Humanizing our Enemy Images
As change makers, there are times when things don't go our way. The campaign, project or initiative we have been working on hits a snag, derails and maybe even falls off a cliff altogether.
When things take an unwanted turn, we often create enemy images. We find someone or something outside ourselves to blame when things don't go our way.
But why do we think it helps if we define our identity in opposition to another person or group we don’t like or are conditioned to think of as less than or inferior?
Seeing other people through a critical lens of "not me" creates the groundwork for developing our enemy images.
Reflecting on this in myself, I started thinking about the enemy images I grew up with. I date myself, but at the time, World War II epics were playing in the theatres and on television. These North American movies provided human stories of the Allied characters while the Axis powers (Germany, Japan and Italy) were relegated to superficial images, which reinforced that they were the enemy.
I was provided with all the labels and images I needed to conclude that they were not like us and that our side was good and true, while the other side was evil. Consequently, labels like "Kraut" and "Jap" became part of our children's play. My young mind hadn’t the wherewithal to question the images or terms placed before me in the guise of entertainment, and I unconsciously accepted these enemy-related notions as "truth".
A few years ago my father shared with me a memory of war that spoke to the inhuman behaviour of "our side". Such a recollection would not have been accepted in a movie script of that period.
Today, however, challenges to my early enemy images are starting to emerge.
I've recently seen a number of movies speaking to the humanity of the enemy during that horrific war. For example, a German movie entitled Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2005) presents the true story of Sophia Magdalena Scholl, a courageous activist in the underground German student resistance group, The White Rose. The film re-creates the last six days of Sophie's life when she is about to be executed for taking a stand against the Third Reich during a time of violent oppression and censorship in Germany.
Her inspiring words as she prepared for her death are a challenge to all of us when we must respond to injustice. "How can we expect righteousness to prevail when there is hardly anyone willing to give himself up individually to a righteous cause? Such a fine, sunny day, and I have to go, but what does my death matter, if through us thousands of people are awakened and stirred to action?"
What fascinated me about this movie was the humanity with which it was presented. It's a simple story about young students, not unlike those presented in movies about Vietnam War resisters. However, I was deeply moved by the courage it took for these students to remain true to their principles even when they knew the dire consequences they faced, which went far beyond anything imposed on North American protesters. I searched for such a humanizing movie produced on this side of the Atlantic and found nothing.
My only wish for the future is that such humane and balanced portrayals of war don't take six decades to find their way into our collective awareness. I certainly take heart that the Internet is making it much easier for such stories to emerge just when we most need them to stop the formation of these enemy images.
The only way to diffuse our enemy images is to humanize those we label "enemy".
And our first step is to get ourselves to a place where we can see the other side as a human "being". This means we must first humanize ourselves through empathy, curiosity and self-acceptance. That way we can discover what's in it for us when we marginalize an aspect of ourselves and project it onto others so they can be the "enemy" we don't want to deal with.
One opportunity to work through your own process of developing enemy images and gain the tools to work beyond what limits us as change makers is to join the Inner Activist October 21 - 25, 2013 for Building Conscious Use of Power. Join a diverse group of leaders from across North America, ocean-side at the Haven on Gabriola Island. For more information or to inquire about bursaries and scholarships email email@example.com.