Friday, May 21, 2010

Enemies: How You Make Them, How You Keep Them, and How You Can Lose Them

Yesterday, I managed to turn a potential friend on Twitter into a sworn enemy with a glaring error of knowledge I didn't see, my big fat "Mr. Know-It-All" ego, and a misfeature in TweetDeck. I'm not blaming anybody, not even TweetDeck (though I'll bug them on Twitter till they squash that bug), though I'm at fault in the technical and legal sense used of car wrecks. Now that I'm recovering from the resulting cat scratch fever of the ego, I have let go of the anger and forgiven this person, and I will continue to apologize to her, especially when asked. So now I feel I can write about the problem I have now become all too aware of.

It's far too easy to turn a friend into an enemy on the Internet. That's because there's a whole lot less information in an all-text conversation than there is in a face-to-face encounter or even a telephone call. Emoticons were invented to deal with this, but even these fail all too often. Sometimes you think you're being nice when the other person suddenly declares they hate you, seemingly out of the blue, simply because they misunderstood what you were saying. This is a big danger even when people are close together and talking directly to one another. It's ridiculously easy to even turn the love of your life into your worst enemy: all it takes is one click, the one that changes your Facebook relationship status from "in a relationship" to "single" or even "it's complicated".

Me, I have two kinds of enemies, the personal ones and the political ones. It's simple, really. You make a personal enemy by hurting them. It doesn't matter how you do it; you just hurt them, and they hate you for (they sometimes say) forever. (I've had "forever hatreds" that lasted less than an hour.) You keep enemies by continuing to hurt them. This makes it certain that they will hurt you back, which will make you hurt them back for that, and so on, in a vicious cycle of revenge. You lose enemies when you stop hurting them. Better yet, forgive them. Of course, if they're still out to get you, it's best to avoid or ignore them; your relationship with them is over for good. If they get violent, you have little choice but to report them to the authorities. But then it's their problem, not yours. People who refuse to forgive generally have serious issues that have nothing to do with you, except that you somehow triggered them (sometimes by falling into their self-fulfilling prophecies). Forgive them anyway. (Here the wit in me brings up Oscar Wilde's quip: "Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much.") Just as love is not forever, neither is hatred. I now understand my mother's wise words: "This too shall pass."

Political enemies, however, are harder to shake. All you have to do to make political enemies is state your personal political stance in public. Those who already hate everything about that stance automatically become your enemies and start fighting you. This is called politics. Much of the art of politics consists of making the right enemies: those who advance your cause through their bull-headed opposition. It's not easy to get me to hate a person (that would take grievous bodily harm or other forms of cruel oppression), but there are political figures who fully earn my contempt. I don't like mindless ideologues of any kind; they strike me as cultists, mind-virus zombies. (I'm using "zombie" in its original African magic-war sense: a human turned into a robot.) I don't like leaders who build personality cults around themselves: such a cult allows neoconservative pundit Glenn Beck to cunningly channel populist outrage into the support of the very same predatory corporations whose crimes generate that very outrage; another allows Barack Obama to use his oratorical talents and his fanatical black supporters as cloaking devices which make him appear liberal when he is in fact a war-loving Nixonite conservative. I could go on about George W. Bush and many, many others. Through their arrogance (which is nothing other than the rock-star narcissism of the guru, the leader of a cult), they have earned themselves lots of enemies, the worst being their ex-supporters. Politics is an inherently dangerous game. Surely gamblers love it. But in a democracy, everybody who speaks up is political. Opposition just goes with the territory. There will always be some person whose ego is so wedded to their position that they call you a scurvy cur for believing otherwise. The challenge is to avoid turning a personal enemy into a political one. People have been known to switch political stance and become fanatical enemies of what they previously supported merely because of the collapse of a love affair.

When I woke up in the morning still smarting from the wound (and having demonstrated to myself just how stupid smart people like me can be), I knew I had to get this off my chest. I knew I had to sleep on it, since I needed some "higher self" assistance in writing it. Hopefully there's at least a grain of hard-earned wisdom in there. The School of Hard Knocks can wise you up pretty fast.

Back to The Space Helmet Show...

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