Our instinct is to avoid making enemies; to have everyone be our friend and ally. But we’ll fail.
Everyone has enemies: the Dalai Lama, The Pope even Jesus had enemies.
In A Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson documents how, even among learned scientific minds, fierce rivalries have dominated much of scientific progress from biologists upset over the proper classification of the chrysanthemum, to geologists who battled over the age of the earth or who discovered which dinosaur.
And then it’s as simple as some people may not like your face.
But if enemies are like death and taxes why is that a good thing? Here’s why:
Life would be boring without them
Without obstacles to desire we would easily get what we want. If you think that’s a good thing, think some more. It’s a recipe for boredom and stagnation.
It’s the fight for what we want—the overcoming—that creates interest and excitement. It’s why we go to the movies and read fiction.
It helps you identify the ‘crazies’
People get their underpants in a bunch over the most innocuous things. Take a deep dive into the comments below any TED video you consider wise, insightful, beautiful or inspirational and you’ll see how people polarise on almost any statement, or position.
Many people can’t even take a joke. Take North Korea’s reaction to “The Interview.”
Seeing these reactions can alert you to where the “crazies’ are and you can take steps to avoid or prepare for them.
They signal you’re on to something big
More importantly though, when you take a stand and enemies appear it’s often a signal that you’re on to something big. No judgement on right or wrong, just that you’re challenging something that some people care about.
The stronger your stand against any position, the more enemies you will produce from those invested in the status quo. Ask JFK, Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Mandela. (If you get an answer, let me know.)
They develop muscle
Obstacles in all their forms especially human enemies help you grow as a person and a leader.
The people who try to thwart your intentions have much to teach you about yourself: about how you react to adversity, failure, and loss of dignity. They are like a mirror because what you react against and dislike in others often reveal the same weaknesses within yourself.
Whether it’s the bank denying your loan application, or your boss giving the promotion to someone else, your ‘enemies’ will give you the practice to overcome adversity, setback and failure.
The alternative is staying small
The only way to avoid not having enemies is to bottle up your ambitions, and avoid trying to make a difference. Even then you’ll fail. People with no ambitions tend to make up for it by gossiping about everyone else, especially those who do have goals and dreams. But if you’re reading this you’re unlikely to be in this group.
So don’t wish away your enemies. Be thankful. They are there to make your goals more challenging, and to help develop your capacities to influence, negotiate, build alliances etc.
Your enemies also provide the opportunity to experience the love, joy and relatedness that comes from transforming them into friends and allies.
You’ll do that through the strength of your convictions, your integrity and dedication—by chasing your ambition and not taking things personally.