Opinions, Column

Love Thy Enemy, Hate Thy Friend

You’ve been told it all your life. Well, you’ve heard it mentioned sometimes. Ok, maybe not, but you’ve probably heard it at least once. The Golden Rule: treat others how you want to be treated, love your enemy—something along these lines. Regardless of the exact wording, its message of love for those whose company you don’t particularly enjoy is a tall order. However, I believe its corollary imperative is even more of a challenge, and of even more importance: Hate your friends.

Yes, hate your friends. I’ve never been told this before. I’ve never heard it mentioned. Nobody talks about the importance of hating your friends. If they do, it certainly is not given equal philosophical standing to the often grotesquely positive preachiness of love, love, and more love for everyone, all the time. But hating your friends is of the utmost importance. Bear with me here.

Hate has some serious linguistic luggage. Not only is the word subconsciously associated with being wholesomely bad, but it is also consciously seen as an action, as a practice, that must be corrected by mediated love. Hate is the hot potato of emotions. The rules say, “Get rid of this as fast as possible,” and we abide. Another common assumption about hate is that it is a very emotional sort of thing. However, just as you can treat your enemies with love without a deep, warm, emotional swelling in your heart, you can totally hate your friends in ways that are not fueled by a dark, inner fire bent on harming them. This is the kind of hate I believe deserves a deeper exploration.

Another important distinction to make is who these “friends” are. Broadly, I am referring to the folks that slide into your life naturally: moms, dads, brothers, sisters, roommates you choose to live with, teammates, yoga buddies—these are the people you see on the daily, the ones you care deeply about, the ones you consider to possess, to some extent, redemptive qualities. More often than not, you stand by these folk. Why hate them?

Because as wonderful and great as your and my friends are, they sure as hell ain’t perfect.

Hopefully something just clicked. Maybe you thought about that uncle at Thanksgiving who lightheartedly dropped a woman-in-the-kitchen joke and made you feel uncomfortable. Maybe you thought about your buddy who “only drinks socially,” but has acquired an astounding capacity for socializing after four years of college. Maybe you thought about your sister who seems particularly apathetic to the things that matter to you.

Whoever and whatever you thought of, the dissonance between the parts of you and the parts of the people you care about is an intensely difficult subject. These dissonant parts are the edges of you and your friend’s Venn diagram that don’t overlap. While most of the edges are harmless, even trivial—you like basketball, your dad likes tennis—there are other parts that are not trivial, but we lack gumption to talk about what bothers us.

Loving your friends is easy and enjoyable. When you connect with someone on that next level, it can become a healthy addiction. Maybe you’ve fallen in with other people who care deeply about the environment and get a thrill from talking and planning ways to help that cause. Maybe you and your mom volunteer at a soup kitchen together on Sundays instead of going to church. Maybe you enjoy talking with a friend about systems of sexism that affect her life, systems of which you were not aware. Profound friendships and powerful movements come together when there are shared interests. Generally, the only thing holding us back is the initiative to actually talk to these people about what you both enjoy talking about.

With your closest friends, the middle of the Venn diagram is probably more spherical than elliptical due to how much you have in common. It is natural to love these parts of your friends. It is easy to preach to the choirs in our Venn diagrams. What is challenging, what I struggle with, and what I believe deserves our attention more than ever is figuring out how to talk to these wonderful people about their “Venn” edges—these edges are far less wonderful to talk about.

We can preach and practice “love your enemy,” and feel nice and good about ourselves. But how do you tell your uncle, someone you love, that when he frivolously made that sexist comment, you lost your appetite? How do you tell that best buddy of yours, someone you’ve spent countless hours with, that you don’t like how much he drinks, and you worry about him? How do you tell your sister, someone you’ve known your whole life, that her apathy invalidates what you care about because you value her opinion so highly?

I must be very clear here: do not tell any of these people you hate them. That is not the point at all. It’s also simply not true. My point is that to even begin tough conversations with the people you love, you need to acknowledge that there is a small fraction of their being that you do not love. “Hate your friends” is not a call to arms. It is a call to acknowledge that your friends aren’t perfect. It is the mindset you need in order to talk about the stuff that doesn’t get talked about. It is ultimately an invitation to sit down and have a difficult conversation with someone you care deeply about.

I am offering this as a place to start: hate your uncle, hate your buddy, and hate your sister, because it is as important a mindset, if not more so, as loving your enemies. Yes, it’s trickier to navigate. No, it’s not said very often. But yes, I believe it ought to be.

Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphic



February 9, 2015