The other person is not our enemy.
Our enemies are misunderstanding,
discrimination, violence, hatred,
Thich Nhat Hanh
I love this teaching. It is deceptively challenging. On the face of it, most would probably agree (though some may not). However, when put into practice, I think most of us will find we fall short of honoring these wise words.
In a time such as now, when so much feels at stake and emotions are heightened (and for good reason), the easier path is to assign blame to one person or a group of people and go in for the kill. It is easier to have a face to direct our anger, our grief, our confusion. It even feels good! However good this feels in the short term, and however much it may motivate and seem to contribute to a resolution, in the long run it remains a delusion and contributes to cyclical suffering, fueling the very enemies we are working to defeat.
We will only be successful in our struggle, in this movement, when our motivation to act is fueled by a fierce compassion, born of a love that seeks the end of suffering for all beings, even those who act in harmful ways and contribute to the suffering we are fighting to liberate from.
This is the challenge of our time. In an era where we seek targets to blame and scapegoats for our suffering, can we with fierce compassion, work for the very solid cause of defeating fascism, defeating racism, defeating homophobia and transphobia, defeating policies that dismiss the poor, the sick, the elderly? Can we do this without demonizing individuals, even as we tirelessly work for their removal from positions of power, and work against the harmful policies and suffering their ideology causes? Buddhism and other contemplative practices say we can. And in fact, when we do we are honoring our true nature and not adding to the suffering. When we act out of fierce compassion, born from love, we upend the true enemies we seek to defeat: confusion, discrimination, violence, hatred, and anger. And in doing so, we are planting seeds toward the long arc, contributing to the end of suffering for all people. Then we are acting as bodhisattvas in this world. And this world, especially now, needs as many bodhisattvas as it can get.
We begin with our own hearts.