We are Not Each Other’s Enemies

The past week it has again been clear, the difficulties facing the world and humanity.

I try to limit my Facebook exposure, but I read a friend’s post about the local wildlife strip next to her train station, where of a morning she had routinely delighted in hearing the birdsong and watching birds play. One morning it had been bulldozed, with again, not a tree left in sight. No more birdsong or soft leaves speaking good morning. Her status update said she felt ‘heartbroken’, and she conveyed the sense of shock and silence amongst the commuters.

I read about old horses, blindfolded, and used as circus bait for young bulls in overseas arenas, where crowds find some form of desperate release watching spectacles of suffering and ‘triumph’.

I saw the story unfolding of teenage boys in our schools reducing their female classmates to bodyparts of porn, chalked up on internet scoreboards. All this, so normalised now in a culture of cheap gratification and buy-and-sell; law enforcement authorities seemingly so inured to it all that it’s left to continue, while our sisters, daughters, nieces continue to be stalked, assaulted, and shamed.

And we witnessed another chapter in the story that angers and saddens me the most: the systemic, deliberate, and conscious abuse and torture of those most vulnerable of all people, our refugees. I say ‘our’ refugees because they are, and it is we who have abandoned them, and in doing so abandoned ourselves. For we are all one. And we are all hurting as a result of this.

The pat response I see on social media and within myself so easily becomes a despair in humanity. A humanity we feel we can sometimes no longer bear. A humanity that gets divided into those we feel immense compassion for and those we feel immense anger towards. There is no doubt that our anger is often righteous, and no doubt that our anger must be transmuted into loving action. But we need not to let it make us sick with ourselves and each other. Humanity is not out enemy: our own (all-too-human) fall into judment is. Judgment judges not only the action (that alone would be discernment) – it condemns the human being sitting beneath the action.

We each and every one of us have pain that we don’t know what to do with or how to bear. It leaks out. It makes the other ‘wrong’ – be it our partner, our parent, a government we disagree with, or ourselves. But we are all ‘wrong’, as well as immensely right.  Only the presence and fortitude to see this all within us can heal.

Jack Kornfield reminds us of some verses from the Dhammapada: “‘He abused me and beat me, he threw me down and robbed me.’ Repeat these thoughts and you live in hate. ‘He abused me and beat me, he threw me down and robbed me.’ Abandon these thoughts and live in love. In this world, hatred never ceases by hatred, but by love alone is healed. This is the ancient and eternal law.”

In my own desire to turn away this past week from humanity my heart brought me something of a reminder – a poem which has helped me salve this wound in the past. I first encountered this poem, by the Buddhist monk Thich Nacht Han, well over a decade ago. I find myself reading it again most years, and it continues to touch me, as I hope it does you. It is simple in its message – that hatred cannot ever redeem or ‘cleanse’ this world.  The much harder work is to see ourselves in each other, with great compassion and love. So to you, on my first piece – take courage and take heart.


Recommendation, by Thich Nacht Han

Promise me,
promise me this day, promise me now,
while the sun is overhead:

Even as they
strike you down
with a mountain of hatred and violence;
even as they dismember and disembowel you, remember, brother,
man is not our enemy.

The only thing worthy of you is compassion- invincible, limitless love.
Hatred will never let you face
the beast in man.

And one day, when you face this beast alone, with your courage intact, and your eyes kind,

Out of your smile will bloom a flower.
And those who love you
will behold you
across ten thousand worlds of birth and dying.

Alone again,
I will go on with bent head,
knowing that love has become eternal.

On the long, rough road,
the sun and the moon
will light my way.


I went outside after I read this poem, and there were some birds singing, and a dog wandering the street wanting a pat. It had rained and the air smelled good. I remembered that just a poem, just a smell, just a touch, can give us enough to go on with while we continue to grow our strength.

(Image: The Untrained Eye: