10 Tips to Help You Attempt Life's Greatest Challenge

Life's greatest challenge isn't starting and maintaining a successful business or creating a podcast that gains a million viewers.  It's something we tend to ignore or even consider crazy and unnecessary, even though religious and ethical leaders through the ages have told us to do it.

I'm talking about loving our enemies – the people we don't get along with, the ones we don't understand (and don't want to understand), and the ones who do us wrong.  And that wrong might be as common as lies, criticism, or snobbishness, or as harmful as betrayal, abuse, or cruelty.


An impossible dream

To love your enemy is to find it in your heart to set aside any wrongs and love them as a fellow human being.  You don't have to love them like you love your best friend.  Just have kind feelings toward them... and if possible, express those through words, a good deed, or even just a smile.

Picture the person you dislike most, and see if it's easy to find any love for him.  Imagine the person who has hurt you the most, and the whole idea starts to seem impossible.

And yet there are those who manage to care about people who are hard to love.  They manage to forgive and move on.  Instead of living in the past, replaying their anger and hurt, they release those things and put their time and energy toward something more worthwhile.

If you missed reading about the benefits we gain from making such an attempt, you'll find them here.

Okay... but how?

Maybe you've decided this is a worthy goal.  I don't claim to have all the answers.  I need a lot more work on this myself.  But here are ten ideas that might be useful to all of us.

1.  Start with a friend.

When practicing something as hard as love, don't begin with your worst enemy.  Start with someone you already care about with whom you currently have a misunderstanding.  This lets you get used to the steps and get better at listening and empathizing.

I have someone in mind right now.

2.  Feel what you feel.

Anger, hurt, grief – admit how you feel about this person and what she has done.  Don't judge your feelings (you're not bad for having them), but acknowledge them as a first step toward setting them aside.

3.  Seek objectivity.

When you think about your enemy, you're going to have negative feelings.  Instead of letting those feelings take hold of you and determine your actions, stop.  They're impossible to overcome if you nurture them and let them grow.

4.  Seek to accept.

Instead of fighting what has happened and wanting it to be different, accept what is.  Accept that you can't change what is past.  Accept that this person isn't the way you wish they were.  This is difficult, but essential.

5.  Walk in their shoes.

To quote Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view."  Use your imagination and try that.  What is it like to be this person?  How did he get to be the person he is?  Why would he have done what he did?  And how does he feel about it?

The point is to see this person as a fellow human being, not just as someone who's wrong or mean or evil.  Most people have reasons for what they do, and every person started in the same place – dependent, unknowing, unformed, and without bad intentions.  Whatever this person has become, she started out no different from you.

And maybe, just maybe, from this person's perspective you are in the wrong.  Try to see from her perspective, even if you don't want to.  This is also very difficult, but important.

6.  Forgive.

This is the hardest part, but I'm sure you saw it coming.  Forgiveness doesn't mean you have to say that what happened is okay.  Forgiveness doesn't require you to feel a certain way.  Forgiveness is a decision to let go of hatred, bitterness, and thoughts of revenge or punishment so that you can move on without the burden of those bad feelings.  After all, whatever this person has done to hurt you, you have also harbored the desire to hurt them.  Maybe they "started it," but now you're going to end it.

To go on forgiving, to forgive the same offense again every time it recurs to the memory – there's the real tussle.  My resource is to look for some action of my own which is open to the same charge as the one I'm resenting.  If I still smart to remember how "A" let me down, I must still remember how I let "B" down.  If I find it difficult to forgive those who bullied me at school, let me, at that very moment, remember, and pray for, those I bullied.
C. S. Lewis

7.  Find something to love.

If you're able to forgive, to set aside dislike or hate, you're left with neutrality.  You want to replace that with love.  How?  Look for something in that person to love.  It could be anything – their smile, their talent, their determination, even their kindness to animals.  Find something you can admire.  You're probably not used to thinking about him in this way, so this is a new challenge.

8.  Find common ground.

We have something in common with just about anyone, if we look hard enough.  You may have to get to know this person better to learn that you have a shared interest, experience, or personality trait.  Perhaps you have a friend in common.  Any of these things will help you see her as similar to you rather than different.

9.  Open your heart.

This is another difficult step.  We tend to close ourselves to most people as a defense mechanism.  I'm not saying you have to become best buds with this person, but become open to the idea of caring about him.

10.  Reach out.

We're afraid of being vulnerable, of being rejected.  But if you've come this far and are able to have positive thoughts and kind feelings toward this person, express that in some way.  You could give a smile, a compliment, or a pat on the shoulder.  You could write a short note – even something in a birthday card that says, "I'm glad we're getting to know each other.  I wish you the best on your special day."  You might even have an open discussion about what's happened between you.

One final challenge

It occurs to me, so soon after Thanksgiving Day, that we might consider giving thanks for our enemies.  Not for what they've done to us, not for the conflict we've endured, but for the opportunity we have to learn to love.  Love is an amazing thing that says, "You're not perfect and neither am I, but we're both redeemable.  We both have possibilities, if we could only see them."  What a hopeful message that is.

Abraham Lincoln said, "Am I not destroying my enemies when I make friends of them?"  This is how love could remake the world.

In the same way we can gain skill at maintaining our uncluttered homes, schedules, and budgets, we can get better at maintaining inner serenity and peace.  We can't control all the circumstances of our lives, but we have some control over our responses to them.  And we can mold our habits and even our brains toward positivity and happiness.

My new book, Simply Happy* (book 5 in my Minimalist Basics series) will show you how to change the way you look at the world.  And then you'll be free to pursue your joy.  It's the perfect book to give to yourself or a loved one.

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  1. A woman who was hard to love was approaching our group when one of the group members said, "Here comes an opportunity to practice our Christian charity." At the time I thought that was a nasty comment but you made me see it might have been an encouraging one.
    Linda Sand

    1. Yes, that could be said nastily, but it could also be a reminder and encouragement, like you said. Depends on the person saying it, I suppose. I find it way too easy to judge others and their motives, but doesn't that betray how much trouble I have with loving others? It's truly the greatest challenge we face. Thanks for the comment, Linda.

  2. Karen, this is one of your best posts ever! If only each person in the world could read and understand this course of action, just imagine how the world would be changed! Thanks for giving all your readers an amazing plan to implement LOVE in our interactions with others.

    1. Kay, as I struggle with this myself, and wish the whole world could be changed, I try to remember that my actions can affect my little corner of it! You have that same power.


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