I believe wholeheartedly in the saying “keep your friends close and your enemies closer”. The first time I heard it I was a kid and I remember thinking, ewww, yuck! I would never want those people anywhere near me. Why would you ever want the people you like the least, the ones you don’t trust, those who have hurt you closer to you than your friends? But I get it now. You keep them in close so you can control them. It’s a great strategy, and it works.
It gets tricky, though, because you have to use your powers for good. If you’re going to gather your enemies up into the fold and hold them close, you can’t fuck them over later. You have to harness the things that suck about them and turn them into positive strengths. It’s quite the commitment, keeping your enemy close, but if you play it right you can strip them of their power and help them become a better person, less of a nuisance to society. And let me tell you, helping a terrible person who caused you pain become someone better is incredibly satisfying and pays karmic dividends.
I used to believe in revenge, getting even, rubbing it in. I played games and manipulated people. I was two-faced. If someone hurt me, I thoroughly enjoyed the process of strategizing how to get them back. While revenge gave me a momentary thrill, it never engendered the happiness and stability I sought. The cycle of cruelty never stopped, because I didn’t stop it. I did not understand at that time that I had a responsibility to stop bad behavior, starting with my own. I did not understand my enemies provided me with the opportunity to stop bad behavior, theirs and mine. I did not see how I was creating my own misery, one act designed to even the score at a time.
I discovered that karma is real, and every time I transgressed against another, it came back around on me, even if they drew first blood. I longed to free the trap I’d set for myself, to reach escape velocity from the negative karmic cycle. For a long time I tried not being an asshole, letting go of the need to fuck my enemies over. It worked for a while, but it wasn’t enough.
If I was going to become the person I wanted to be, I needed a radical solution. Was killing with kindness a viable option? Because the idea of eating shit and putting up and shutting up with my enemies was repugnant, the solution needed to be both radical and elegant. What if there was a way to kill my enemies with kindness while coming out smelling like roses, leaving them in a state of confusion as they watched me rise to the top? Surely I could manage this, deriving satisfaction from outdoing them in a positive way.
So I drew them in close, where I could keep an eye on them and shower them with the love and warmth they so desperately sought. And truly, even the most callous, awful, and destructive among us want it. In fact, they may be the ones who want it most, even if they don’t let on. Of course, I’m not talking about taking in our abusers. Some we must back away from slowly and carefully, for our own safety and sanity. We do not draw them in, we do not try to change them. We turn and run. I’m talking about the pains-in-asses with whom we work. Or our miserable in-laws. Our sucky neighbor. The people with whom we’re thrown together, where our quality of life depends on the ease of the relationship.
A close friend began dating a woman who clearly disliked me, shutting down my conversational overtures, leaving rooms and refusing to make eye contact. He loved her, so what could I do? I was going to have to bring her in close, melt the ice using small courtesies. I jumped in to help her clean up her kitchen at the end of a party. I brought a big bag of fabulous snacks to a music festival and shared them with her. I got her the night we were at a freezing cold baseball game and I handed her my hot cup of coffee so she could warm her hands. That was it. I showed her nothing but thoughtful kindness and she had no choice but to be my friend. There was nowhere for her to hang her mistrust or dislike.
A colleague terrorized the office with his bad moods, one-upsmanship, and back channel bad behavior. When I heard he’d been gossiping about getting revenge on me for a perceived slight, I knew it was time to bring him in. He exhibited a perfectionistic, critical streak, and was quick to nail people publicly for their shortcomings. He used incisive, passive aggressive comments to keep the group off balance and silent. For a while, he ruled the morale of the office, which was negative and toxic. I went to work asking for one-on-one time with him to discuss his critiques in detail. I challenged him to express himself in a direct manner, rather than using sarcasm. I stopped by his desk frequently to express pleasantries, and never let him pass me in the hall without asking leading questions about how he was doing, the weather, etc. I was on him like white on rice. He was miserable under my attentions, but as an underhand dealer, there was nothing he could do to stop me. He tried to take me down a few more times, but always I responded with requests for help and clarification, my overtures ever friendlier. I outperformed him, and my social standing in the office rose. Soon it was no longer in his best interest to target me, and we merged into a state of courtesy and respect.
These radical acts of kindness won’t always work, and sometimes your enemy will squirm to get away from you. But for the most part I truly believe the most difficult among us want to be invited into the glowing center, and the bad behavior stems from feeling apart from the group. So, bring everyone in, even the impossible folks. They just might learn something about how to be a person from you. And if not, you’ll look great trying.