Normally, if I find someone irritating and unpleasant, I avoid them. I don’t bother spending time arguing with people who irritate the hell out of me. The people I bother to disagree with, are people I like and respect. If I disagree with them, I will be seeking a better understanding of their perspective, or trying to help them see my perspective because I think they’ve gone wrong. I am not going to invest the time that requires, without care.
However, most of us use concepts of opposition to help develop a sense of self. We know who we are, in part by being able to point at what we are not. To do this in any meaningful way, it is necessary to know the ‘other’ or we may just be indulging our prejudices. Sometimes what we hate most in others, is a reflection of the things we do not like about ourselves, so looking deeply is important or we can easily miss something.
There are arguments that you can judge a person by the quality of their enemies. You don’t get enemies by sitting round on the sofa all day munching snacks and watching TV. Pissing people off requires far more active engagement with the world, so having an enemy indicates having done something interesting. However, it’s a mistake to think that developing enmities is somehow proof of being an interesting person. Being an arsehole is not technically difficult.
How much time we invest in our enemies says something about us. How much we feed our own sense of being wronged, our anger and resentment. It can grown on the inside, developing vast proportions while out there in the real world, no one else notices or cares. Who does the anger harm? Well, the angry one, for a start. The one who clings to self righteous indignation rather than letting go and moving on, has not moved on. That’s a high price to pay, for the sake of your enemy.
There is no one in my life who I think of as an enemy. There are occasionally people who irritate me, but I don’t encourage them to stick around and I do not seek them out, nor put myself places where I might have to listen to their drivel. If you are going towards the people who make you angry, I think it’s well worth asking what you get out of doing that. Odds are, there are things inside you that need a look, and the person on the outside is far less the issue.
There are some institutions that would do well to consider me as an enemy. I’m much happier declaring war on structures and bodies that are underpinned by wrong, rather than individual humans. (Anyone see my piece in Green World?) Fighting for fairness, for justice, for a better sort of world often requires taking pot shots. But not usually at specific people, which is in many ways preferable.
Then there are rivalries, and these are worth their weight in gold. People I admire, respect, whose opinions fascinate me, but who I do not fully agree with. People I can clash with, sometimes in public-ish spaces, and watch the glorious sparks coming off. Passionate, intense exchanges with people who are fired up by ideas. These are not enemies. These are not people I would ever want to knock down or see humiliated. They are people I would protect or defend in any other arena. They turn up in all kind of places. Sometimes I find myself converted. Sometimes not. Either is fine. And in truth, I do not really want to convert them to my way of thinking. If I did, I’d have to go and find new people to disagree with.
Rivals are wonderful, exciting and stimulating people to have around. Don’t seek enemies. Seek rivals. They will make you go further, do more, shine brighter. And you can still have a cup of tea with them.