We can raise a whole generation of children who have the capacity to embody what all the great sages have instructed us: Love thy enemy.
At a weekly meditation group, our hostess, Harshida Mehta, told us that her house had been getting egged lately. This came as quite a shock because the Mehta family is one of the kindest and most generous families I have ever met.
Harshida revealed how just last Friday her and her husband heard loud thumping noises at their windows. Although the fear of gunshots breached her thoughts, Harshida ventured to investigate. “When I managed to sneak in a look, I saw a medley of eggs, oranges, and such coming at our window.”
Courageously, Harshida decided to confront her “enemies.” Armed only with her belief that “all strangers are my kin,” she went outside to see “three cute kids.”
Rather than berate them, Harshida tried to connect, “Hey guys, thank you for the oranges. Can I have them so they don’t go to waste?” But the kids started to run. Harshida walked after them and said, “Wait! Wait! Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to do anything. I just want to talk. And I can use your oranges.” The assailants ran off without looking back.
In reflection, Harshida felt a “sense of motherly connection.” She explained, “More than forgiveness, it was more like an effortless flow of compassion.”
Perhaps one of the most universal, yet most ignored teachings in religion is to “love thy enemy.” Obviously, Jesus Christ exemplifies this when he said, “God forgive them for they know not what they do” on the cross. The Tibetan Buddhist practices of compassion for “difficult others” echoes Jesus along these lines.
I’ve found it very difficult to see my enemies as human, much less love them, so every day I work hard to remind myself that we are all the divine at different levels of understanding. I want my sons to have easier access to loving their enemies, so I’m starting their training in this teaching early.
Harshida’s story unveils some powerful wisdom on how and why to teach our children to love their enemies.
When Harshida ran outside to confront the potentially “dangerous enemy,” it turned out to be a group of 10 and 11 year old children. It helps to see all our enemies as children because they once were children and in some ways they still are children (which is why they often act childishly). It is much easier to see children as fundamentally good or acting out in ways that they “know not what they are doing.”
People don’t willingly choose to be malicious, vindictive, or hateful. They experience things in their lives—often when they are very young—which force them to take on the defenses of anger, aggression, and scorn. In my experience with prisoners, I’ve noticed that most of the inmates who have committed heinous crimes were seriously traumatized as children or young adults. Seeing my enemies as children reminds me of the saying, “all attacks are a cry for help.”
It is very easy to teach my sons to view their enemies as children because most of their “enemies” are children. So when 7 year old Jett tells me that he is no longer friends with someone because they were mean to him, I ask him if he has ever been mean to someone else.
I then ask him how he would feel if everyone that he was ever mean to decided to not be friends with him. Hopefully, this will help Jett to see that his enemies are just like him—a child doing the best s/he can to make their way in the world.
I believe that if children can learn this lesson at an early age, then it won’t be a huge step for them to see someone of a different race, religion, or nationality as just like them. If they begin to see the world in this way, then when someone really hurts them or their family, they might be able to forgive their enemies.
Forgiveness can lead to understanding. Understanding plants the seeds for love. We can raise a whole generation of children who have the capacity to embody what all the great sages have instructed us: Love thy enemy.
I know there are a lot of “ifs” in the plan I’ve outlined, but think about the alternative. Do we continue to teach our children to egg the houses of those who are different from us or with whom we don’t get along? And what happens when these children get tired of throwing eggs and want something that does more damage?
I’m joining forces with Harshida, Jesus, and the Dalai Lama by trying to dive into the “effortless flow of compassion” with all who enter my field. Maybe when my children see me marching off every day armed only with compassion, they might take up their battles with hugs, flowers, and love. “You may call me a dreamer, but I’m not the only one…”
Photo: Flickr.com/Kristina Alexanderson