We should value our enemies because they provide us with unique opportunities to practice patience, tolerance and forbearance. – Dalai Lama
What does that mean?
He is asking us to consider the benefits of having someone who opposes you (I dislike the term ‘enemy’). It might be the mean kids(s) at school, a sibling (or two), or your boss. No matter who they are, if they are not being nice to us, we have an opportunity to practice!
Practice what, you ask? Patience, while we wait for them to finish being mean to us. Tolerance of their meanness, and the ignorance, fear or insecurity on which it is usually based. Forbearance (self control) to not respond in the same manner, but to be kind and compassionate, even if they are not.
Why is having opposition important?
Without opposition, how would we get better? We use opposition to build muscles (gravity, elastic bands, springs, or whatever). We use opposition to sharpen the mind (debate, discussions and ‘friendly’ arguments). Without opposition, we would never rise to the level humanity is at today.
In some cases that’s good, in others, not so much. The atom bomb also arose from opposition, from one of the worst wars humanity has ever seen. Opposition strengthens everyone and everything, without moral judgement. That we must do for ourselves.
I believe that’s why the quote was very specific about why we should value those who oppose us. We shouldn’t value them for identifying themselves as targets for retribution, that would be (in my moral judgement) a poor use of the opportunity. Does that make sense?
He also specifies the uniqueness of the opportunity. Would a friend push you as hard as someone who is deliberately being as mean as possible? The opposition provided will be much greater, so the potential for growth that much greater.
Where can I apply this in my life?
We all have people who oppose us on different levels. Our parents might not like how we choose to live our lives (as kids, or even as adults). You can avoid them, or you can visit them, and practice patience, tolerance and self-control. I choose to visit my parents as often as time and cash allow, despite our differences. I also hope to teach them by example.
Most of us have a boss. I’ve been fortunate enough to have some truly mature and level headed bosses in the last few jobs, but not all were so nice. Unfortunately, back the, I wasn’t as bright as I am now, nor did I have the kind of skills I have now. Live and learn.
Practicing patience is probably the easiest, in that there are opportunities practically everywhere. Waiting in line at the checkout counter, when waiting at a stop light, when waiting at a doctor’s office. Anywhere you are, there are little irritations and frustrations.
An opponent is typically a much greater irritation, and will require greater skills in patience. It might help to consider each opportunity as a high intensity workout of the patience muscles in your head and in your heart.
Opportunities for practicing tolerance are fairly plentiful. Suffering with the crying baby, the whiny tween, the rude teenager, the grumpy old man. You could leave, but it might be an excellent opportunity to work on accepting them for who they are in the present, and see in them the potential for what they might become.
These are just a few of the times we can try to practice tolerance. For the crying kids, well, I’ve been the parent with a kid that just wouldn’t stop crying. I end up practicing compassion as much as tolerance, but it’s still good practice. Like patience, when you are dealing with an opponent, try to remember that this is special high intensity training!
Practicing forbearance or self-control is a bit harder for me to think of examples. I don’t get into the kinds of situations where it might occur all that often. Also my size keeps most people from getting too silly. Some examples for self control include being taunted at school, mocked or bullied (at any age, in any setting), or yelled at by the boss.
Some ideas include smiling when they yell at you (it messes with their head, in a good way), smile when they insult you (the same) or mock you. I draw the line at physical violence, but others draw the line elsewhere, some have no line at all. Smile as best you can, it sends mixed signals to their brain, and can help them become a better person.
If they get you really mad, try to keep a lid on it for now. Save it for the gym or the punching bag. Vent your frustration and channel your anger in better ways. Self-control and forbearance is both easy and difficult. Easy in theory, but hard in practice. An energetic or enthusiastic opponent can be the truest test of your skills.
Eventually, you will be able to see past their anger and frustration and feel sorry for them. When you can have a moment in that place, it is truly life changing. The bully isn’t scary, they are scared, but the words and kicks still hurt. Take the high road, and invite them to join you. The alternative is to take their invitation to take the low road with them; resist the urge.