Thursday, May 3, 2018

Human Relationships: Loving Our Enemies...Really?

In human life we so often emphasize "doing" and "having," and tend to lose sight of the most basic value of being. The dignity of the human person, however, is rooted in who he or she is - first and fundamentally.

In a similar way, human relationships have real depth insofar as they are constituted first by "presence," by "being-with" one another in a personal sense. Personal presence is especially expressed in sharing experience, dialogue, intersubjectivity, mutual understanding, suffering-with one another, staying with and accompanying one another.

Underlying even these features of the vitality of human relationships, however, is a more fundamental reality: the reality of "being-together." We are made "for one another" and entrusted to one another in real life. We are called to "love our neighbor"—which indicates the person who is "near" to us, who is in some way "given to us" within the circumstances of our lives.

There is a particularly difficult aspect of this vocation to love that we cannot avoid: we are called to love even our enemies. What does this actually mean?

Authentic love, first of all, is founded on realism. "Being-together" is radical to our humanity, and it has an impetus to be expressed and lived in interactive relationships within nurturing and vital communities of mutual trust and solidarity. But there are real circumstances that block these normal modes of expression.

Alas, there are all too many of these "blocks." How can we "love" in such situations?

We may need to avoid proximity to a person because they are dangerous to us or those who depend on us. We may need to find space to tend and manage deep and complex wounds inflicted upon us by people who are precisely "enemies" because they have done violence to us in the interpersonal realm. This is most difficult when the "enemy" is someone who has betrayed our trust.

Anyone in such a situation must remember that love is founded on realism. It needs to become clear that love is hard in reality, which means it's tough. This is no time for a false sentimentality about love being able to fix things like magic; it's no time to confuse real love with a dependence based on fear or lack of self-worth.

If a person you think loves you is actually hurting you and abusing you, GET AWAY FROM THAT PERSON and get help!!

Sadly, this abuse and violence happens in various but all-too-real ways in interpersonal relationships, in family relationships, in community relationships. When we "go away" from such people, it shouldn't be said that we are "creating a conflict" by "distancing ourselves" from the "togetherness" of a relationship.

Rather, we are merely recognizing that the other or others have made themselves our "enemies." They have created this interpersonal "distance" by doing violence to us as persons; they have wounded the relationship by establishing our need to live a physical and emotional "space-apart" or even a position of vigorous self-defense if the other refuses to respect this space.

We can (and must, in ordinary circumstances) make and protect a physical and psychological "space-apart" from those who have made themselves our enemies. But we can never choose to hate these persons.

Here it is very important to distinguish the choice of our freedom from the normal psychological experience of feelings of aversion, or the more complex distortions of emotion induced or aggravated by trauma or other factors. This can be a confusing and conflicted experience, and we must not "face the enemy" alone but with the help of others who recognize the danger that threatens us.

The crucial aspect of "loving our enemies" is a matter of freedom. If we choose to hate our enemies, then we become people who hate, people who set our hearts against the dignity of certain human persons and begin to attack the very foundations of the basic human bond we share. Thus violence begets more violence.

If we choose not-to-hate, however, then in a radical sense we are "together with" our enemies, respecting their dignity as persons even when we must defend ourselves against them or remove ourselves from the reach of their aggression.

to be continued...