With this post, I am not implying that we ought to learn everything from our enemies. More often than not, being influenced by our enemies, to any degree, makes us more like them. Only the strong and morally-centered can learn from their enemies and not become like them.
That being said, enemies truly are the best people to learn from. Not only can they make us strong and skilled (by resisting them), but they can also serve as a constant reminder of why you are not one of them.
Take one of my favorite franchises, Batman. Batman was first trained by the League of Assassins (called the League of Shadows in the movies), and then after becoming Batman, the one who kept his skills sharp and his morals strong, was his arch nemesis the Joker.
But that’s fictional crap. We live in the real world, so let me use a real-world example: Myself.
My wife’s family knows me as being quiet and serious. It’s the part of me they always see, while my wife and daughter only see that side of me half the time, maybe less. I have admitted to my wife’s family, and I will now admit to my audience, that when I first met my wife’s family, I had no intention of getting to know them. In my experience, when you are brought into a large group of people, whether it’s a crowd, or, you know, a family, odds are good that at least one of them is a killer, or a rapist, or hiding some kind of huge secret. Anyone who’s been part of my audience for any length of time knows full well by now that I don’t like people in general for these reasons. It was nothing personal against my wife’s family, it’s simply my approach to human beings. They will always disappoint, and even sometimes turn out to be worse than disappointments.
My father abandoned all of his children before they were born. My mother lost her kids (myself being the youngest at the time), but she never tried to get them back. My older sister was always a liar and manipulator (and, not to mention, a freeloader upon her adoptive mother). One of my older brothers has always allowed our sister to control him (directly and by influence), and thus he behaves almost identically to her, and his life has gone absolutely nowhere because of it. Worst of all is another one of my older brothers, who has been a rapist since age 11, and he grew up to be a child-murderer as well.
Oh, I didn’t mention my adoptive parents. They threatened to kick me out of the house starting when I was 10 (the age I was when I was adopted), and actually did it when I turned 18, even though I was never a high-maintenance kid. Even they will admit I wasn’t a bad kid. Didn’t stop them, though. When I was 21, I lost my apartment and job as a result of helping certain friends become sober from their heroin addiction, and my adoptive parents didn’t welcome me back home simply because I’m an atheist, they said. When I lived with them, they never tried to teach me anything, but instead repeatedly told me how I’m not good enough at anything. If there was a problem, they paid someone, like a counselor (and even sent me to a military camp in Arizona) to fix the issue for them. So yeah, they were careless, incompetent, and best of all, they lied to everyone about how they parented.
Don’t think relatives are the only people I’ve learned from. I could say plenty about former friends and ex-girlfriends.
Read my life story Atheist Miracles here if you really want to know some of the details.
Basically, my closest relatives, biological and adoptive, are each their own unique kind of nightmare. It took me until I was 25 to disown all of them. It took me so long because I have believed since childhood that everybody deserves second chances, and everyone deserves the benefit of doubt. I still believe that. With my relatives, I took that belief to the extreme, because nobody wants to walk away from their family. Imagine me, a staunch liberal, forcing myself to abandon the Left like I wrote about here, but multiply that struggle by a thousand.
I don’t regret being related to these people, though. Not entirely. In a way, it brought me to my wife, who said she fell in love with me because of my unshakable moral center. I wouldn’t have such strong principles in the first place were it not for the fact that the people I’m related to are who they are. The things my immediate-relatives have done (abandoning their kids, manipulation, deception, freeloading, using violence for any means apart from self-defense, etc.) were already outside of my nature, and I wouldn’t have become like them anyway. But, having seen what they do, it gave me a powerful hatred of immoral behavior in general.
It made me strong. Very strong. For a while, I was weak, but I am no longer, and it’s primarily thanks to them. The way those people live their lives are in opposition to how I believe all people ought to live their lives. For me, it’s not just about what I believe… I have a personal hatred of despicable behavior. When you grow up around it, how can it not be personal? Those people are no longer ‘family,’ they are enemies.
I purposefully remind myself they are enemies, and for a reason. The reason is because if I forget what they did, and I commit any act remotely similar to what they’ve done, then I become like them. If I become like them, how are they any longer the enemy?
I want to love. That is my prime directive in life. Love means commitment, constant self-improvement, generosity, self-sacrifice, and being protective.
There is nothing loving about abandoning your children. It is not love to leave your child homeless simply because they don’t buy into your religion. It is not love to manipulate and lie. It is not love to allow yourself to be manipulated. And it is certainly not loving to harm others, to any degree, for any unnecessary reason.
To be better than your enemies, you must actually be better, not just simply say you are better. Never forget what you believe in, and never abandon what you believe in. Always look inward, self-reflect, to make sure you have not fallen from grace. But nonetheless, embrace the strength your enemies have given you. Use that strength to serve your principles. The one thing evil people love is easy prey.