Lately I have been thinking a lot about how and why we define someone as an enemy. It seems that these days enemies are everywhere and we are being told who they are and what we can do to defend against them. To me the answers seem ludicrous and childish. But there are a lot of people drinking the enemy Kool Aid.
While I was pondering (and rewriting) this blog this afternoon, I took a break and went out to take some pictures. I found honey bees on my Cranesbill, siphoning off the nectar.
All of a sudden, the whole issue clarified for me. And here is what I began to think:
Have you ever gotten stung by a bee? The fact that they sting is a defense mechanism developed a very long time ago. They do not sting because they don’t like you. They sting because they perceive you as a threat. They would perceive any large being encroaching on their nest as a threat. But they have no feelings towards you specifically. Humans also attack those whom we perceive as a threat. The difference is that we aren’t always good at knowing exactly who the enemy is. It’s not always as simple as defending against a big destructive giant. There are subtleties and nuances and group dynamics to be taken into consideration.
And yet it seems easier for most people to see the world in black and white. If you are not my friend, you must be my enemy. There are also many people who seem to be waiting for a reason to hate, to condemn, to attack. And given the right amount of tinder, they will. For no other reason than because they feel threatened. They are afraid that the person who is not like them, the “other”, is somehow going to make their lives worse. They will have fewer jobs, they will be poorer, their kids will have fewer resources, they will have to pay more taxes…the list of potential grievances goes on. It is easy to fault the government, illegal immigrants, Muslims, rich, poor, African Americans, mentally ill people, homeless people, guns, corporations, Wall Street, Jews, women, men, white people, stupid people, smart people, LBGT, Democrats, Republicans, the news media and any other groups of humans that can be described as “different than me”. And I think that the politicians make it even easier by defining who we should hate and then claiming that they can defend us. They feed into our general fears and focus us so that we know who and what we should be fearing.
This issue of defining who our enemy is becomes even murkier with the element of time. I recently watched an episode of a British crime drama that takes place a few years after WWII. One of the characters talks about how difficult it was to switch the concept of enemy in her mind. She spent years during the war working to mathematically solve the encryption codes of the Germans. She firmly placed the German people in the enemy camp in her mind. Years later, she was having problems letting that go and not seeing every German as an enemy, someone who turned her country and her life into chaos and fear.
I can understand this mindset in this case. This was a clear story of one man in one country causing destruction, death and suffering in many countries. He aggressively chose to destroy and conquer, and many of his countrymen followed orders. The Germans, as a whole, were threatening the very existence of many countries. I think I would also find it tough to change my opinion of people from that country. How confusing and destructive it must be when friends and even relatives become enemies and vice versa.
To go back to the bee thing, in my thirties I became allergic to certain bee stings. Specifically yellow jackets. I swell up, I get groggy and I hurt for a couple of days. It is not so bad, yet, where I need an Epi-pen or I will die. But that may come if I get stung too many more times. The first time I had the bad reaction I made a decision. I was not going to be afraid of all bees. Yes, I can be afraid, wary and respectful of yellow jackets. But bees in general are not something to afraid of, simply because I am allergic to one of the species. It takes a conscious and strong decision on my part not to judge, fear and despise all bees and wasps but it helps knowing that even though they sting, they are also here on earth for a reason. They can do something I can’t. They can pollinate flowers. They are also part of the food chain for birds, spiders and other animals.
After Pearl Harbor was bombed during WWII, there were thousands of Japanese people who were interned. This included people who were first, second or even third generation Americans. But because they had a Japanese name or because they had family in Japan, they were labelled the enemy. Our enemy. Even though they were us, they were our enemy. How confusing is that? (I am reminded of Pogo’s famous statement, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”) German Americans avoided this fate but still were ostracized. For some reason, this feels truly reprehensible to me. We judged, juried and found the need to hate and protect ourselves against a very large number of people that were not a threat. It’s a fine line, but it is an important one.
So here is my promise. I will try not to define my enemies based on hearsay and conjecture. I will try not to hate someone just because my neighbor does. I want to judge someone based on my experiences and values as well as theirs. I want to look at the bigger picture, not to excuse, but to understand and to clarify what I don’t understand. It is really hard. I won’t always succeed. But I will try. And, lastly, I won’t let a politician (or any wannabe politician) tell me who my enemy is. I refuse to follow the herd, drink the KoolAid and join the bandwagon.
And I will continue to love honeybees. Buh bye!