Ch 6. Break the spell of enabling

If one would have a friend, then one must also be willing to wage war for him; and in order to wage war, one must be capable of being an enemy.


This is an unexpected piece of wisdom. On the surface, the suggestion of enemies and solidarity in warfare seems to run counter to spiritual ideals of peacefulness, unity, conflict resolution, and mutual understanding.

However, as we navigate the rich depths and practical nuance of peace as an ideal, we find some very surprising counter-currents. It turns out that the road to peace is full of virtue-cultivating battles.

If you follow your own authentic path, you will come face-to-face with unexpected and unusual circumstances, when the call of justice transcends the need for quiet restraint, bringing the issue of unavoidable conflict into our lives. I’m focusing here only on the microscopic minutia of internal psychological dynamics and interpersonal relations, not large political questions or issues. (What happens externally is a reflection of what’s going on within, and large political issues are often just reflections of what’s happening “at home,” so to speak. The depth of this teaching is speaking to something within ourselves and externally in our intimate relationships.).

This instruction is asking us to deal with conflict avoidance, which can masquerade as peace-keeping behavior. Generally, peacekeeping is seen as “good,” but if the behavior is rooted in fear it can cause unjust harm, and is not considered virtuous. There are dysfunctional forms of peace-keeping which can be just as abusive as outright hostility. Thus this issue needs to be honestly seen and grappled with, if we are to talk about attaining real peace.

The call of justice means that sometimes we must embrace conflict, and stand in solidarity with what is right, and as an enemy to what is wrong, turning towards the conflict in order to overcome our fears and learn its lessons. This seems like an obvious concept, and yet in practice, in the reality of human relationships, this is much more difficult to do than it appears.

Fearful conflict avoidance usually manifests itself as the consummate diplomatic peacekeeper. We can think of this expression as a particular type of person, or as an attribute in each of us (if we look deeply enough). That fearful diplomat is the intended recipient of this particular wisdom; it is calling forth his fear, and is elevating it to the surface, so that it may be seen and reconciled.

We must set aside for a moment the destructive types – those who love conflict, confrontations, and chaos, the people who are constantly taking sides, creating divisions, hate-mongering, and demanding school-yard types of solidarity. They are not the audience for this wisdom, and their form of solidarity is not what’s at issue here.

This wisdom is for the “nice person,” the one who is always running around smoothing things over. His aim is always to appease everyone, and calm things down whenever conflict erupts. He is the first one to jump in with a distracting joke, a phony string of patronizing compliments, a categorical demand for compassion, or some other mechanism of invalidation, typically in order to to divert attention from the conflict-producing issue. He seeks to de-escalate at all costs, and unwilling and unable to take sides, will often unjustly silence the weaker party who is more easily oppressed. His actions, though seemingly well-intentioned, create a false moral parity between victim and aggressor, even at times when there is no moral ambiguity. This adds great harm to the victim and unfairly and prematurely absolves the wrong-doer.

This sort of diplomacy, though lauded in our social consciousness, is not a virtue. This person suffers from blurry moral vision on account of tremendous fear, often leaving him unable to distinguish right from wrong, nor stand firmly on the side of justice when that’s required of him. This kind of peacekeeper is deeply traumatized by dysfunctional conflict, and is therefore very viscerally conflict avoidant. He doesn’t have the capacity to actually consciously take sides. He can’t. Being embroiled in conflict, being an enemy to someone, being hated by someone, runs counter to his dire people-pleasing needs. Being a proper enemy, not in the heat of reaction, but in a considered and tempered way, is internally an untenable position.

And because he can’t stand to be hated, because he is so blinded by his own fear and urgent need to silence the discomfort of conflict, he cannot see what morality dictates in any given situation. He unwittingly ends up siding with the bully/aggressor. We know him sometimes as the abuser’s enabler. He cannot consciously discern the bully from the victim, and even if he could, standing up to the bully isn’t “nice,” and will escalate conflict, so he won’t be doing that anyway. He is incapable of being an enemy, really, even when justice requires him to stand strongly in solidarity with the victim.

This person is easy to identify within any small social group, and is pretty obvious externally, but he exists first and foremost inside the mind. We see him outside because he exists inside. Finding him within is the primary focus here, because learning how to “take sides” internally with what is right and true, and standing in solidarity with that (with the inner victim, the small true self) against the bullying egoic voice is the real battle. To be a loyal friend to our inner child, to be a friend to the heart and the soul, we must become an enemy to the ego. We must take sides, and go to war when necessary, and stand in integrated solidarity with what is true within, even when that means we will be hated by others.

This wisdom is calling out this pattern in all of us. It’s asking us for courage and discernment. It’s asking for moral fortitude, rather than people pleasing fear. It’s asking for solidarity with our inner victim, our inner truths, against the bullying force of the ego, and its external reflections in our lives.