by Anniel 3/18/15
Our family has been undergoing an entire shift in thought for the past month as we have tried to understand what it is to have “near enemies” and what that means in life. If you look up the term “near enemies” you will be referred to a Buddhist philosophy based on the premise that you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer. However, there is a branch of psychology which warns of “near enemies” in a very different sense. These are the ones you don’t want near at all, and should flee from, if at all possible, and sometimes it is not. These are the ones we have been analyzing and attempting to identify.
The Cruelest Month, is a book by Canadian author Louise Penny, the third in her brilliant series about Chief Inspector Gamache. In a conversation with a psychologist during a murder investigation, Inspector Gamache is taught the psychological concept of “near enemies.” The psychologist tells Gaumache that there are two emotions that, while they may look the same, are really the opposite, so that you have one healthy and one sick, twisted emotion. She tells him that there are three couplings. They are:
1. Pity vs. Compassion. If you pity someone, you feel superior to them. If you have compassion you feel empathy. You see the stricken person as equal to you. Compassion is a nobler emotion, but pity leaves no room for true compassion.
2. Attachment Masquerades as Love. Most parents love their children enough to do right by them. They rear them to be independent, to follow their own dreams, to marry, have children of their own, to do what makes them happy. Others, usually mothers, try to live through their children, cling to them, stifle them. Manipulate, guilt-trip and cripple them emotionally. They want always to be attached to their children. In any intimate relationship love wants what is best for others. Attachment takes hostages.
3. Equanimity vs. Indifference. The psychologist says that this is the most pernicious and hardest to spot of the three couplings. Equanimity is a balance of emotion. A person may face an unprecedented tragedy in their life and be seriously disturbed, but they adjust and are courageous enough to overcome the problem. Another person may seem to have the same sorrow and acceptance, when in reality they are indifferent because they have no genuine feelings in the situation. They are psychopaths without feeling for others. It’s important to know the difference.
It was reading this book that led our family on a chase to figure out what or who our near enemies really are. Are there only three couplings, or three manifestations as set out to Inspector Gamache? We decided that every good emotion probably has a counterfeit. After a lot of thought and searching we found a blog listing of one more very interesting coupling:
Sympathetic Joy vs. Comparison. Sympathetic joy would be having joy for something another person has received praise for or accomplished. The comparison aspect would be being miffed because you didn’t also receive the praise for your accomplishments.
Then we decided that the following three couplings should be considered as part of our thinking:
Free Speech vs. Political Correctness
Education vs. Common Core
Self-Respect vs. Self-Esteem
It is usually not hard to spot someone who hates you, but you may not recognize the enemy if they come in the name of a twisted love, or if they politically claim to want what’s best for you.
I would like to focus on the last item, self-respect vs. self esteem for the next part of our journey. I have felt for some time that the cult of self-esteem has done more to harm to children and parents, to whole families, than any other evil we have embraced.
We had three young children when self-esteem first began to be preached and both my husband and I were unaware of its growing popularity. One evening we took our three fairly well-behaved young children out to dinner. Another couple came in with a little girl about 18 months old, and were seated across the aisle from us.
The parents put the child on a booster seat, which she promptly with deliberation tipped off the chair. She got down and began wandering all over the place, a danger to everyone. For the next hour all her mother did to correct her was whine, “Sweetheart please come back and sit down, mommy would be so proud of you.” The waitress tripped over the child and spilled hot coffee. The booster seat was dragged out and had to be picked up countless times. The mother kept whining how “proud” she would be if the child would sit down. If she did by chance sit down her mother told her how “proud” she was of her. It was a nauseating spectacle, and the mother’s whiny voice was cringe inducing. The husband sat like a lump.
Our children watched open-mouthed at such shenanigans, and when the family left, our oldest son turned to us and asked why the parents hadn’t made the child sit in her seat and behave. Since this was my first experience with the self-esteem movement I had no clue. Since then I have watched in horror as parents have abdicated their responsibilities as parents, choosing instead to let their kids rule the roost.
