On Losing Enemies

by Christopher Lovejoy on December 22, 2013

Enemy carries a much stronger negative connotation than opponent.

Where opponents oppose each other in a spirit of competition, enemies attempt to outdo each other in a bid to exact retribution or revenge.

The motives of each are quite different: opponents seek to win through skill and craft; enemies aim to conquer through fear and hostility.

This distinction is quite topical these days because there is much less tolerance of enemies in the public domain – either in making them or in crushing them. Perhaps this lack of tolerance accounts for why the entertainment media is so full of fictional enemies.

Could it be that a compensatory mechanism is at work?

As for the phenomenon of opposition itself, humanity seems curiously split between those who favor friendly forms of competition and those who would forgo these forms to favor any and all forms of mindful cooperation and skillful collaboration.

Tao Te Ching, Verse 69

Lao Tzu presents a case for having opponents engage each other without making enemies of each other.

There’s a saying among soldiers:
“I dare not make the first move
but would rather play the guest;
I dare not advance an inch
but would rather withdraw a foot.”

This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back
without the use of weapons.

There is no greater misfortune
than feeling “I have an enemy”;
for when “I” and “enemy” exist together,
there is no room left for my treasure.

Thus, when two opponents meet,
the one without an enemy will surely triumph.

When armies are evenly matched,
the one with compassion wins.

Edited slightly by yours truly to enhance the flow of text

Ref: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao

If I challenge or oppose someone, am I not at risk of making an enemy? If I feel compelled to threaten someone (without actually doing so), have I not become an enemy of another?

And what does any of this have to do with being and becoming fulfilled as a person?

My Impressions of the Verse

This verse offers a different way of thinking about being an opponent.

My childhood was filled with opportunities to oppose others in competitive games and sports. Most times, being an opponent meant besting others with artful, skillful, mindful checks and moves.

On those rare occasions when I got angry or frustrated, a wee bit of the will for revenge became evident.

There’s a saying among soldiers:
“I dare not make the first move
but would rather play the guest;
I dare not advance an inch
but would rather withdraw a foot.”

This is called
going forward without advancing,
pushing back
without the use of weapons.

To the western way of thinking, these words might seem a bit odd. I mean, how many soldiers do you know who “would rather play the guest”, or who “would rather withdraw a foot”?

By the same token, these figures of speech do carry some effective wisdom: a defensive posture can have you be much more mindful of your opponent than one that is offensive.

Taking possession of yourself and your emotions in the heat of battle seems to be the lesson here.

There is no greater misfortune
than feeling “I have an enemy”;
for when “I” and “enemy” exist together,
there is no room left for my treasure.

I agree with Wayne Dyer when he says that these words are the most significant ones in this verse. To understand why, we need to appreciate what Lao Tzu meant when he made reference to “my treasure”.

“My treasure” is a reference to “the three treasures”, which I explored in my post, What Truly Matters?

“My treasure” is a reference to the primary Taoist virtues of mercy, frugality, and humility. You might say that these virtues are treasures because they serve as hedges against losing peace of mind. If these hedges are breached by having an enemy, the tendency to attract more enemies increases. This, I think, is why Lao Tzu reminds us that there is no greater misfortune than feeling “I have an enemy”.

Thus, when two opponents meet,
the one without an enemy will surely triumph.

When armies are evenly matched,
the one with compassion wins.

In the spirit of the Way, opponents need not oppose; they merely need to be opposed by those looking to make an enemy. Heaven, it seems, favors those who find themselves opposed.

Implications for Personal Fulfillment

The fulfillment of a desire can sometimes be thwarted.

The more attached I feel to an object of my desire, the more thwarted I can feel, but if the cause or the source of this thwarting involves the actions or conduct of another, what can I do?

I can be present to a feeling of frustration, but depending on how much something matters to me and how seriously I view the thwarting, my natural instinct is to challenge, to oppose, even threaten.

If I find myself opposed for no apparent reason, it’s a simple matter of holding my ground and, if necessary, defending myself, but what if I find myself impelled to challenge or oppose another?

I recall the virtues of mercy, frugality, and humility. As a witness to the feeling of being impelled, I contain it and release it, making it possible for me to view the situation with a discerning eye.

Perhaps I need not challenge or oppose anyone; rather, I need only discern value to affirm truth, to affirm value to discern truth, even at the risk of finding myself challenged or opposed.

Next up: On Dressing Plainly (Living a Tao-Realized Life)

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This post is one of many in an ongoing series that began here.

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