As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave
my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison. ~ Nelson Mandela

Loving our enemies is an ideal for human beings of any spiritual tradition. Mahatma Gandhi practiced it no less inspiringly than St. Francis. But it calls to mind the saying of Jesus: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” (Mt. 3:43f) And this, in turn, calls to mind what G. K. Chesterton said: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”— Difficult, yes, but eminently worth trying, especially in our world torn by enmity. In the mess we are in, we don’t have much to lose by trying anything. Who knows? To love our enemies may be our only way out.

How, then, can we go about loving our enemies?

  • Show your enemies the genuine respect that every human being deserves. Learn to think of them with compassion.
  • In cultivating compassion, it may help to visualize your enemies as the children they once were (and somehow remain).
  • Do not dispense compassion from above, but meet your enemies in your imagination always at eye-level.
  • Make every effort to come to know and understand them better – their hopes, their fears, concerns, and aspirations.
  • Search for common goals, spell them out, and try to explore together ways of reaching these goals.
  • Don’t cling to your own convictions. Examine them in light of your enemies’ convictions with all the sincerity you can muster.
  • Invite your enemies to focus on issues. While focusing on the issues at hand, suspend your convictions.
  • Do not judge persons, but look closely at the effect of their actions. Are they building up or endangering the common good?
  • Take a sober look at your enemies’ goals and evaluate them with fairness. If necessary, block them decisively.
  • In order to counteract your enemies effectively on a given issue, join the greatest possible variety of likeminded people.
  • Wherever possible, show your enemies kindness. Do them as much good you can. At least, sincerely wish them well.
  • For the rest, entrust yourself and your enemies to the great Mystery of life that has assigned us such different – and often opposing – roles, and that will see us through if we play our part with love.

Br. David Steindl-Rast
Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

Br. David Steindl-Rast, OSB

About the author

Brother David Steindl-Rast — author, scholar, and Benedictine monk — is beloved the world over for his enduring message about gratefulness as the true source of lasting happiness. Known to many as the “grandfather of gratitude,” Br. David has been a source of inspiration and spiritual friendship to countless leaders and luminaries around the world including Desmond Tutu, the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Thomas Merton, and more. He has been one of the most important figures in the modern interfaith dialogue movement, and has taught with thought-leaders such as Eckhart Tolle, Jack Kornfield, and Roshi Joan Halifax. His wisdom has been featured in recent interviews with Oprah Winfrey, Krista Tippett, and Tami Simon and his TED talk has been viewed almost 10,000,000 times. Learn more about Br. David here.