I have so much wanted to say that children are little animals who need to be tamed, and I do believe that. Are they fresh and pure when they come to us, yes, but think about what they need to learn to become fully civilized human beings. They need to be toilet trained, to learn to bathe, dress and feed themselves, to speak and reason, to obey instructions, and learn to provide for their own needs. All children everywhere must learn all the nuances of their own culture. As they grow, they need to work and contribute to their families. They need to gain self-respect on their way to becoming competent adults who can pass civilized behavior on to their own children.
I have read several reports lately about the deleterious effects of the “self-esteem” movement. We cripple our children when we begin praising them all the time and not holding them accountable for their actions as they grow up. When every child gets a trophy and never loses, the children never learn how to face their own problems or to take care of their own needs. Nor do they learn to cope with disappointment, failure and loss. We all lose when children never face natural consequences and the lessons learned from failure. We are destroying a whole generation of children as a result of not recognizing a “near enemy.”
On June 7, 2011, Therapist Lorrie Gottlieb wrote an article published in Atlantic magazine about what happens to children who have every whim fulfilled, when they grow up and are afraid of everything in their lives. Some are practically unable to function at all. But the article fails to address the issue of parents who are themselves so worried about harming their children’s self-esteem they become afraid of their own children. So they teach them nothing of lasting value and destroy their own self-respect at the same time.
After our family discussions reached this point, someone asked the question, how does a parent become an enemy in the first place and does the enmity always manifest itself in the same way?
I think mothers, especially, fall into many traps along the way because they are so enthralled with the new life entrusted to them, and they are responsible for its safety and protection. Learning to guide a child to an independent life can be frightening, so total control of everything the child does can become an unhealthy obsession. Other mothers want their children to not be hurt so they never say “no”, clean up their messes and never hold them accountable for anything. And, frankly, sometimes it’s just easier to say “No, you might get hurt or dirty, or whatever,” so it becomes a habit. The adult can do things faster and easier and they praise children and clap their hands for small things that make no demands.
We were fortunate because our first child was often wiser than we. We live about half a mile from a busy road which was frequented by gravel trucks. Our son asked repeatedly if he could walk to Dimond Blvd. and we said, “No, because it’s dangerous.” One day at dinner he informed us that he would soon be starting school and needed to learn to walk to Dimond Blvd. by himself to catch the school bus. Who could argue with that? He was always one or two steps ahead of us in reasoning. He was 11 the first time he flew away to Johns Hopkins University for what he called “Nerd Camp.” I only cried the first time. He grew up fast and his siblings benefitted.
Our next serious family discussion on near enemies was about how often each of us had been, or maybe still was, a near enemy. We all tried rigorously to be honest about ourselves and things we had done and why we did them. Sometimes we had even lied to our loved ones because we selfishly wanted what we wanted, period. Sometimes lying was easier than telling the truth. Sometimes we were hurt and wanted to “get even.” Sometimes we were just being mean because we felt like it. Talk about baring our souls.
But we also had to acknowledge that sometimes we needed to get away, just for a little while, and any excuse would do as a protective cover, even if it meant becoming an enemy for awhile.
A near enemy could be anyone. A mother, father, spouse, lover, sibling or friend, a child, counselor, pastor or politician. They are the people seeking to care for you and guide you for “your own good.” They are dangerous because they may even believe themselves to be doing good, all the while making you weak, fearful and dependent. If you fail to recognize the reality of the enmity they bring, you can be harmed by their very presence.
Remember to include yourself on your list of enemies. How many times have you let fear or laziness stop you from accomplishment? You and I are often our own worst enemies.
After writing this I have wondered if the simple answer to the whole problem of near enemies is centered on love, real, active caring for another soul. No artifice, no desire or lies, no wish for control, just love and doing what is right for the other. Sometimes it means saying, “No, stay in your own country – get a job – clean up after yourself – obey the law – pay your own bills – and, no I will not vote for you.” • (3239 views)