are probably not giving you a second thought.
A lot of what we think others are plotting is in our heads. They don’t know what we’re thinking, and they don’t care what we’re thinking. It is highly unlikely that they ever will roll up and ask you to help them. If they do, what does that tell you about their situation?
Be kind, wished people well, and commit to doing the right thing, even for the people we consider enemies.
WHY Should I Love Them?
Why should I, I can hear you thinking. You haven’t sold it to me yet!
OK, so you acknowledge that loving others doesn’t have to cost you anything more than your thoughts. It shouldn’t, right! It’s no biggy. Why should you?
What Goes Around Comes Around
What goes around comes around, and that means that whatever you’re thinking about them – at some deep level – you will believe they are thinking about you. If you wish harm on others, somewhere subconsciously, you are fearing harm from them. It’s the same with forgiveness. If we judge others harshly, that’s a reflection of how we are probably judging ourselves. If we give others a pass, we allow ourselves to be human with a clear conscience.
It’s a Better Use of Mental Energy
You don’t need to repeatedly tell yourself how much you love your ex-wife for the love to be there. Forgive them for whatever wrongs you think they did against you, wish them well, and you can park them. Case closed. What’s the alternative? Bearing a grudge? Plotting an accident? Hoping they’re unhappy? Wow! What a waste of energy that is!
Loving them allows you to let go. Let them go and move on. That frees up headspace for you to focus on making great things happen. You can also focus your energy and being a better person rather than judging others for their behaviour.
It Feels Good
You probably don’t believe this but honestly, it does. Acts of kindness are always rewarding. It stands to reason that even thinking good thoughts about someone will also be rewarding. It adds up. The more love you can generate for the world around you, the less space there is for anger and frustration. You will be mentally and physically healthier, and you will feel better.
Enemies May Become Friends
Anger begets anger, fear begets fear, and mistrust begets mistrust. If you can throw all that negativity away, you are inviting others to do the same. It may sound about as likely as a date with a Hollywood superstar, but you might become friends with some of your enemies. It happens, and when it does, it’s a double win – you lose an enemy AND make a friend.
It’s Been Emotional
At the start of this journey, I had no idea where to start with loving my enemy. Now I’m almost sold on inviting my enemies to Christmas dinner (steady on, Martin!). That’s the joy of being a writer. When I am not ghostwriting, I get the chance to explore my own mind and challenge myself to think differently.
I’m ready to love my enemies.
Are you ready to love yours?