(This is a repost from February 2011.)
One year ago, my hometown was rocked by two school shootings within one week. At 2 p.m., Friday, February 5, a fourteen-year-old boy shot a fellow student in the head. At 4 p.m., Friday, February 12, an assistant professor opened fire at a faculty meeting, killing three of her colleagues.
I don’t know what either alleged killer thought they would accomplish with their actions. Clearly, though, in their twisted logic, both the boy and the woman considered their victims as their enemies, worthy of death.
I reacted with a mix of sorrow and anger and fear and bewilderment. How could they kill those other people in cold blood? I wondered. I would never do that, never kill someone.
Or would I?
Recently I read The Moses Expedition by Juan Gomez-Jurado. In the preface, he included a poem by Sam Keen entitled “How to Create an Enemy”, which describes in vivid terms how humans make others into their enemies. We take our own hateful traits and project them onto others, destroy their individuality, and twist each person into a caricature encompassing all that is negative. Then the poet writes,
When your icon of the enemy is complete
you will be able to kill without guilt,
slaughter without shame.
You no longer see a person as a person, no longer see our common features, no longer see that we are all a tangled mess of heart, mind, spirit and body. When you strip a person of their humanity, it is easy to make them your enemy. Enemies are to be fought, defeated, and killed. It becomes a simple matter to shed blood.
It isn’t difficult to see this idea played out on battlefields, in mob lynchings, and during genocides. It was obvious when planes crashed into the Twin Towers or when the gas chambers and crematorium in Auschwitz worked day and night or when blood soaked the soil of Rwanda.
But not all killings are as blatant as that. We can kill others with our words and actions. The only difference is that those victims live. Our words, sharper than any knife, more destructive than any bomb, have wounded their souls, yet left their bodies intact.
Church business meetings filled with people intent on defending their points at the expense of other’s souls. Political finger-pointing by talking heads on television. Gossip at the office water cooler or on Facebook or during Wednesday evening prayer group. On a more intimate level, words have divided husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers, sisters, and friends.
We strip them of their personhood, seeing instead an enemy filled with evil qualities. In less extreme cases, we see only their flaws and irritating qualities and weaknesses. Then we stone them with our words, bent on destroying the badness within them and tearing them apart as people.
And often, what we hate in them also resides in us.
In college, a boyfriend and I argued before the first of our three breakups. (Yes, three.) Two days before, I had told him I thought our relationship was moving too quickly (true), that we needed to slow down (doubly true) and I needed a break. (My friends heartily agreed.)
The next day, he ignored me.
The next day, I exploded. “You totally ignored me! You shut down and wouldn’t talk to me and acted all pouty because I hurt your feelings and—and—and—” I sputtered, too angry to find words.
“You do that too,” he retorted.
There was a pause before the argument resumed. He was right. When I’m hurt, I tend to shut down and avoid talking to whoever I’m angry with. It’s as though I would rather lose a friend than confront them. The very thing I couldn’t stand in him was present in my own heart, and I couldn’t stand that. So I delved into my darkest self and found words to devastate him as surely as a gun or knife would.
It was easier to see him as the enemy than to see how I am often my own worst enemy. It was easier to point the finger at him than look at the fingers pointing back at me. It was easier to strip him of his individuality and paint him as a stereotypical jerk than to deal with him as a complex, flawed, and broken image of God, just like I am.
And after I had cast stones and painted distorted portraits, he was no longer himself but the enemy.
Then I could find my cruelest words and kill without remorse.
Have you ever made an enemy? If so, how?