When our little daughter first learned the power of the word no, she used it almost constantly regarding anything I proposed. One day, in exasperation, I said, "Darling, you would think I was your worst enemy." She ran to me, saying, "Oh no, Mama, you're my favorite 'emeny.' "
She couldn't even pronounce the word, and certainly had no concept of it. She was simply beginning to gain a healthy awareness of self-determination. While it was obvious she would mature through further experience, I saw I should respect where she was right then. Furthermore, I needed to look to my own parenting. It was clear there were lessons I needed to learn as I continued to interact with this growing child.
In all our interactions, it is vital not to make "emenies" of the opposition. Those who are more spiritually mature - in that they turn to prayer for guidance - usually find a charitable response to opposition. Maintaining friendly relations in general helps to reconcile specific points at issue. Even if disagreement has escalated to enmity, there are still ways to avoid conflict.
Biblical instructions for dealing with opposition culminate in an amazing demand: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt. 5:44, 45).
Recognizing ourselves to be children of God, we claim an inherited capacity to love universally that exceeds all human expectation. We also realize that this same capacity to love one's enemies is inherited by our opposers.
Shortly after the episode with my daughter, I began to work with an adult who apparently considered me her enemy. We approached everything from opposite viewpoints. One day I realized that since she was of my mother's generation, I'd been cast somewhat in the role of the inexperienced child.
Now I could emulate my daughter's grace! I refused to make her my enemy. When tempted to say to my husband, "Guess what she did today," I would be silent. Instead of avoiding her, I included her in my circle of friends.
After several months, an advanced position became available. To my amazement, she indicated how well she thought I could fill that job. This was not a ruse to get me out of her life; we'd be working closely together, and I'd be in the superior position. As it turned out, my family moved. But I had come to think of her as one of my good friends.
Our world needs continuing proofs that opposing views don't have to place people in unfriendly conflict.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote an article called "Love Your Enemies" (see "Miscellaneous Writings," Pgs. 8-13). It asks: "Who is thine enemy that thou shouldst love him? Is it a creature or a thing outside thine own creation?" The article points out that those who seem to be enemies can cause us to give up our own "pride, self-ignorance, self-will, self-love, self-justification." It continues, " 'Love thine enemies' is identical with 'Thou hast no enemies,' " and makes clear that those who oppose us might well be considered our best friends because they compel us to grow in grace.
As we take this viewpoint to the global arena, as well as to the smaller arenas of community and home, we'll become less defensive. We'll view opposition as opportunity for self-examination. We will find ways to accommodate others' viewpoints, when appropriate. And we'll achieve the patience that allows others to mature, when necessary.
This isn't a do-nothing, "peace at any price" position. The scriptural statement quoted earlier delineates specific ways to behave toward our enemies. This behavior may well prevent opposition from escalating into enmity in the first place.
Earlier teachings of "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth" were attempts at justice through making the punishment fit the crime. Loving one's enemies lifts any situation above the human, into God's mercy. Taking the initiative to bless, do good to, and pray for anyone who opposes us, can make that one our best friend, or favorite enemy.
While this may not result in our hugging one another, as my little daughter and I did - it just might.